For the last 70 days or so, the Central African Republic has been making headlines internationally. Following a coup in March 2013, instability and insecurity grew exponentially, as the new leader of the Central African Republic – Seleka leader Michel Djotodia – proved incapable of managing the forces that brought him to power. Now, merely a month after Djotodia stepped down unceremoniously, the country is being ripped apart.
Tit-for-tat violence, pitting Muslims against Christians, is creating a downward spiral of violence, which the small number of foreign troops on the ground today are not able to contain – not even close. As UN Dispatch editor Mark Goldberg noted earlier this week, the New York Times editorial board dropped the G-bomb, warning that genocide is looming in the landlocked African nation. And while the use of the word “genocide” is generally controversial, rhetorical questions should not obscure the main issue: millions of lives are at risk, and the country is spinning out of control. The current presence of the French and AU troops, the deployment of humanitarian aid, and the political pressure from regional partners are both vital and necessary – but, at this stage, this feels like we are responding to a raging house fire by throwing glasses of water, rather than calling in a fire brigade.
It’s time to call in the firemen, or risk another situation where the world stands by as millions of innocent people lose everything: their families, their homes, their livelihoods.
Of course, UN Dispatch readers understand that the reasons behind the currently limited intervention in the CAR are eminently complex. There are geopolitical considerations at play, tax dollars to manage in precarious economic times, and many other crises to contend with the world over. The ability of the “international community” – a loosely defined group of state and non-state actors with no real accountability or responsibility – to react in a timely and decisive manner is very limited.
It is disheartening to see what is playing out in the Central African Republic, especially knowing that MISCA – the African Union military force – was only partially funded for the rest of the year at a funding conference two weeks ago in Addis Ababa. And even though France is sending an additional a few hundred troops to strengthen their force on the ground, given the scale of the conflict and the massive effort needed to restore a sense of security in the country, this again falls far short of what the Central African Republic needs. (This RFI article notes that the French reinforcements are being sent for two reasons: one, because of the severity of the crisis, and two, because EU countries are taking their time sending their own troops through the recently approved EU mission.) Sluggishness in the face of these mass atrocities is not acceptable.
Other, more powerful voices, are saying the same thing, and pointing specifically to the responsibility of the UN Security Council and the African Union. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon once again called for decisive action on the matter on Saturday, saying “Now we must act together, we must act decisively and we must act now to prevent the worst.” In a stern statement released on Feb 18, Medecins Sans Frontieres, one of the key humanitarian actors on the ground, said “The extreme levels of violence against civilians and targeted killing of minority groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) illustrates the utter failure of international efforts to protect the population.” On January 22, 2014, the Under Secretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, concluded his statement to the UN Security Council with this (emphasis mine):
Although the international community is responding late in the day, there is still a window to act to mobilize appropriate resources and to reverse one of the worst human rights and humanitarian crises of our time. We need to uphold our responsibility to protect Central Africans from the risk of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity yesterday.
Will the actors who can make a difference – the countries that make up the Security Council, the AU, the EU and other nations with military and economic power to bring to bear – finally heed the call? Or will the usual, convenient excuses for slow or limited action prevail, as they tend to do?
Photo credit: UNHCR/ B.Ntwari/ January 2014