Central African Republic may become ‘the next Somalia’

Central African Republic may become ‘the next Somalia’

Of all the bloody conflicts around the world, it is somewhat surprising that the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) receives such scant media attention. While some observers even claim it will become ‘the next Somalia,’ both NGOs and the UN are calling for urgent funding and international troop deployment before the situation gets out of hand and causes deeper regional problems.

The current conflict in CAR stems from a longer standoff between the country’s former president François Bozizé and a coalition of three rebel groups known as Seleka. This feud has spanned most of the 21st century, but drastically escalated in March when the rebels managed to seize the capital of Bangui and oust Bozizé, who was then replaced by the Seleka leader President Michel Djotodia. The clashes between militias supporting Bozizé and those in favor of Djotodia have displaced more than 400,000 people, and have included an incalculable increase in rape and murder rates.

One of the most outspoken countries to promote an international effort has been France, which has had a consistent presence in CAR since the 1960s and currently stations 400 troops there. During a trip to South Africa last week, French President François Hollande pledged to increase the number of troops by the end of the year, possibly to 750. However, France is reluctant to take on heavier unilateral action due to lack of international support of its operations in Mali earlier this year, especially from allies such as the U.S.

One of the great fears, like in Mali, is that CAR will become a regional center for Islamic extremists. Already Janjaweed fighters from Chad and Sudan are reportedly cooperating with members of Seleka, and France is warning of religious extremists pouring in from Nigeria and Mali as well. What is more, the Lord’s Resistance Army (coming into spotlight through the viral Kony2012 campaign) is also widely believed to be hiding in CAR.

On October 8th, the UN passed a France-led resolution ordering the violent Seleka rebels to disarm and pressuring the incumbent leadership to hold democratic elections in 2015. There is also hope that future UN action in CAR will be elevated to peacekeeping status, helping international efforts with more extensive resources.

At the same time, the UN is also seeking to increase the powers of the African Union (AU) – which has already expelled and imposed sanctions on CAR’s leadership – in controlling the conflict. However, not all AU members will be eager to contribute, including South Africa which lost thirteen soldiers earlier this year, sparking a national controversy. Other regional efforts, such as peacekeeping operations from the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), may also be upgraded.

FDI into the Central African region, which includes CAR, climbed to $10 billion in 2012. However, little of this went to CAR and security problems has made it difficult to operate there. Canadian gold explorer Axmin Inc stopped its local operations due to violence in the capital. Analysts have further foreshadowed spillover effects into neighboring Central African states, if the conflict does not end.

CAR has the potential to become a wealthy exporter of valuable raw materials, in particular diamonds and uranium. If international and regional action brings about positive changes within the country, it would boost FDI and contribute to nearby infrastructural efforts, such as improving the Douala port in Cameroon. It would also present significant opportunities to invest in extractive and export sectors. This economic development, in turn, will help to solidify humanitarian safety and political stability. It is unlikely, however, that CAR will be able to ensure stability on its own.

About Author

Karl Sorri

Karl has gained global experience working at the Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin, the Political/Economic Section of the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, and as a freelance journalist. Karl holds an MA in Politics from the University of Glasgow and an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics.