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The Central African Republic crisis can no longer be ignored

Opinion
In a country that remains sparsely developed, the cyclical and feverish violence in the Central African Republic is likely to leave tremors for years to come, writes Azad Essa.

If you were told more than 100 000 people had just been displaced in an African country or an entire ethnic group faced the real threat of ethnic cleansing, you would probably think this referred to the famine in Somalia or plight of minority groups in part of Nigeria. After all, news from both countries tends to dominate our media landscape.

But since September, more than 100 000 people have been displaced in the landlocked Central African Republic (CAR) as rival groups, bent on killing each other battle for territory.

Since fighting first erupted in 2013, a fifth of the country’s population has been either internally displaced or forced to live as refugees.

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While CAR has returned to “democratic status” the militias have splintered, and various groups are now vying for power, says the writer. File picture: Baz Ratner/Reuters

The violence began when a Muslim-led armed group, the Seleka, marched into the capital, Bangui, and ousted President Francois Bozize. They unleashed a horrific assault on the Christian population, resulting in the formation of a rival group called the Anti-Balaka.

But the Anti-Balaka embarked on a campaign of terror of its own, pushing a country with little historical precedent for religious animosity on to the front lines of a new communal war.

Ghettoised, isolated and forced into enclaves in the capital, Amnesty International warned at one stage that the Muslim population was facing “ethnic cleansing”.

While the country has returned to “democratic status” with the 2016 election of President Faustin-Archange Touadera, the militias have splintered, and various groups are now vying for power and legitimacy in areas outside the reach of the UN or the government.

The instability, especially in rural areas, has severely hindered aid workers from providing food and medical support. Doctors without Borders (MSF) says attacks are at levels not seen in years and civilians have not been spared.

But it is not just civilians at threat. Just this week, four aid agencies pulled out of Ouham, because of targeted attacks on their staff. There were at least 16 attacks on staff in this area since March, and staff were moved back to Bangui.

According to the UN, there were 33 recorded incidents against humanitarians across the country this year alone. In what they say has made the CAR “among the high-risk nations” to conduct work. At least 2.2 million people or half of the country are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Nearly half of children under 5 years suffer from chronic malnutrition and an estimated one in seven children will die before turning 5.

In a country that remains sparsely developed, and where the political centre has rarely had influence in the hinterlands, the cyclical and feverish violence is likely to leave tremors for years to come.

Yet international regard for the crisis has been of consistent indifference. Only 11% of the estimated emergency response plan has arrived. The CAR has endured recurring fighting, abuse and upheaval for decades. As a playground for the French and other African countries, including South Africa, the instability has only emboldened impunity on all sides.

Since independence in 1960, this nation of rolling hills and resplendent resources has experienced 10 coups, almost all facilitated in one form or another by the French themselves. The push for elections last year was part of an attempt to get rid of the “CAR problem”, but elections are not a bellwether of stability nor can be they be used as a measure of a functioning democracy.

Such disregard for human life deepens poverty, perpetuates inequality, and forces people to become refugees and asylum seekers. Instability in the heart of the African continent impacts us all. If not for our common humanity, then for selfish reasons alone, this is not a story that we can afford to bury.

“We cannot allow the Central African Republic to become a forgotten crisis,” says Christine Muhigana, Unicef’s representative in the the country.

But as we know by now, there is no such thing as a “forgotten crisis”, only ignored ones.

* Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Mercury

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