The dangers of oversimplifying the Central African Republic conflict

March 1, 2014

(Anti-balaka fighters from the town of Bossembele patrol in the Boeing district of Bangui, Central African Republic, February 24, 2014. REUTERS/Camille Lepage)

When violence spiralled in Central African Republic’s capital last December, the country’s most senior Muslim cleric sought shelter with the Catholic archbishop of Bangui.

And that month no one was attacked in Lakounga, one of the oldest parts of the capital, where Christian and Muslim leaders worked together to protect the community. Posters were plastered on every street corner with the message: “Christians and Muslims, the same blood, the same life, the same country”.

“Their message is that we are one and we have been living together … for many decades,” Nyeko Caesar Poblicks, East and Central Africa projects manager at the London-based NGO Conciliation Resources, and a frequent visitor to CAR, told me in a recent interview.

Elsewhere in the capital, mosques, shops and houses owned by Muslims were attacked by angry groups who saw Muslims as collaborators of the mainly Muslim Seleka movement. A thousand people were killed in December alone, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

Seleka fighters carried out many serious abuses after they took power in March 2013, killing, raping, looting and burning entire villages. Although they have withdrawn to bases in the northeast since the Seleka leader and interim president, Michel Djotodia, was forced to step down in January, they continue to attack civilians.

Muslims form a minority in the mainly Christian population.

But descriptions of the conflict as being Christian versus Muslim are a “dangerous” oversimplification that helped to spread fear and violence, Poblicks said. “This is not a Christian-Muslim conflict, this is a political failure in the country,” he said.

Read the full story by Alex Whiting of the Thomson Reuters Foundation here.

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