As most Francophone African countries celebrate their 55 years of independence this year, this may be a good time to reassess relations between them and France.
The picture that arises from this assessment is that France’s relationship with its 20 former colonies is an ambivalent one. Among them are Algeria, Chad, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali, as well as the greater Francophone African world that includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, a former Belgian colony. This ambivalence is best illustrated by two little reported events that took place recently.
Last month, violent clashes erupted in the Central African Republic (CAR) after the killing and beheading of a 19-year-old Muslim in Bambari, allegedly by members of the Christian and animist militias known as the anti-Balaka. One year after African Union efforts in CAR were rolled into a United Nations mission, sectarian violence remains common, pointing to the urgent need for reforms to ensure stability ahead of general elections in October this year.
The ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) is not a ‘religious’ war. As in other cases, it is a politically-motivated conflict between people that happen to be members of different religions. And behind this all-too-familiar, opportunistic and now uncontrolled misuse of religion stands Michel Djotoda, a key leader of the Seleca rebellion, which lasted from December 2012 through March 2013, and the CAR’s beleaguered president from 24 March 2013 until 10 January 2014.
The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) has left humanitarian organisations, international peacekeepers and observers frantically searching for solutions to stop the conflict. Now, to make matters worse,the Afghan Taliban and the notorious al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – which, together with its allies, occupied northern Mali in 2012 – have denounced what it describes as the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Muslims in the CAR. AQIM also issued a warning against France for its alleged complicity in the violence, saying the ‘supposed peacekeepers’ have launched a ‘crusade against Islam’ and that France will be punished for doing so. Given that ordinary Muslims in the CAR are clearly being targeted and tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing the country, should this threat be taken seriously?
David Zounmenou, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) believes that AQIM is still smarting after its defeat against France in Mali last year and that their warnings are not to be taken lightly. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also met last week to discuss the situation in the CAR and has pleaded for dialogue and national reconciliation – another sign that the crisis has now taken a decidedly religious turn. Yet, Zounmenou strongly warns against casting the conflict in the CAR in the same mould as other crises in Africa that are rooted in conflict between locals and radical Islamist groups, such as in Mali or Somalia.
Editor’s note: this article was first published on JiC on 11 December 2013.
The Central African Republic (CAR) is “descending into chaos“. In the past few months, violence and instability in the country have proliferated. In November, the French Foreign Minister even used the ‘g-word’ to describe the situation in the CAR, declaring that ”[t]he country is on the verge of genocide”. Jean Ging, of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, similarly suggested that the country is sowing the “seeds of genocide“.
In response to the crisis, the international community has immersed itself knee-deep into another military and humanitarian intervention. [In the week of 2 December 2013], the UN Security Council unanimously authorized France and African Union forces to use “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. The African Union and the UN Security Council have their work cut out for them. In endorsing international intervention into the CAR, the International Crisis Group stated: