Updated: April 2016
The Conflict at a Glance:
Who (are the main combatants): The government of the Central African Republic, transitioning after a violent coup by Séléka (Alliance) rebels, is supported by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and troops from the EU and France. Together, these groups are fighting Christian vigilante groups known as anti-balaka (“machete-proof”) and ex-Séléka soldiers.
What (started the conflict): A French and Chadian-backed coup in 2003 led by the now exiled President Bozizé began a ten-year rule that was largely corrupt and did not support basic needs of the country. International Crisis Group reports that Bozizé failed to commit to the results of the 2008 Inclusive Political Dialogue disarmament talks with rebels and in 2013 withdrew from a power-sharing agreement. This led an alliance of rebel factions under Michel Djotodia to overthrow the Bozizé government in March 2013. Following the coup, the country fell into chaos. Djotodia’s alliance was disbanded in September and Christian self-defense militias carried out ethnically and religiously-fueled fighting against civilians and ex-Séléka fighters.
When (has the fighting occurred): Since the CAR gained independence from France in 1960, it has experienced only one peaceful change of government, in 1993. The March 2013 coup that overthrew François Bozizé started a period of violence that intensified in December 2013, when more than 1,000 people died, and continued in 2014.
Where (has the conflict taken place): Human Rights Watch reported that fighting has occurred across the country, but especially in Bossangoa and the capital, Bangui. Amnesty International noted an escalation of violence in the central region in late 2014 and ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the west. AI reported attacks on Muslims in Bouali, Boyali, Bossembélé, Bossemptélé, Baoro, Bawi, Bangui, Yaloke, Boda, and Bocaranga, as well as attacks on Christians in Baoro, Bata, and Sibut.
2015 The country remained divided into the anti-balaka west, and an east and north controlled by former Séléka forces (“ex-Séléka”). Central CAR saw ongoing clashes between the two sides as well as engagements between armed groups and international forces. Fighting between Christians and Muslims escalated after a Muslim cab driver in capital city Bangui was killed on September 26. Elections at the end of December were relatively peaceful.
2014 Ethnic cleansing of Muslims marked the year; some areas were left with no Muslims. The year was more violent than 2013, with violence particularly high in January and February. A ceasefire was signed in July, but fighting continued. Interim president Catherine Samba-Panza was appointed in January, with the hope that formal elections would be held in summer 2015. The MISCA mission was replaced by MINUSCA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic), a formal UN peacekeeping mission. In September the International Criminal Court announced that it would investigate human rights abuses in the CAR.
2013 Over 400,000 civilians were displaced within CAR or fled as refugees to neighbouring countries, as ex-Séléka and anti-balaka soldiers continued to commit atrocities across the country. Violence peaked on December 4 and 5 when approximately 1,200 people were killed in fighting in Bossangoa. This prompted a UN Security Council resolution and agreements by the International Support Mission for CAR (MISCA) that included France sending 1,600 soldiers and MISCA increasing its presence to 6,000 troops. President Bozizé’s failure to respect bilateral peace and disarmament agreements made between 2007 and 2012, led to a successful coup in March 2013 after four months of fighting. Subsequently, the situation spiraled out of control, with accusations of crimes against humanity perpetrated against civilian populations by rebel groups and vigilantes with near total impunity. Following the coup, Michel Djotodia, the leader of Séléka, became the self-proclaimed president of CAR and began to establish transitional institutions. In August he was formally sworn in as President. International Crisis Group reported that despite the transitional government’s efforts, the security situation deteriorated quickly as Séléka soldiers carried out attacks against civilians in August in spite of orders to disarm. As a result, Djotodia dissolved the alliance in September. In reaction to violent acts in the major urban centers of Bossangoa and Bangui, an anti-Séléka vigilante group named “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) began attacks on the Muslim population.
CAR Government and International Security Forces
1. Central African Armed Forces (FACA), CAR Government: Prior to the March 2013 coup that overthrew President Bozizé, the armed forces began to abandon the president, who constantly insulted the soldiers in public and refused to provide funding for fear of a coup. Many of Bozizé’s personal bodyguard of 40 Chadian Special Forces soldiers joined rebel factions, including the Christian militia group anti-balaka. Attempts to restore the army are threatened by this military-rebel overlap.
Séléka leader Michel Djotodia attempted to restore order by forming the National Transitional Council, working with MICOPAX (see below), and ordering Séléka rebels to begin the disarmament process. These efforts failed and Djotodia stepped down from power. In January 2014, Catherine Samba-Panza became interim president.
2. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA): in September 2014, this UN peacekeeping mission took over from the International Support Mission for CAR or MISCA. This mission includes many former MISCA troops and absorbed the staff of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA). It has a broad mandate, including protecting civilians, promoting human rights and justice, and supporting the transitional government. The mission is authorized to have 11,820 personnel, although in January 2015 they were approximately 2,600 short of full strength. Currently the UN mission is supported by EU and French troops, although a reduction in these troops is anticipated within the year.
3. International Support Mission for CAR (MISCA): Formed in July 2013 under the leadership of Chad and the African Union, MISCA had support from countries across the AU and from Europe. Sixteen hundred French soldiers had arrived by December 2013. MISCA was replaced by MINUSCA in September 2014.
4. Mission de Consolidation de la Paix en Centrafrique (MICOPAX): In July 2008, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS/CEEAC) began MICOPAX to contribute to durable peace and security in the CAR by creating preconditions for sustainable development. Its mandate was to protect civilians, secure territory, contribute to the national reconciliation process, and facilitate political dialogue initiated by President Bozizé. In 2013 it was replaced by MISCA.
5. Séléka – “Alliance”:Michel Djotodia formed a loose alliance of rebel factions, mostly from northeastern Chad, in response to President Bozizé’s draft reform measures of 2012 that offered them limited representation. Djotodia formally disbanded Séléka in September 2013, after failing to control Séléka troops, to signal support for MISCA. This resulted in a return to rebel factions with no central leadership. Séléka troops have been known to include child soldiers. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), three Séléka factions were then formed: the Patriotic Assembly for the Renaissance of Central Africa (RPRC), the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), and the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central Africa (FPRC).
Human Rights Watch reported that authorities have attempted to integrate former Séléka soldiers (“ex-Séléka”) into a new national army. However, ineffective oversight by military commanders hindered the success of this process. Ex-Séléka continued to commit human rights abuses (Human Rights Watch).
6. Anti-balaka (‘machete proof’; ‘anti-machete’) Militia: Christian militias were formed after the March 2013 coup, initially claiming to be self-defence groups that opposed Séléka atrocities. Soon they were accused of attacks on the Muslim population that constituted crimes against humanity. Although there is no formal structure, some members claim leadership roles; the militias have admitted to including child soldiers in their ranks. In 2014, the militias continued to fuel religious and ethnic violence in CAR which resulted in mass displacements of Muslim populations in some parts of the country. In November 2014, the group announced its transition into a political party called the Central African Party for Unity and Development (PCUD) and pledged to disarm.
7. Revolution and Justice (RJ): Formed near the Chadian border by members of the now defunct Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy and led by Armel Sayo Bedaya (formerly involved with the FACA), RJ became active in late 2013. Its stated goals are tranquility and stability. Although they have few serious weapons, they were a reported threat to CAR’s northern communities in 2014.
8. Union of Central African Armed Forces for Recovery (UFACAR): Formed in June 2014 by supporters of Bozizé, this group controls areas in the provinces of Nana Mambéré and Mambéré-Kadéi. Their stated purpose is to support constitutional order; they are attempting to recruit former CAR troops.
9. Organization of Muslim Resistance of the Central African Republic (ORMC or OMRC): Formed in May 2014, it aims to defend Muslims and announced its intention to march on Bangui. ORMC emerged from the Séléka and has 5,000 members.
10. Other armed groups: There are many other active groups, including ethnic militias, such as armed Fulani groups and the Popular Front for Recovery (FPR), which was established to protect the Peuhl ethnic group. Groups from other countries, including Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, contribute to instability.
2015 The European Union Force mission ended on March 15 and was replaced by military advisors. MINUSCA forces added 750 soldiers, 280 police, and 20 corrections officers in March and a further 1,140 personnel in November (International Crisis Watch).
On February 10, MINUSCA and French Sangaris forces successfully expelled ex-Séléka forces from Bria, Haute Kotto. Clashes between MINUSCA peacekeepers and anti-balaka forces in Bangui injured 70 students on June 3. On August 2, MINUSCA initiated an operation in the PK5 neighbourhood in Bangui. Later reports claimed that a peacekeeper raped a 12-year-old girl during the mission (ForeignPolicy.com). A MINUSCA peacekeeper later killed four colleagues and wounded eight others before killing himself.
Violence escalated during the second half of the year. Major fighting from August 20 to 24 between ex-Séléka and anti-balaka groups left at least 15 dead and 20 injured (International Crisis Watch). Violence between Christians and Muslims in Bangui intensified after the September 26 killing of a Muslim taxi driver. In the month following the attack,International Crisis Group reported that 70 people had been killed and tens of thousands displaced in the CAR’s capital city(International Crisis Watch). MINUSCA forces were caught in the middle of the ongoing violence.
2014 Attacks against Muslims increased; anti-balaka attacks forced many Muslims to leave their communities. IRIN News reported that attacks on trucks and other security concerns made it difficult for aid workers to supply aid and evacuate people. Early in the year, the UN released a report stating that there was no genocide, noting a lack of genocidal intent. However, Amnesty International has raised concerns about ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the CAR. ACLED reported that violence was higher than in 2013, and that January and February were particularly violent. A ceasefire beginning on July 23 had little effect as clashes continued. A UN report in July concluded that the CAR is essentially partitioned, with anti-balaka militias operating in the west and Séléka in the east.
2013 Séléka rebels, other rebel groups and anti-balaka soldiers were accused of crimes against humanity, as they killed civilians, abducted and raped women, and pillaged and burned down entire villages with near total impunity across the country after the government lost complete power in March. An estimated 5,000 Séléka rebels overtook the Presidential Palace, with chaos ensuing when Séléka troops ceased following orders from the self-proclaimed President Michel Djotodia. The army of President Bozizé, including many members of his Republican Guard, quickly abandonned him, and some later joined Séléka and anti-balaka groups. Many armed groups had no goal other than short-term immediate gain. Amnesty International reported that both ex-Séléka and anti-balaka rebels had child soldiers in their ranks. Fighting on December 4 and 5 was the deadliest to date, resulting in the deaths of 1,200 people. Previously, Human Rights Watch reported anti-balaka fighters killed 57 people in a town east of Bossangoa in one raid.
Total: The UN commission of inquiry suggested at the end of 2014 that between 3,000 and 6,000 people had been killed in the conflict, but this estimate is likely low.
2015 ACLED reported 484 conflict-related deaths in 2015, a significant drop from the previous year (ACLED).
Refugees and IDPs: The UNHCR reported 470,568 refugees, 10,157 asylum seekers, and 368,859 internally displaced people originating from the Central African Republic (UNHCR).
2014 ACLED reported that more than 3,000 people were killed in 2014, making it the most violent year of the conflict so far. Aid workers noted that death tolls might not have included Muslim victims who were taken to mosques or buried without having been taken to hospitals.
Refugees and IDPs: According to IRIN News, at the beginning of 2015, there were 438,538 internally displaced persons in the CAR and 423,300 refugees, most in Cameroon and Chad. Notably, in 2014, an increased number of Muslims left the country; some areas reportedly had no Muslims.
2013 The Red Cross reported that after gaining control of Bangui, Séléka troops selectively looted and raided the city, with many unreported deaths throughout the summer. The number of verified deaths stood at 650, but is expected to rise to 1,500 as international aid workers enter the hard to reach areas. It is estimated that ex-Séléka soldiers killed 1,000 Bangui citizens in December, leading to retaliatory killings of Muslims throughout the country by anti-balaka fighters.
Refugees: UNHCR estimates that there are 206,000 Internally Displaced Persons and 221,577 refugees who have fled growing violence in CAR.
2015 Negotiations began in January in Nairobi, Kenya between anti-balaka leaders and their Séléka counterparts. On January 26 the two sides reached a deal that included an amnesty for perpetrators of violence and an end to the current transitional authorities. The agreement was opposed by the UN and the CAR government. In March the International Contact Group accepted the draft constitution written by CAR’s transitional parliament.
The Bangui Forum on National Reconciliation took place May 4-11. Stakeholders included not only political elites based in Bangui, but refugees and the diaspora (Report of the Secretary General on the situation in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA). The Bangui Forum recommended the delaying of elections and the extension of the interim government’s mandate. On June 16 the country’s electoral authority announced that parliamentary and presidential elections would take place on October 18, with the second round of presidential elections in late November. Ultimately, the first round was held on December 30, with results announced in 2016. The election was relatively peaceful.
In late April, the international media published a leaked report alleging that French peacekeepers sexually abused children. Two investigations, one by French authorities and one by Central African Republic authorities, were initiated.
2014 In January, Djotodia resigned as president and the mayor of Bangui, Catherine Samba-Panza, was appointed interim president. Elections were scheduled for the summer of 2015. Several allegations against peacekeeping forces were made. In March, Congolese MISCA forces were accused of “the enforced disappearance” of a number of people. Chadian forces left the country in April after allegations of violence, including a March attack on a market that was later claimed to have been provoked by anti-balaka forces. MISCA and BINUCA were replaced in September by MINUSCA, a UN peacekeeping mission, although many of the personnel remained the same. The International Criminal Court began a preliminary investigation into human rights abuses in February; a formal investigation opened in September. In November, the anti-balaka announced their transformation into a political movement called the Central African Party for Unity and Development (PCUD).
2013 An increasingly paranoid President François Bozizé made his final political mistake in January by ignoring an agreement with Séléka rebels to continue peace talks and disarmament efforts, and in March Michel Djotodia, then leader of Séléka, overthrew his government. The new government made several attempts to regain control of the situation and appease the international community, but these failed resulting in the dissolution of Séléka in September. Fighters within the group remained active in independent groups without tangible structure or hierarchy. Militias acted with near impunity across the country while UN Peacekeepers from MISCA and French soldiers struggled to bring peace or disarmament between ex-Séléka and anti-balaka militias.
The political situation in the Central African Republic has been complex since its independence from France in 1960, with a history of coups and only one peaceful change of government. François Bozizé, who became president in a coup d’état in 2003, legitimized his power in the 2005 election. In the meantime, rebel opposition groups became concerned about regional marginalization and insecurity. The government began a counterinsurgency campaign in 2005. For the next two years, the state military forces were accused of severe human rights abuses, including the deaths of hundreds of civilians, the burning of tens of thousands of villages, and the displacement of more than 200,000 people. In 2008, peace talks led to an agreement to disarm by two of the main rebel groups. Following a national political dialogue, the process culminated in the creation of a national government of unity in 2009 and an independent electoral commission. The failure of President Bozizé to commit to the results of the national dialogue and subsequent disarmament talks and power-sharing arrangements led to the overthrow of his government in March 2013.
