Religious Violence in the Central African Republic (RELS 348)

The article by Cara Anna of the Associated Press found on the website of the Toronto Star demonstrates some significant issues which arose from imperialism and the spread of non-native religions in Africa. Cara Anna is writing about the findings of a United Nations inquiry into the crisis in the mostly Christian Central African Republic that is still ongoing today. A description of the crisis ensues and the author details how the crisis in the former French imperial possession began in 2013 when Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew the incumbent Christian dictator Francois Bozize. The Seleka were angry that Bozize had violated terms of an existing peace treaty between the rebels and the government. In response many Christians responded by joining groups collectively known as the anti-Balaka and committing atrocities against Muslims. A subsequent refugee crisis has resulted from Muslims fleeing the violence against them in the CAR, and neighbouring states such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon have view resources to help the refugees or intervene militarily. Although the UN inquiry did not formally recognize the indiscriminate killing of Muslims by the anti-Balaka as being genocidal, it affirmed that ethnic cleansing was being carried out against Muslims on a very large scale. A UN peacekeeping force arrived in September 2014 and was able to stabilize the situation in large centers, but tensions remain very high.

The situation in the CAR has many ties with both religion and the legacy of European imperialism. Many natives of the CAR practiced Islam in large centres and animism in rural regions at the beginning of French imperialism. Little attempt was made to colonize the CAR by bringing in French immigrants to settle the region, but a concerted effort was made to convert the local population to Christianity. Missionaries were successful in converting them majority of the population to Christianity. Although the CAR gained its independence from France after the Second World War, the boundaries of the French dominated CAR were retained with the independent CAR which has resulted in a substantial Muslim minority sharing a state with a Christian majority. Religious divisions within the CAR have clearly contributed to the current conflict, and begs the question whether the crisis would be as fierce or exist at all had the CAR’s borders been delineated along religious lines rather than imperial ones. The author of the article appears to be somewhat skeptical of the work of the UN inquiry seeing as how the author outlines the atrocities committed by the anti-Balaka movement which seem to fit the textbook definition of genocide. By outlining the significant challenges the UN peacekeeping force faces in maintaining order, it appears that the author does not see the UN as being able to handle the crisis on its own for very long. My personal opinion is that the author is correct to be skeptical of the inquiry’s findings that the atrocities do not quite constitute a genocide, there are likely political factors which are inhibiting the UN from outright declaring a genocide in the CAR as Security Council Members would face substantial pressure to intervene. Although French imperialism brought some infrastructure and organization to the CAR, imperialism has brought unforeseen negative consequences such as vicious religious violence which demonstrates how imperialism has had both positive and negative impacts on Africa.




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