Seleka, anti-Balaka, and the French: Violence in the Central African Republic

A semi-continuous series of massively violent intrastate conflicts have occurred in vicious bursts for the entirety of the Central African Republic’s independent history, and it is no one’s fault more than the French colonizer’s.

The most recent iteration of this violence began as a power struggle with secondary religious motives in the early 2000s and, by 2011, turned into a full blown  Muslim against Christian conflict. Seleka, the Muslim group at the center of much of the violence, ousted President Francois Bozizé in 2013, only to have their own presidential pick ousted soon after by the Christian anti-Balaka (anti-Machete). But Bozizé, who in some narratives fills the role of an innocent, was himself only in power by virtue of a coup against the single democratically elected president in the Central African Republic’s history in only seven years before the beginning of Seleka’s rule. Though the government is officially not affiliated with Seleka itself, many of its officials are former Seleka rebels, and Seleka violence against Christian citizens of the CAR continues to rage even into 2016. None of that is to discount the horrid violence perpetuated in retaliation by the anti-Balaka, who seem to have forgot their namesake and murdered hundreds of Muslim civilians in the same manner that Seleka has murdered Christian civilians.

It would be easy to look at the Central African Republic and blame religion for this most recent spurt of violence (a decidedly euphemistic was to describe a conflict resulting in over 1 million refugees and internationally displaced persons). Similarly, it would be simple to look at the lack of solid legislative of judicial infrastructure and place the blame there, for a lack of governmental framework surely makes coups much easier. And why not talk about the patrimonial tendencies of the leadership, who seem to care more about their positions of power then a genuine of disarmament of the groups that support their regimes? These are all true. But at the risk of sounding rhetorical, if one looks closely enough at any of these variables, a supremely flawed colonial state lies at each of their roots.

The French act of drawing non-natural borders to create the Central African Republic and, in doing so, lumping together ethnic groups with no history of communal living, set a foundation in which ethnic practices were bound to clash. To fan the fire, the imposition of Christianity to replace indigenous culture and practices wiped out important and long-standing structures of power and responsibility within communities, replacing them with the kind of “predatory structures” that Séverine Autesserre discusses. The lack of effort on the part of the French colonial administration to ease into both either of these changes, though not unique to the case of the CAR, exasperated what already had all the makings of a postcolonial disaster.  

Because the violence in the CAR hasn’t proven to be as hot of an activist cause or political topic of interest as other crises of similar magnitudes (Syria or Gaza, to name a few), media attention remains meager. And because news coverage is low, actions by bi and multilateral actors (European countries and the UN, respectively) are not pressured to act. As such, in 2012 and 2013, the functionally-genocidal religious conflict in the Central African Republic was one of the most underfunded crises across the globe. Now is the time for France to take responsibility for the mess it created. More intervention will not help, but strategic investment in civil society and humanitarian aid organizations might. The end of imperialism did not entail the end of its consequences, and France washing its hands of responsibility to the postcolonial world is as harmful as the colonialism itself.

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