Pope Francis Praying for the Central African Republic’s peace
Pope Francis at the Angelus on Sunday 14 September made yet another passionate plea for peace in Africa. This time, he focused his attention on the Central African Republic (CAR) expressing his desire for the violence to give way to dialogue. Pope Francis also spoke of his wish that CAR’s opposing factions put aside their vested interests and endeavour instead to ensure that every citizen, regardless of ethnicity or religion, contributes and collaborates towards the re-building of CAR.
Pope Francis assured the people of CAR of his prayers particularly because he is aware that it is the civilian population which is “seriously suffering the consequences of the ongoing conflict.”
The Pope’s appeal came about on the eve of the 15 September deployment of a new United Nations peacekeeping mission to CAR. The United Nations’ (UN) Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has taken over peacekeeping responsibilities from the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA). This is in accordance with Security Council resolution No. 2149. This provision, earlier this year, established the new peacekeeping mission for the Central African Republic, for an initial period of one year.
Roughly 6,500 African Union (MISCA) troops, 2,000 French and 700 other European soldiers are currently deployed in CAR. Many countries have been reluctant to send forces. The current MISCA deployment has struggled to help the transitional government in CAR bring about security to the country.
On 1 June 2014, during the Regina Coeli prayer, Pope Francis again appealed for peace in CAR. The violence and happenings in CAR are said to be among the world’s most under-reported stories. This probably explains Pope Francis’ continuing concern for CAR.
The Catholic Church in CAR has also been in the fore-front of promoting peace especially through the Archbishop of Bangui. Known for his courage and prophetic stance, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga has become an advocate of peace. His determination to engage in a path leading to the final resolution of the crisis in his country makes him one of the key players in the quest for peace. He has on several occasions warned that if left unchecked, the situation in CAR could degenerate into genocide.
When Archbishop Nzapalainga spoke in an interview with “La Semaine Africaine,” a magazine of the episcopal conference in Congo–Brazzaville, ahead of the national meeting which led to the signing of a ceasefire in Brazzaville on 23 July, the Archbishop said, “I hope this forum will be the opportune time for Central Africans to speak the truth, and that the abscess of this crisis can burst out once and for all because it is useless to take up arms and to seize power. The most important thing is the political and social dialogue not arms.”
Unfortunately, the ceasefire signing notwithstanding, the two warring factions, Séléka and anti-Balaka have continued fighting and killing civilians, especially outside Bangui. Neither has agreed to a complete cessation of hostilities nor to full disarmament.
The efforts of one of CAR’s leading Imams, Oumar Kobine Layama have also been lauded. The Imam has collaborated closely with Archbishop Nzapalainga in calling for peace.
On several occasions, the Vatican’s daily newspaper, “L’Ossevatore Romano” has drawn attention to the plight of this forgotten conflict. The daily newspaper has regularly written articles on the situation in CAR which the main stream media are not covering. For example, L’Ossevatore Romano recently dedicated space to speak about the serious problem of CAR’s children forcibly recruited into the conflict as combatants.
The UN Secretary-General’s report of 1 August says that there are also serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in CAR. These violations include forced displacement of the civilian population, rape and other forms of sexual violence, assassinations, summary executions, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In addition, half of the population is still in need of humanitarian assistance and more than one million people have been displaced, with about 500,000 of these seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
As part of the Brazzaville agreement, interim President Catherine Samba Panza on 5 August dismissed her government to make way for a national unity government. On 10 August, Samba Panza named Mahamat Kamoun as the country’s first Moslem prime minister, responsible for forming the new government.
CAR was a former French colony known as Ubangi-Shari. According to the World Factbook, CAR has had a challenging history since its independence in 1960. First there was Jean Bedel Bokassa, the self-proclaimed Emperor with his excesses and cruelty. Then came successive military governments who presided over three tumultuous decades of misrule. James Schneider, editor of Think Africa Press, told “Al Jezeera” TV recently that France needs to take some of the blame for collaborating with some of CAR’s military governments and thus inadvertently propping them up. In 1993, civilian rule was established but lasted only for one decade. In March, 2003 President Ange-Felix Patasse was deposed in a military coup led by General Francois Bozize who later established an inept and nepotistic government.
The current crisis started in March 2013 when Séléka rebels seized the capital, Bangui. President Bozize fled the country. After Séléka came to power they took to looting state structures and oppressing the people. Some commentators say the Séléka-led government of Michel Djotodia was worse than that of Bozize. In part, oppression of the largely Christian majority by Séléka led to the formation of the anti-Balaka. Although the appalling violence in CAR is often depicted as Christians versus Moslems, the reality is that for many years Christians and Moslems have lived together in relative peace. This is a conflict involving neighbours and communities who have lived together but have now been manipulated by Séléka and anti-Balaka militias.
It is hoped that as the official deployment of MINUSCA gets underway, this will mark the first stepping stone towards creating stability in CAR. According to the Security Council, if the country can be stabilised, then other important tasks can begin. These tasks include that of re-launching state institutions by the new government from the ground upwards; ensuring the success of the transitional political process; possible reconciliation and upholding accountability for human rights and international humanitarian law violations. Amnesty International, in particular, is concerned about issues of impunity for crimes under international law and other serious violations and abuses of human rights in CAR. The rights group, believes that there can be no long lasting peace in CAR if impunity is allowed to continue.
(Paul Samasumo) e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org