Why CAR must capitalize on Pope Francis’s visit

Why CAR must capitalize on Pope Francis’s visit

There has been a sudden silence in Bangui ahead of Pope Francis’ visit, an indication that the visit has potential to help establish national reconciliation and a lasting peace.

Central African Republic is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. It is categorised as a fragile state and ranks 180/187 in terms of the global Human Development Index.

From its earliest history, peace seems to have always eluded the African country. Struggle for control over resources dates back to the 7th century, and following its independence in 1960, there have been a series of successive coup-d’états, with the latest occurring in March 2013. 

Political instability, ethno-religious cleansing, human rights abuses, rape, generalised violence and massive internal displacement in the enduring clash in the capital, Bangui, between the predominantly Muslim Séléka rebels and the Christian militias, the anti-Balaka, continues to worsen.

The renewed hostility has led to the death of scores of people, while hundreds of homes have been destroyed and thousands displaced.

CAR is one of the most dangerous African countries. The inter-communal dynamic of the violence deepened following the killing of a Muslim commercial motorcyclist in September.

Weak state structures, lack of state authority and inefficient law enforcement have allowed for continued violence by the warring parties, especially in Bangui. Although peacekeeping troops have been deployed, their number is insufficient and overwhelmed.

Extreme damage to the socio-economic situation and breakdown of the societal structure continue unchecked. The weak socio-economic infrastructure which attracted many youths to Bangui and other CAR cities is now scarcely in existence. Not only has peacekeeping failed due to various reasons, attempts at peace-building have been unsuccessful so far.

In a climate of impunity, CAR’s failing economy and human development, with little or barely existing infrastructure, have only worsened. The import-dependent economy is very weak and barely functional given the losses in the private sector and investor flight. The longer the conflict continues, the weaker the economy is likely to get. 

Clear agenda for the visit

Pope Francis visited Bangui on Sunday, 29 November. Ahead of his visit, the Pope stated in a video message that, “I hope with all my heart that my visit may contribute, in one way or another, to alleviate your wounds and to favor conditions for a better, more serene future.”

The Pope’s plan to visit to a dangerous destination is both historic and heroic; he is expected visit a camp for the Internally Displaced People, and to pray at Bangui’s central mosque.

Although the July 2014 ceasefire agreement failed after Séléka military chief, Joseph Zoundeiko, called for a partition of the country along religious lines, the Séléka mainly Muslim rebel coalition has publicly approved of the Pope’s trip.

Central Africa Republic’s crisis is both political and religious. While the Pope may not be involved in bringing a political solution to the crisis, his visit and message of inter-religious peace are expected to set the stage for a lasting peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The last golden opportunity for peace

The violence in the republic is being perpetrated mainly by irate and disgruntled unemployed youths, most of who may have been drawn to the cities in search of education, training and economic opportunities.

As presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled to hold on Sunday, 13 December, and a possible run-off presidential elections on Sunday, 24 January, failure of the warring sides and the republic’s leadership to maximise this golden moment created by the pontiff’s visit to begin a peace-building process can give these youths the opportunity to start profiting from violence as a livelihood.

About Author

Tolulope Ola-David

Tolulope Ola-David is a Political Risk Analyst specialising in the political climate and social conditions of Africa.