Gwynne Dyer: Forestalling genocide in the Central African Republic

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      The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the poorest and most inaccessible countries in the world. It’s the size of France, but it only has four and a half million people. It is a serious contender for the title of Worst Governed Country in Africa, and it is now teetering on the brink of genocide. Something has to be done, and only France was able and willing to do it.

      France moves fast. There are already 600 French troops in the capital, Bangui, and another thousand will be moving out into country areas by the end of the week. (There are already 2,500 African peace-keeping troops in the CAR, but they lack transport and don’t have orders to shoot.) It has all happened so fast that France hasn’t even decided yet if it supports the man who currently claims to be the president of the CAR.

      Asked last Saturday (December 7) if Michel Djotodia, who seized power last March, should stay as “interim president”, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said: “I don’t think we need (to create) more difficulties by adding the departure of the president.”

      On Sunday, however, President Francois Hollande said exactly the opposite: “We cannot leave in place a president who was not able to do anything, or even worse, has let (some very bad) things happen.” Fabius and Hollande may simply not have had time yet to talk to each other about Djotodia’s future—and besides, it doesn’t much matter: he controls virtually nothing.

      The CAR has had eight coups since it got its independence from France in 1960, and got eight bad leaders out of it. The worst was Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who proclaimed himself emperor of the “Central African Empire” and used his “Imperial Guard” to murder people, including schoolchildren, who defied his rule, but even he had little impact on life outside Bangui, the capital.

      The vast majority of people in the CAR are herdsmen or subsistence farmers who have little or no contact with the institutions of the state: the coup leaders and “presidents” came and went almost unnoticed. Until this time, because Michel Djotodia is the first Muslim president in a mostly Christian country, and he was brought to power by Muslim fighters many of whom don’t even come from the CAR.

      Djotodia has been trying to seize the presidency for eight years. Coming from the Muslim northeast of the country, he recruited some fighters from that area—but up to 80 percent of the soldiers in his Seleka (alliance) militia were Muslim mercenaries whom he hired from Chad and Sudan.

      Except that he didn’t actually have the money to pay them; he just tacitly offered them the chance to loot if they won. So when he ordered Seleka to disband last March, having fought his way into power in Bangui, they did nothing of the sort. They hadn’t come all this way just to steal a few things and go home again.

      Like Djotodia, the mercenaries are in the game to get rich, but while he can now do his thieving from the presidential palace, they still have to do it in the traditional way. So the majority of Seleka’s fighters have broken up into bands of marauders who plunder, rape, and burn their way around the country. Many of the country’s villages now lie abandoned, while their former inhabitants hide from the bandits in the fields or the woods.

      Tens of thousands may have already died in the more remote parts of the CAR, and at least four hundred were killed right in Bangui last week. Worse may follow: there is now a serious risk of genocide.

      The Christian majority and the Muslim minority in the CAR have generally lived alongside each other in peace. However, the ex-Seleka mercenaries, being Muslims, tend to spare Muslim communities and target Christian ones. In self-defence, the Christians have begun banding together in vigilante groups—and there are a lot more Christians than Muslims.

      Inevitably, they suspect the local Muslims of helping the ex-Seleka killers, so they are starting to see them as enemies as well. In the circumstances of extreme deprivation and fear that now prevail in country areas—at least a million people are living in severe hunger or actual famine—this could quickly slide into a genocidal level of killing.

      That’s why France moved so fast. It got the approval of the United Nations Security Council and the African Union for the intervention last Thursday, and by Saturday it had troops on the ground in Bangui. Djotodia, who could not be found last week, has also belatedly endorsed the intervention.  

      The need for speed is still paramount, and French defence minister Jean-Yves le Drian said that the job of disarming the ex-Seleka fighters got underway on Monday: “First we'll ask nicely and if they don't react, we'll do it by force.”

      This is the second time this year that French troops have been sent in to stop an African state from collapsing into slaughter and anarchy. (The French intervention in Mali in January saved that country from conquest by jihadis.) It is deeply embarrassing for the African Union to admit that its own peace-keeping force cannot do the job in time, but it hasn’t let its pride get in the way of preventing genocide in the CAR.



      boris moris

      Dec 9, 2013 at 4:34pm

      This is atrocious. We can't have stability in Africa or First World nations and corporations won't be able to loot the resources with impunity the way they do in Alberta with laughably small royalties to pay.

      The horror. Can't we just put a deadly virus in their vaccines so they won't get in the way of progress? What's that? Already done you say. AIDS isn't a "gift" from monkeys after all? Right then...carry on Empire.

