The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon says that immediate action is needed to stop the killing in the Central African Republic (CAR), citing “grave and deplorable atrocities”, and “to prevent the further separation of communities that have lived together for centuries”. Its Human Rights chief said that, on a recent visit there, the Prime Minister has effectively admitted to the lack of a ‘state’. In this vacuum, the media report that there is now ongoing retaliation for crimes committed during the Muslim-led Seleka coup which took power in March 2013. This retaliation continues despite the coup leader having been replaced in January 2014.
Pastor Anatole Banga, Relief Committee co-ordinator of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches in CAR, March 2014.World Watch Monitor
Pastor Anatole Banga, Relief Committee co-ordinator of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches, spoke recently to Illia Djadi:
ID: It’s been one year since the overthrow of President Bozizé by Seleka rebels. What are your thoughts regarding the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR)?
AB: March 24, 2013, was a turning point in the history of CAR. Since the country’s independence in 1960, there have been a number of military coups, mutinies and conflicts, but those events are not comparable to the nation’s current level of disorder.
If the goal of Seleka was to bring change, they should have implemented a political program when they came into power. AEC has repeatedly condemned this lack of change, notably through pastoral letters addressed to the former President of the transition Michel Djotodia. Unfortunately, things are continuing to deteriorate and today the country’s state of chaos has reached such a high level, negative words are all that come to mind when I’m asked to describe the situation.
Are you saying that Seleka has failed to manage the nation’s affairs?
Yes, they have been unable to establish a government, and they have also destroyed what was left of the administration. This damaging behaviour dates back to December 2012 when rebellion emerged in the rural areas, where the rebels destroyed the state’s symbols, archives and civil registry. Once the rebels took complete power, it was thought that they would preserve things in Bangui, the capital, but unfortunately it also suffered from their vandalism.
For such destructive behaviour from people in leadership, surely there must be some type of explanation?
There is no rational explanation for such behaviour. Even though this conflict has political motives, it’s clear that Seleka rebels have an Islamist agenda. This is not the first time that Muslims have tried to take control of CAR, and the Muslim population has risen from 3% to 15% within the last ten years. Many high ranking intellectuals and policy makers, most notably among university professors, have converted to Islam. In 2005, 52 of the 104 Members of Parliament were Muslim which is half of the Assembly.
A Seleka leader named Abakar Sabam is reported to have said, in an interview on Radio France Internationale that it has been 50 years since Christians took power in CAR but they didn’t take the country to ‘paradise’, and the time has come for Muslims to take power. Unfortunately, since they’ve come into power they have done the opposite by bringing us hell.
Are you claiming that the Islamisation of CAR is behind Seleka’s military coup?
There is no doubt that Seleka rebels are trying to conform CAR into becoming an Islamic nation.
For example, Seleka’s leadership includes some citizens from neighbouring Chad. One should ask why they are seeking power in CAR, and it’s also important to note Sudan’s involvement. Especially since CAR’s former President, Michel Djotodia, is reported to have sent more than 200 men to receive military training in neighbouring Sudan. Although Djotodia is no longer in power, these men would most likely remain loyal to him.
AEC has nothing against Muslims coming to power, but one should question the consequences.
Despite Djotodia’s resignation from the Presidency in January, the Islamist threat has not subsided because most Seleka rebels are grouped in the North. Their unity has increased their power and they are also threatening to split the country.
The problem is those who came to defend the country have never fought them. The African Union peacekeeping troops just escorted and drove out from the capital the Seleka fighters with their weapons. Actually, the crimes committed by Seleka have never ceased in CAR, as entire regions in the north are occupied by Seleka rebels. Seleka rebels do not consider themselves defeated. It is just a matter of time, but they will return.
The media often refers to the anti-Balaka as a ‘Christian militia’. Is this accurate?
Many CAR citizens felt unprotected by the government, so the anti-Balaka militia originates from a group formed out of self-defence. The people who make up this group include villagers who have experienced attacks from the Seleka and their experiences range from having their farms destroyed to watching their relatives being raped and killed, so they decided to fight back.
CAR is predominantly a Christian country and Seleka is predominately a Muslim militia, so unfortunately the anti-Balaka militia attack Muslims indiscriminately. Thus resulting in the simplistic vision of the crisis with two opposing blocs: Christians and Muslims.
I want to confirm that the church has never mandated anti-Balaka and the church has never formed a militia. It is wrong to believe that Christians persecute Muslims or that anti-Balaka is a ‘Christian’ militia. Even though I am a pastor I was threatened by anti-Balaka. Some relatives and members of my church have also suffered abuse and some were even killed by anti-Balaka. So if the anti-Balaka militia is Christian, why are they targeting their fellow believers?
What has changed since the appointment of CAR’s new President?
The level of insecurity has dropped, but President Catherine Samba-Panza and her government do not have financial means to back their policy. If CAR’s armed forces (FACA) returned to work, were paid and given equipment, they could help the international forces to restore peace in the country. However, an embargo [imposed by the UN in Dec 2013] prevents CAR armed forces from acquiring weapons, and the government can’t afford the military’s salaries.
What do you think about the support of the international community, especially those who want to support CAR?
Many are aware of the strong mobilization of Christians who pray for our country and I thank the Lord for all these prayers. Many are especially grateful for organizations like the Christian charity Open Doors which shows concern about the crisis in CAR but the situation is still frustrating as we feel overlooked.
For example, in Bangui alone, hundreds of pastors have seen their properties looted and burned and they now live in refugee camps like beggars. The Church of Gabon [ a Central African country] is the only one to send food and clothing, 10 tons, to help the pastors in the camps, but pastors are obviously not the only people in need.
The situation is more acute in the countryside, so if the Church across the world does not come to aid CAR, a so-called predominantly Christian country, who will help the Christians?
It’s even more frustrating because when disasters occur in other parts of the world there is a rush to help, but for us in CAR, we do not see such mobilization. There have been a number of declarations which are still not followed by action.
For example, it took time for FOMAC, [the regional force], to be transformed into the African peacekeeping mission, and extra European forces have been expected since mid-March, but no one knows when they will be fully deployed.
I fear that this may be the same with UN peacekeepers despite Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s proposed deployment of a nearly 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission.
The world does not realize that as things are delayed, the situation continues to get worse. Are we despised by the international community? Shall we wait until tomorrow to start organizing trials for genocide, when it is time to act now?
To hear part of the original interview in French, click the ‘play’ button below.