This post is written by Michael Mansheim, STAND Programs Intern, who is a senior at American University.
The bloody conflict occurring in the Central African Republic has taken an increasingly dark turn in recent weeks. On May 28th, the Muslim Seleka militia group killed 11 people at a Catholic Church in the capital of Bangui. The attack is said to be in response to an attack three days before, when three young Muslim men were killed on their way to play in a soccer game promoting reconciliation. In the wake of the two attacks, the central government temporarily banned the use of text messaging on June 4th in a search for stability and an end to the violent demonstrations that have ensued in the wake of the attacks.
In the Central African Republic, a conflict which began as a civil war with various rebel groups vying for control of the country has now descended into a widespread religious conflict. The religious breakdown of the country is approximately 50% Christian, 35% holding indigenous beliefs, and 15% Muslim. However, due to the violence in the country and mass flight of refugees, especially Muslims, much doubt can be cast these demographics continue to remain true.
The situation often seemingly bounces between bad and worse, with many thousands of people being killed in the last several years. The Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian anti-balaka armed group constitute a grave threat to the security of the country. It should be noted that both groups are not one unified front, but are instead increasingly fracturing into splinter factions.
The International Crisis Group reports that the greatest danger of these groups is that unlike many other armed groups in the region, they pose more of a police threat than any sort of military threat, due to the fact that instead of waging war to capture and hold territory, they both seem committed to wiping the opposing group out.
In addition to the suffering and militias forming inside its borders, the Central African Republic also suffers from weak borders. With the civil conflict increasingly taking a more religious tone since 2013, mercenaries and other fighters are pouring across the Sudanese and Chadian borders. These fighters even include Janjaweed fighters infamous for their atrocities committed in the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
To combat the spread and intensifying of existing conflict, the EU, African Union and UN are all contributing peacekeeping forces to the country. The current AU led force, MISCA, is assigned with the duty of protecting civilians caught in the violence. The UN force is expected to arrive in September 2014, while the small EU force is tasked with the mission of securing peace in the immediate Bangui airport.
The AU troops are taking a more direct role in supporting the protection of civilians, especially convoys of Muslim refugees who are leaving the country in droves. The mass flight of Muslims, already a minority in the country, is changing the demographic makeup of the country leaving some areas abandoned. The UN operation is mandated to begin on September 15th, and is tasked with protecting civilians and working to implement justice for those affected by the conflict- among its other responsibilities. On the ground, the French mission as well as MISCA have been seen by many as being ineffective and plagued by inter-force communication problems, something the UN force can hopefully improve.