This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
Take a look at the World section of nearly any mainstream news outlet and the main story will be Iraq, Syria, Ukraine or Gaza—all of which are suffering acutely from their respective conflicts. Yet even together they hardly enjoy a monopoly on gruesome civil wars or protracted refugee crises.
At a time of so many global calamities, it’s easy for smaller countries in which the United States lacks a vested interest to fall by the wayside. And that’s exactly what’s happened in the Central African Republic (CAR).
For the past two years, sectarian Christian and Muslim militias in CAR have been waging war against each other’s communities with horrific violence. Over 2,600 Central Africans have died, and nearly 1 million of the country’s 4.5 million residents have been displaced, creating an urgent humanitarian crisis.
Yet although the country is teetering on the edge of complete chaos, the outside world is paying very little attention.
Coup and Counter-Coup
An aptly named country in the heart of the African continent, CAR has a history shared by countries throughout Africa and the broader post-colonial world: colonization followed by independence and subsequent political turmoil.
Since gaining its independence from France in 1960, the small country has seen at least five coup d’états and numerous protracted civil conflicts, many of which have exploited the country’s ethnic, religious and regional divisions.
The latest unrest dates back at least to 2003. That year, former CAR army chief of staff François Bozizéseized the presidency from Ange-Félix Patassé, who had been CAR’s first democratically elected leader but whose rule had been marked by civil strife and upheld by foreign troops.
A civil war, known as the Central African Republic Bush War, broke out the following year when rebel groups attempted to overthrow Bozizé. The war raged for four years before a shaky truce was reached. However, violence resurged in December 2012, when rebel groups accused the government of not abiding by the peace agreements that were signed at the end of the Bush War.
By March 2013, the mostly Muslim Seleka faction had ousted Bozizé and installed Michel Djotodia as president, making him the majority-Christian country’s first Muslim leader. Yet this apparent political victory did little to stem the unrest the Seleka were sowing throughout the countryside. By June 2013, rampaging Seleka fighters had deliberately killed scores of civilians and destroyed 1,000 homes in Bangui and other provinces.