A year ago, on 25 July 2014, a ceasefire was signed between the two main warring groups in the Central African Republic: a predominantly Muslim rebel coalition known as Séléka, and violent vigilante groups who opposed their advance through the country, which became known as the “anti-Balaka” (“Balaka” means “machete”).
Three clerics — two Christian, one Muslim — have been carrying much of the hopes for restoring peace to CAR. You’ll meet them in this video.
It’s been more than two years since CAR was first plunged into chaos after Séléka seized power in a campaign characterized by the widespread killing of civilians, burning and looting of homes and other serious crimes in which Christians were specifically targeted.
“When they began their rebellion, they did not have enough to feed themselves and their militants. They resorted to looting cows, chickens, foodstuff, shops and goods of Christians to provide for their troops as they advanced,” said Leke Mathias, a former businessman in Bria.
Rev. Francois Ngambeti of the Evangelical Alliance Church Committee told World Watch Monitor that when the crisis began, the Séléka sought pastors out to kill them. “According to them, the pastors were praying very hard for their failure. Some pastors were arrested and threatened that if Séléka’s mission failed, they would ‘finish’ them on their return”.
He also said churches were looted, often at gunpoint, which forced many churches and Christians’ shops to close down. Motorbikes, money, church offerings, musical instruments, generators, telephones, etc. were targeted by the militants.
In mid-2013, the movement called “anti-Balaka” emerged as a means of self-protection, but they soon began committing large-scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians and others.
The coup also led to rape as a weapon of war, condemned by UN Security Council Resolution 1820, passed in June 2008.
Komoya Lina, a female church leader, confirmed this: “Burnt houses, burnt attics and burnt fields, it’s really a disaster … Women are really traumatized by what is happening to them and even if they are not raped, they see their husbands being killed. Their daughters are raped in front of them and before their fathers and brothers.”
CAR’s three top religious leaders have been dedicated to speaking out against religious extremism and promoting peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims, travelling not only within their nation but also across Europe and at the UN.
In the midst of the country’s two years of violence, often portrayed as confessional conflict, the three clerics formed a joint platform to promote peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. Their message: “Violence in CAR is not primarily caused by religious conflict; instead, the root of the conflict lies in the struggle for political power.”
The President of the Evangelical Alliance, the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui and the President of the Islamic Community are credited with calming down many potentially deadly clashes.
For their efforts, TIME Magazine named them among the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2014, and the French Magazine Le Monde called them “the three saints of Bangui.”
They were also awarded a prize for their peaceful efforts in CAR.
“We want to stop the massacres, to stop everything that we are going through that jeopardizes the peaceful harmony of the people of Central African Republic,” said Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, President of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance. “We don’t want there to be a civil war, an interreligious war; we have never experienced it and don’t want to either. We know when a war starts but we never know when it will end.”
Open Doors International, which partners with churches in CAR, says that it is wrong to refer to the conflict as simply a battle of Muslims against Christians but stresses the importance of realizing that Séléka has clear extremist Islamist motives, since the vast majority of its members are jihadi militants from CAR’s northeastern neighbouring countries, Sudan and Chad.
CAR’s President Catherine Samba-Panza is hopeful that the upcoming elections will help bring peace to her country. The elections were set for July, but now have been postponed until October.