Deputy Secretary-General Jan Elliason has called for a UN peacekeeping mission to the anarchic Central African Republic (CAR) where daily human rights abuses have devastated yet another African country. In what was already a virtually lawless state, things have got worse since the overthrow of President Francois Bozize by the Seleka rebel group. Rape, mutilations, murder and enforced child soldiering are a consistent reality for the CAR’s desperate people.
Despite Elliason’s claim that “we cannot look away”, why should the International Community break the habit of decades? Indeed, the strife of the CAR is not new and, like many of its African neighbours, it remains trapped in a state of permanent underdevelopment and misery.
Since independence in 1960, the CAR has fought for stability. It has not been helped by a slew of kleptocratic and maniacal presidents, epitomised by Jean-Bedel Bokassa. After coming to power in a military coup at the beginning of 1966, Bokassa reigned until 1979. Reign is an appropriate word in this case as Bokassa crowned himself Emperor of Central Africa in 1976, throwing a lavish coronation ceremony that virtually bankrupt the nation.
After Bokassa was overthrown in a French-backed coup, rumours of his cannibalism and penchant for throwing enemies to his menagerie of lions and crocodiles materalised. His successors, whilst not as deranged, were equally corrupt. Andre Kolingba (1981-1993), Ange-Felix Patasse (1993-2003) and Bozize (2003-2013) all embezzled billions of Central African Francs from the government treasury, enriching themselves and their families at the expense of the impoverished populace.
During each of these rules, little was done by the International Community to alleviate the woes of the CAR’s people; this despite nominal oversight from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on how international loans were being put to use.
The CAR has now become a lawless land and, with sizable Muslim and Christian populations, not to mention a varied ethnic composition, the prospect of another Rwanda is being mooted by some.
The limited commitment of the International Community to the CAR is mirrored throughout Africa; Rwanda, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Mali, Sudan, Zimbabwe. An almost endless list of states where not enough has been done to prevent brutal atrocities and daily misery for the ordinary citizens. (The African Union (AU) has battled manfully in many of these states but lacks the resources and funding for a sustained and effective commitment).
There is perhaps a simple reason for this malaise and neglect; involvement in one ravaged African state by foreign powers will entail a moral commitment to go into all the other African countries similarly devastated, of which there are several.
Furthermore, many of the problems faced by African states today are the legacy of colonization by countries that wield a significant amount of power in global institutions. With the exception of the French (who intervened against Ansar Dine rebels in Mali), the lack of direct support for former colonies by Western European nations in particular amounts to a desire to forget their role in creating the tragedies of today. Significant security issues are glossed over or ignored for the convenience of the powers-that-be.
Part of the French colony of Ubangi-Shari from 1903 to 1960, the CAR suffered the typical consequences of colonization, with the indigenous population forced to work for the good of the white man with no tangible benefit in return.
The chances to save the CAR have been numerous yet the time has now gone. With the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) adding another facet to the devastating melting pot, all the International Community can hope for is that genocide does not ensue. Whether attention will be paid in any case, remains to be seen.