The Central African Republic: The Emerging Pakistan of Africa

The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) has deteriorated in recent months with worsening humanitarian conditions, lawlessness and violence between the Christian and Muslim communities. The Séléka coalition that overthrew President Bozizé in March has become fragmented as a result of dissension within its ranks and has failed to bring law and order to this impoverished nation. These divisions and a host of other factors that are not new to the CAR mean that Séléka has failed to take control of portions of the country. Much of the dissent within Séléka’s ranks has to do with money, with some of the former rebels in the north having dissented and refusing to lay down their arms until they receive their salaries. Given that these groups are heavily armed, and that the government lacks the capacity to control them, more violence may be expected, particularly given the ambitions of some of the former rebels, who may yet challenge the regime that has emerged.

Séléka militants have, according to human rights organizations, committed war crimes that include executing political opponents, raping women and looting homes. Nearly 4 percent of the population is internally displaced and 50,000 Central Africans have fled the country as refugees. As a result, the CAR is in the process of becoming a no-man’s land in the heart of Africa. The geopolitical ramifications of the CAR’s anarchy have already extended beyond its borders, as warring states and non-state actors exploit the country’s territory, arms caches and natural resources for their respective interests.

The current President, Nicolas Tiangaye, who comes from the CAR’s Muslim-minority community, has been elected by the transitional council to oversee the country for 18 months prior to scheduled elections. But unless security conditions improve, it is doubtful that the state will be capable of managing elections so soon.

The lack of trust between the CAR’s tribal communities (exacerbated by certain Christians’ fear that Tiangaye and his Muslim counterparts from the north seek to impose an Islamist agenda on the nation), combined with the large flow of weapons across the country, bode poorly for progress on security measures. As Séléka restricts access to the diamond business only to Séléka members, it appears that government officials are more invested in promoting their own interests than good governance or human development. This undermines prospects for political unity and meaningful state building.

It would be difficult to imagine a significant improvement in the CAR’s security without foreign assistance, but with other ongoing conflicts consuming much of the West’s attention, as well as its financial and military resources, the CAR will likely remain a low priority for policymakers in Washington and Paris. Only 31 percent of the UN’s $139 million Humanitarian Appeal for the CAR has been delivered to date, and the European Union has also withheld its $200 million aid program for the CAR, citing the nation’s lawlessness, raising doubt about the willingness of the international community to aid the CAR as chaos ensues.

The clash between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Central African villagers near the mining region of Bria earlier this month — which left 16 dead — underscores the CAR’s vulnerability to foreign militants. Moreover, as the government has voiced its opposition to foreign troops in the CAR, the LRA stands to gain much from Séléka’s rise, as Bangui’s commitment to cooperating with Washington and Kampala’s hunt for LRA leader Joseph Kony is questionable at best. Unfortunately, with a more confident and influential LRA in the CAR, more deadly incidents may become increasingly frequent.

Following Séléka’s assumption of power reports that the CAR’s diamonds are being funneled into the hands of Khartoum-backed Janjaweed militias in Darfur are also indicative of how the CAR’s chaos may already be having significant implications beyond its borders. And ongoing humanitarian crises in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan will only worsen as more Central African refugees flee the violence in their homeland.

In sum, the CAR was and remains a failed state, and the current environment provides little justification for optimism that a positive change will occur in the near or even medium-term. The CAR may become a template for radical political change in Africa, with militant Islamist extremists gaining greater power throughout the continent. The fear is that the CAR will become a magnet for extremists and a hub for non-state actors — in essence, the Pakistan of Africa, where porous borders and ungovernable terrain make the country a haven for a range of militant jihadists. The West would be well advised to put the CAR on the front burner now — before it is too late.