2014.02.27 by Guest Contributor – Saajidah Malvinah
“I watched as they slit my 3 year old son’s throat killing him and two other young boys who were with him aged only 10 and 12. They then killed the boy’s uncle and rounded up Muslims and killed all those whom they captured with a machete, whilst I hid and watched with horror as it unfolding before my eyes.”
[As recounted to Human Rights Watch]
Over the past few weeks, thousands of civilians are fleeing the country under the auspices of French and A.U troops in an attempt to escape the manhunt of Muslims. According to a report released by the United Nations, Christian militia groups called the Anti-Balaka are going door-to-door, raiding houses, looting and plundering, killing by machete any Muslim to be found.
Looting and killing of Muslims is not enough for the mobs. Places of worship and mosques are not even safe. At least 67 mosques have been destroyed in the last few months in this war-torn country. They’ve looted the mosques, removing doorframes, windows and iron sheets before destroying them. One militiaman said they were destroying mosques so the Muslims leave the country.
Politics of the conflict
The Central African Republic is a land-locked country surrounded by Chad in the north; the Democratic Republic of Congo in the south, and Sudan in the west. It is a country rich in diamonds and gold, with a population of only 4, 5 million people. Once peaceful, it has been marred by violence since the conflict began in December 2012. A coalition of rebel groups accused the then president, President François Boziza and his government of failing to abide by agreements that were signed in 2007 and 2011. The rebel forces known as ”Seleka” meaning union in the Sango language captured major towns in the central and eastern part of the country. Rebel leader Michel Djotada declared himself as the president in March.
The security situation didn’t improve with the ousting of Boziza, rather the violence began, with about 200 000 people internally displaced as well as human rights abuses including: rape, murder, extra judicial killings, use of child soldiers etc. The rebels were mostly Muslims, including the rebel leader Michel Djotada. The rebel president has since resigned in September, but his men continued their rampage. Christian groups were thus formed in self-defense. Catherine Samba Panza has been signed in as the new president, but the conflict remains.
The persecutions of Christians first began after the Seleka rebels ousted the former president and it skyrocketed once the rebels took control over. Christians, in self-defense employed a militia group, but this group who called themselves the Anti-Balaka, meaning anti-machete, didn’t differentiate between the rebels and civilians, killing them all.
France, a former colonisor, and the A.U have sent troops, but the numbers are small, especially in villages to curb the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Muslims in the Central African Republic. The United States is not to keen to send in troops after the killing of its soldiers in Sudan in 1993 though they have pledged to assist monetarily. The majority of Muslims who are found in the north have vowed to re-group and avenge the death of their brethren. France has also warned of a terrorist organisation Boko Haram, a Nigerian organisation embroiled in dispute with the leadership of Nigeria as they want shariah law in Nigeria and reigning terror on the state. They are entering C.A.R through the north of the country and the war could only intensify. This war resembles the genocide of Rwanda in 1994 wherein Hutu’s hunted down Tutsi’s and the world looked the other way round.
Since the war, thousands of Muslims have fled, thus shops are closed or looted. Food and meat has become scarce. Inflation and rising costs have more than quadrupled. Fear of famine is now growing as the Muslims who were farmers have fled or been killed and the crops plundered, leaving those left behind desperate for food. One Christian man said that he was glad the Muslims are being driven away as they have a muti called “Yasin” which gives them success in the business world. The Yasin could refer to Surah Yasin wherein Nabi [saw] had said, “whoever reads Surah Yasin in the beginning of the day all his needs will be fulfilled
All is not interfaith doom and gloom as Patheos reports how more than a thousand civilians are seeking refuge in a Catholic Church, even praying at the church in Canot, 200 km away from the Cameroon border. Reverend Justin Nary is risking his live, daily taking in more Muslims seeking refuge. The Reverend has now become a marked man with guns being pointed at him and death threats, alive due to the Cameroon peacekeeping forces who are protecting him and the Muslims.
Nicolas Gbangou, an MP from C.A.R, who recently gave a lecture at the London’s School of Oriental Studies, wherein he said, “there is no Christian militia and there is no Muslim militia. The conflict is not religious at all.” He explained that the Anti–Balaka was originally formed against animal and cattle bandits and 90% of Seleka members are foreign nationals mostly from Chad and Sudan. Two weeks ago Imaam Oumar Kobine and Archbishop Dieudonne Nzaplainga met British prime minister as was reported by BBC news. Their message was the same. This was not a conflict between the two faiths, but rather the legacy of neglect, economic marginalisation, and political exploitation. They have both pledged to work with their communities in ensuring a peaceful nation with both faiths living side by side in harmony.