Last month’s coup d’état in the Central African Republic (CAR), in which the northern-based group Séléka fought its way into the capital Bangui and overthrew President François Bozizé, is yet another destabilising development in a country which has had a troubled and violent modern history. The coup resulted from the collapse of a January 11 agreement, which was itself meant to end fighting that had broken out late in 2012 over the alleged failure of a 2007 peace deal. Mr. Bozizé, who had seized power in a coup in 2003 but won elections in 2005 and 2011, has reportedly escaped to neighbouring Congo. The five-faction Séléka, which means “alliance” in Songo, is led by Michel Djotodia, who has suspended the constitution and announced rule by decree. Though he has promised that the 2016 elections will occur as planned, he also says he will review existing deals with foreign mining firms. In response, the African Union has suspended the CAR and imposed travel restrictions on Séléka leaders. Unsurprisingly, the country faces a humanitarian crisis. Some 40,000 people have fled to Congo, Chad, and Cameroon; even a fortnight before the coup, the fighting had displaced 175,000 people internally, and violent looting continues apparently unchecked.
Things do not bode well for the country’s 4.5 million people. Though Mr. Djotodia, who heads the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) faction within Séléka, claims to be a secularist, some among the majority Christian population are nervous because he is a Muslim. However, his earlier record in getting himself appointed to replace a sheikh as the CAR’s consul in Nyala, capital of the Sudanese state of Darfur, suggests that he puts his own ends first. A more serious problem, however, is Séléka’s use of child soldiers. Members of a South African force which tried to defend the Bozizé government say they were sickened to find children among those they had killed; they themselves lost 13 troops in a serious foreign policy disaster for President Jacob Zuma’s ANC government. A further complication is that the CAR’s Muslim minority, which mainly lives in the northeast, considers that it has long been neglected by successive governments in Bangui. As if that were not enough, Joseph Kony, the leader of the Uganda-based Lord’s Resistance Army, who is wanted for war crimes, has disappeared, with some of his forces, somewhere in the CAR, and U.S. troops assisting the Bozizé government in searching for him have abandoned the hunt since the coup. Although rich in resources, the CAR is one of the world’s poorest countries. But it seems the AU will get little international help while it tries to create stability and legitimate authority there.