Occasional Paper

Central African Republic: A Conflict Misunderstood

The Central African Republic has been troubled by periodic surges of violence for quite some time. The democratic election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in the December 2015-February 2016 presidential elections offered hope of a new era for this country. However, the window of opportunity created by the election to implement a successful peace agreement and introduce necessary institutional reform to promote national unity is rapidly diminishing. The security situation in CAR has been deteriorating as ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka rebel groups continue to fragment and turn to criminality to sustain themselves. Most notably, fighting around Bambari between the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) and the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC) has intensified in recent weeks and violence across the region has turned increasingly inter-communal. Against the backdrop of a deteriorating security environment, the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen, driving further criminality and conflict. More than half of the estimated 4.6 million population of CAR remain dependent on humanitarian assistance, the highest United Nations (UN) per capita case load globally. This number is likely to increase this year, as many communities, dependent on farming, have been unable to plant crops due to increasing insecurity and subsequent displacement. While fighting between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka has widely been reported as a religious conflict between Muslims and Christians, the reality is much more complex. CAR has for decades been a place of exploitation by a multiplicity of foreign actors. A weak state and the relational nature of CAR’s sovereignty has resulted in a hive of competing regional and international interests that hold influence over the country’s political and security landscape, often through opaque bilateral relations. A history of conflict has undermined social cohesion and destabilized traditional conflict resolution mechanisms. Violence has become a tried and tested route to power. The international community and Central African government’s emphasis on stabilizing CAR during the periods of conflict, without addressing its root causes, has served only to create intermittent stability and a negative peace.