Out of the Pan and Into the Fire: Coup d’etat in the Central African Republic and Looming Crisis for Civilians

In December last year, five rebel groups from Northern CAR came together to form the über-rebel group Seleka (meaning “the alliance” in Sango, the national language of CAR) and began rapidly taking over towns in north and central CAR (Photo Credit: Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images).

In December last year, five rebel groups from Northern CAR came together to form the über-rebel group Seleka (meaning “the alliance” in Sango, the national language of CAR) and began rapidly taking over towns in north and central CAR (Photo Credit: Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images).

By Natalia Taylor Bowdoin, AIUSA’s Central African Republic (CAR) Country Specialist

While the world recently celebrated when Bosco Ntaganda turned himself into the U.S. Embassy in Kigali and asked to be delivered to the International Criminal Court, a precarious human rights and humanitarian tragedy was unfolding in another little known corner of Central Africa, the Central African Republic (CAR). On Sunday,  the rebel group, Seleka, succeeded in toppling the CAR government, sending the president, François Bozizé, into exile and the citizens of the country into crisis yet again.

CAR watchers were hardly surprised by this turn of events. Bozizé himself came to power through a coup in March 2003, ousting then-president Ange-Félix Patassé with the help of his Chadian friends. Shortly after coming to power however, many of his Chadian helpers became disgruntled. They and former supporters of Patassé split from the government, and along with other disparate elements in northern CAR, began to take to arms and form rebel groups. These rebels groups alternated between terrorizing, harassing and occasionally offering protection to local populations in exchange for loyalty and at great cost. The majority of the rebel groups agreed to come to peace talks in 2007 and 2008 with the Bozizé government and together they ironed out a path forward. Unfortunately, that path didn’t hold for long.

In December last year, five rebel groups from Northern CAR, came together to form the über-rebel group Seleka (meaning “the alliance” in Sango, the national language of CAR) and began rapidly taking over towns in north and central CAR, claiming that Bozizé had failed to live up to the 2007/08 peace deals. After calling for help from France and the U.S. and receiving none, Bozizé got spooked enough to agree to talks and a power sharing deal which would incorporate the Seleka rebels, the political opposition and civil society leaders. He also agreed to do things that he just couldn’t seem to follow through with (like releasing political prisoners and sending South African troops home).

Worsening Humanitarian Crisis

Sunday’s coup thus seemed inevitable as Seleka renewed its war cry last week after denouncing Bozizé for failing to honor his part in the January peace deal. But the rapid ouster of Bozizé and the taking of the capital by the Seleka rebels has meant that the citizens of CAR – already suffering from a decade of insecurity and bad governance, a precarious humanitarian situation and a looming agricultural shortage – are at even greater risk of a human rights abuses and a serious humanitarian crisis.

When Seleka took the capital, Bangui, widespread looting occurred and the electricity was cut – leaving residents, hospitals, stores, and municipal buildings in the dark. Many residents who fled the city for safety in the bush have still not been heard from by their families and loved ones living abroad. Electricity remains unavailable in most parts of Bangui and looting continues. Relief access to affected populations (both in Bangui and in other towns controlled by Seleka) remains extremely difficult. Food and water are inaccessible to many.

Human Rights at Risk

CAR has a new self-proclaimed president from among the Seleka rebel leaders, Michel Djotodia, and Bozize is in temporary exile in Cameroon. Divisions are already emerging within the Seleka coalition, with another rebel leader, Nelson N’Djadder, seemingly vying for power. In an attempt to prevent the division from blowing the whole rebel coalition wide open, Djotodia has announced he will name a power-sharing government, stick to the terms of the original January peace deal (minus Bozizé as President), allow Nicolas Tiangaye (a well-respect human rights lawyer and leader of the civilian opposition) to remain in place as prime minister and work toward democratic elections in two or three years.

Despite this plan, there are serious concerns over how well Seleka will respect and protect the human rights and civil liberties. Given the track record of members of Seleka who formerly belonged to the rebel groups who waged war on the government  from 2004-2007 and who are not known for their respect for  human rights,reprisals against members of the former Bozizé government seem foregone. Over the past few months, reports of vigilante groups made up of young Bozizé supporters harassing, intimidating and abusing people in the capital have become common. Tension will be high between the new Seleka authorities and these vigilante groups and other citizens supportive of the former Bozizé regime.

A Call to the Seleka Coalition

Bozizé – not known for his spotless human rights record – may be gone, but his legacy and the manner of his ousting have put the Central African people at much greater risk of a humanitarian catastrophe and paved the way for more turmoil and uncertainty to come. The Seleka coalition must control their members and end the current chaos. They must ensure the protection of civilians and make clear to its members that human rights violations will not be tolerated and that perpetrators will be brought to justice. The Central African people deserve that at the very, very least. It is time for a better future for the citizens of the Central African Republic.

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5 thoughts on “Out of the Pan and Into the Fire: Coup d’etat in the Central African Republic and Looming Crisis for Civilians

  1. The Central African Republic has gone from bad to the worst with the ousting of the president at least accepted multiculturalism, democracy and freedom! We are facing now a group of people who look like Taliban(Afganistan), Boko Haram(in Nigeria), or fanatic muslim brotherhood! evidences are that they systematically destroyed, or looted shops run by people of different faith like christians but they not destroy business run by the "muslim brotherhood"
    .

  2. -In Bangui the Capital city those who conive with them and clap for them are mostly muslim if any by stander clap, it is out of fear,
    -Some people who connive with them point finger at other people properties or businesses and those seleka rebel would go and loot and kill.
    -Their leaders call it collateral dommage? it is not, they are tracking down any friend or any person who was friend to the ousting president and killed them.
    If they were fighting for the people and democracy, why electricity, running water, and telephones lines are not yet re-established after 72 hours? Those ruthless criminals shut down all those services so that they can kill the people and hide the evidences then deny any crime against humanity accusation!

  3. I heard from Cameroon afriend of Bozize called Mr. Ngaidiro was killed cold blooded by the Seleka rebels. Bozize thoough he has a huge support of his KNK( work just work) and as a general escaped to avoid another Rwanda in CAR, because the local conspirators were accusing him and his sons of distributing guns to young people….. but the Seleka has failed from day one to secure the population, Killings, rape, beating, torturing, lootings, all types of atrocities are happening, they have been holding the civilian population in hostages for several months without basic services. After the democratic elections all the Seleka members should face international tribunal with their sponsors like Al Bechir and Idris Deby. Those two are united in their evil plan and muslim faith….for them all other people are infidels, or has forgotten their God as they say.

  4. The Central African Republic is in a strategic location, Al Bechir and Idriss Deby envy that country, and the French know that but the French is considering their interest in mineral resources only while those two islamist are looking to deep into many things. So this newly forceful terrorist regime should be isolated and the learder punished soon

  5. excellent article. Thank you. So few people are aware of what happens in the CAR.