Central African Republic: Government Reaches Peace Deal with Armed Groups
On February 3, a peace deal was reached between the government of the Central
“We have finalised a peace agreement in Khartoum, enabling the people of Central African Republic to embark on a path of reconciliation, agreement and development,” said Ambassador Smail Chergui, Commission for Peace and Security in a tweet last Saturday.
CAR has been inundated with internal fighting since 2013 when Muslim rebels seized power in the majority-Christian country and overthrew President Francois Bozize. The Muslim minority makes up 10-15% of the nation’s population. In response to this power shift, a number of mostly Christian militias, known as the anti-Balaka, showed up to counter the Muslim rebels, known as the Seleka or “coalition.”
The result has been over five years of intense fighting in a country already in a state of turmoil. According to the UN, the fighting “has carried the high risk of genocide.” Statements like these explain the sense of urgency that accompanied negotiations for peace.
Violence has intensified over possession of CAR’s lands which are rich in diamonds, gold, and uranium.
The agreement between the government and rebels is the eighth that has been reached since 2013, though each round of negotiations has been as ineffective as the last. Some believe this agreement will be different since representatives of all parties involved were present for the talks. Others, however, believe that history will continue to repeat itself.
CAR’s government remains weak and unable to control the activity of the country’s rebel groups. In fact, only a small portion — about 20% — of CAR is in government hands. The rest is controlled by rebel militias, leaving civilians in the crosshairs.
“We are like prisoners,” says one of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the violence in CAR. “We lived in the countryside but when the conflict became too bad, we had to flee to the bush where we spent 46 days in hiding. Then cars came and took us to Bangui, to PK5.”
As of May 2018, according to a report by UNICEF, there were an estimated “687,400 internally displaced persons, up from 440,000 in 2017, including more than 357,400 children who lost access to education, health and protection services...At least 2.5 million people, including 1.3 million children, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, but resources are severely limited.” The report pays special attention to the plight of children in CAR, a third of whom are out of school and half of whom are not fully immunized.
A UN peacekeeping mission, known by the name MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic), arrived in the country in April 2014 to protect civilians being harmed by the fighting. Approximately 13,000 UN peacekeepers are currently deployed in CAR, which costs about $900 million per year.
Many are viewing the peace deal with skepticism considering how prior agreements have ended. But with hundreds of thousands of civilians living in precarious — and often dangerous — situations, this skepticism is giving way, almost by necessity, to cautious optimism.