Two days ago, on August 14, the UN Security Council (UNSC) met to discuss the on-going situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) – which is just getting worse and worse, without anyone paying any attention. Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in her briefing to the UNSC, describes the overall situation as follows:
The Central African Republic is not yet a failed State but has the potential to become one if swift action is not taken […] If inadequately addressed, this crisis threatens to spread beyond the Central African Republic’s borders and to further destabilize a region already facing significant challenges.
For those unfamiliar with the African continent, CAR is bordered by Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cameroon – none of which can really afford to have CAR’s conflict spreading across their borders. And within the country, the situation is pretty dire:
All 4.6 million Central Africans had been affected by the crisis and 1.6 million people were in dire need of assistance, including food, protection, health care, water, sanitation and shelter, [Amos] said. More than 206,000 people had been internally displaced and nearly 60,000 had sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Many people continued to hide in the bush and remote areas in poor sanitary conditions and without access to basic services or clean water.
In early January, an IRIN analytical piece reported that South Africa’s deployment of South African National Defense Forces (SANDF) troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) was seen by some “not simply as an effort to assist CAR’s army but also as a move to counter French military influence in the region.” South Africa’s involvement in CAR, the argument goes, is part of South Africa’s intention of supporting “African solutions to African problems.”
For a few days now, worrying reports have come out of the Central African Republic (CAR) regarding advances by rebels. With substantial interests in the stability of the CAR (see more below), France called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, March 20th. In a statement issued the same day, the UN Security Council closed with the following:
The members of the Security Council expressed serious concerns at reports of human rights violations and abuses, in particular reports on the targeting of persons belonging to ethnic minorities and illegal detentions, and at the continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including recruitment and use of children in armed conflict and sexual and gender-based violence. They emphasized that such activities must cease immediately and that those responsible for such violations and abuses should be held accountable.
At the time of writing, reports are coming in that the rebels – known as the Seleka rebel coalition – have entered Bangui, the capital, last night (Saturday), after fighting with Chadian and South African troops, and may have even taken the Presidential palace. It is also being reported that France has sent an additional 150 troops to help keep control over the airport in Bangui, where 250 troops were already stationed.
While I’m not an expert of the Seleka rebel coalition – and there are plenty of news stories and analytical pieces floating around that can explain it very well – I thought it would be interesting to discuss the regional and historical context (see below) for CAR’s current predicament, as well as clarify some of the military aspects which are being referenced to. A lot of the news pieces I’ve seen so far seem to say a lot, without going into details and I find them quite confusing. So here we go.