As evidenced by the 13 people killed in the Central African Republic just this week, there is an ongoing and escalating trend of violence aimed toward Muslim civilians in the predominantly Christian country. In less than a year, the Central African Republic has seen almost a quarter of its population displaced, with at least 2,000 casualties. This violence began as a result of a coup in March of last year, when the Muslim rebel group Seleka took power. However, as the rebel group abandons the capital, Muslim civilians are facing even greater threats of violence from Christian militia groups, known as ‘anti-machete’ militias. This widespread violence aimed at the country’s religious minority is causing fears that the Central African Republic will experience warfare on par with Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
As part of its intervention in this conflict, France has deployed 1,600 troops to the Central African Republic in attempt to restore order. However as the conflict rages on, French President Hollande is looking for a solution in the former colony. As part of this solution, Hollande is pushing for elections to be conducted in February 2015.
While this conflict is composed of fighters organized along religious lines, it is important to note that Muslims and Christians had previously lived in peace in the country. As the current conflict was started by a coup in March 2013, it seems there is a stronger connection to political motivations and attaining power. Rich in natural resources, the Central African Republic has experienced coups and rebellions since its independence. This incentive, coupled with weak institutions, creates an environment where religious polarization can be utilized for political gain.
In his message to the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reflected on the ongoing violence and the damage it has done to the relationship between Muslim and Christian communities. The Secretary-General called for various reconciliation efforts including a national conference, DDR programs, and humanitarian aid. He ended his message, stating, “transition period must be used to establish a solid basis for long-term national stability.”
Will the 2015 elections called for by France bring peace to the country? In one study conducted on the relationship between elections and domestic violence, it was found that developing countries do experience more violence during the election time period. These countries are also marked by lower economic conditions and weaker institutions that contribute to this tendency. It seems unclear to me whether elections will ameliorate or exacerbate the ongoing conflict, and whether elections can bring this sought after stability.