      I Chandler

      Dec 10, 2013 at 7:42am

      "title of Worst Governed Country in Africa...The CAR has had eight coups since it got its independence from France in 1960"

      Did the french govern the country any better than the french puppets?

      "used his “Imperial Guard” to murder schoolchildren, who defied his rule"

      A group known as Les Effaceurs ("the erasers") clear the land of Pygmies to open it up for mineral exploitation.

      A few more missions will bring peace to the country:


      Dec 10, 2013 at 10:03am

      Mali hasn't been "saved" just yet. Like Libya, there is instability. Just wait until the French pull out. And so it will be with this country. People will be saved from rape and murder - for the time being. Their needs are especially urgent because they are Christians and this is Christmas time.
      By the way, who designed that flag? It's from hunger!

      boris moris

      Dec 10, 2013 at 5:11pm

      About 10 years ago Stephen Lewis announced a dollar number that he estimated would, if spent, eradicate hunger, disease and poverty in Africa. $170B per annum. As in USPetroTortureState $$$, to be precise. The UN had commissioned this data from Lewis and guess what happened?
      Nearly SFA.

      In other 2013 news:


      "The church does not release financial data, but a lengthy report by The Economist last year said annual spending by the Vatican and church-owned entities in the U.S. alone was about $170 billion in 2010.

      That number is also approx half of the annual US military budget. It would appear that a failed state is a miners and an oilman's best buddy.

      Only about a dozen hours away by military jet transport, you say? Pity. Not in the budget, old chap. You have to have your triplicates filed 16 months in advance. Won't do to break protocol and, to quote Winston Churchill speaking about Mesopotamia in 1920,

      " I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected."

      Yeah..90 or so years much has really changed except for the increased ravages to the environment and civilization courtesy of PetroWorld SS ?

      David English

      Dec 11, 2013 at 6:55pm

      At least the French have will to do something. Impressive, when you consider the level of 1st world whining that inevitably follows.

      Nobody goes in and we get Rwanda, then years of whiners complaining about how racist the people in power are because we just watched and did nothing. But, when enough capabilities and reasons align, it's whining about how the people in power are exploiting them. Damned if we stay, damned if we go, or try, or not try, or desperately try to ignore the whole thing. Mostly, it's us damning ourselves. Worse still is all the people that whine about how much money is wasted on the military and then start whining when "they" don't do something, like somehow a military force can be conjured out the the air when a situation arises that makes everyone else run away.

      People whine about the French... at least they have the capability and the stomach to use it.

      Martin Dunphy

      Dec 11, 2013 at 7:31pm

      David English:

      France? Capability? Stomach? Rwanda?
      Before you mention those words in anything resembling proximity to each other, with respect, maybe you should look into France's "role" in the Rwandan genocide. (And I'm not talking about its cultural and colonial "legacy" in that country.)
      At one point, France was landng planes full of arms, including crates of machetes, while Tutsis and moderate Hutus were being hacked to death just miles from the airport.
      Next to Clinton and Albright never facing war-crimes charges over that debacle and another little mess in Kosovo, France's shameful role in the Rwandan genocide is one of the least-publicized aspects of that entire horror.
      Some "capability". Strong "stomach".

      David English

      Dec 11, 2013 at 8:37pm

      "maybe you should look into France's "role" in the Rwandan genocide"

      Yeah, I read Dallaire's book. I have some understanding of all the fingers in that particular stew, as much as the truth can be conjured up from that mess. The fact remains, if anyone, including the French, had actually sent in a meaningful force of real soldiers then "Rwanda" would have an entirely different meaning today.

      Yes, blame the original mess on colonization, arbitrary boarders designed to create said mess, whatever. That's my point. If outsiders pick a side and meddle, they get blamed. If they go in with force, they get blamed, if they do nothing, they get blamed. Is France as a former colonial power responsible for helping to clean up the mess they left behind? Should they stay out no matter what? There will never be a consensus on that.

      So, despite setting themselves up for another go round of the blame game, France put a meaningful combat force in place. That force has already taken casualties and there will likely be more. Will French businesses benefit from this little adventure? Probably. Will the French be accused of colonialism? Definitely. Will the CAR become a wonderful tourist destination soon. Doubtful. Will there be another Rwanda-style genocide? No.

      I stand by my position. Despite the certainty of being accused of all manner of things, rightly or wrongly, at least the French did something.

      Martin Dunphy

      Dec 11, 2013 at 8:46pm

      My point is that what the French did before was genocide. And they never faced a "blame game", much less a war-crimes tribunal.
      The only stomachs involved here are those being turned.