The CAR conflict has a complex interplay of factors. There are religious dimensions: the ex-Séléka have many Muslim members and have disproportionately targeted Christians; the anti-balaka are largely Christian with some animist members and have mainly targeted Muslims. However, the top Muslim and Christian religious leaders in the CAR have repeatedly stated that the militia groups do not represent their religions, calling the conflict politically motivated. Other contributing factors include the particular underdevelopment of the country’s northeast and transhumance. The movement of pastoralists with their herds into the CAR from Chad and other countries can cause clashes with farmers. Muslims are sometimes referred to as Chadian in the CAR, even if they have never lived in Chad. Descendants of Chadian immigrants are often perceived as foreign, as are all Muslims on occasion. Reports of fighters speaking Arabic (a language spoken in the extreme northeast of the country) and the presence of many troops from Chad and Sudan in the ex- Séléka ranks fuel division.
The Conflict Armament Research reported in 2014 that many Séléka arms were taken from former government supplies, and that these arms have continued to spread to various actors in the conflict. They also found that Sudan had provided the Séléka with weapons, including vehicles that had not been seen in the country prior to 2013 and ammunition manufactured in 2013. The report suggested that weapons manufactured by China, possibly Iran, and in Europe were transferred to the Central African Republic through Sudan and other nearby countries.
According to the Enough Project, the anti-balaka originally possessed only unsophisticated weaponry, including “single-shot hunting rifles, machetes, spears, and bows.” However, as the conflict continued, they were joined by former army members and their armaments became more sophisticated. They gained weapons in clashes with the Séléka. Human Rights Watch witnessed anti-balaka groups with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and AK-47s. Conflict Armament Research noted that anti-balaka ammunition includes shotgun rounds from Spain, Italy, and Cameroon.
Fighters in the CAR have machine guns, mortar tubes, shotguns, and RPG rockets and launchers. Of particular note are Chinese-manufactured grenades, seemingly intended originally for Nepalese use, which are extremely cheap and widely held by Séléka, anti-balaka, and civilian forces. Observers fear that the wide availability of weapons in the CAR could cause it to become a supplier of illegal weapons to neighbouring countries.
The UN placed the CAR under an arms embargo at the end of 2013 in response to the breakdown of law and order. The ban has contributed to the weakness of CAR’s army, which lacks weapons. According to BBC News, the shipments from Sudan took place prior to the embargo.
The Central African Republic and Sudan have not signed or ratified the UN Arms Trade Treaty.
The country has rich but largely unexploited natural resources: diamonds, gold, uranium and other minerals, and timber. Rebel groups have cited economic marginalization as a concern. A recent report from the Enough Project noted that the ex-Séléka are getting funds by smuggling diamonds and poaching elephants, as well as looting. The anti-balaka gain much of their funding by looting and likely have some control over diamonds and gold in the regions they occupy. The report further stated that Chad’s oil interests can be linked to the Séléka. International Crisis Group indicated that the cattle trade fuels this conflict as well; the anti-balaka often steal cattle and the ex-Séléka have successfully controlled some cattle markets. The UN reported that diamonds, gold, ivory, timber, and bush meat help to finance these groups.
The Kimberley Process, an international body regulating the sale of diamonds, decided on May 23, 2013 to prohibit the CAR from exporting diamonds, from a conern that profits would help fuel conflict. Nevertheless, a 2014 document revealed that groups in the CAR continued to ship diamonds out of the country (Kimberley Process). In 2015 the Kimberley Process determined that the CAR had made progress in securing its diamond industry. Consequently, it allowed the CAR to resume an export trade in rough diamonds under specific conditions (Kimberley Process).
The Central African Republic is one of the world’s least developed countries, ranking among the lowest 10 on the UN Human Development Index. The World Bank predicted an almost 20-per-cent decline in CAR’s GDP growth rate in the wake of the extreme violence that occurred in 2013. International Crisis Group rated economic disadvantage as a key driver of the conflict and saw revitalization of the economy an essential prerequisite to peace.