Angry Muslims in Central African Republic call to partition the country
In this dusty town at the heart of the Central African Republic, many angry Muslims advocate a simple solution to the threat of religious violence from Christian militias terrorising the country’s south: partition.
Bambari lies near the dividing line separating Central African Republic’s Christian south – where mobs have lynched hundreds of Muslims and torn down their homes – from a northern region controlled by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels.
Seleka seized power last year, saying they had been excluded by southern tribes from the country’s oil, gold and diamond wealth. But their 10 months in power – a murderous orgy of looting and extortion – sparked a sectarian backlash that is driving Muslims from the south despite the presence of French and African Union peacekeepers.
Many people in Bambari say the savagery of the violence, which has displaced nearly a quarter of the country’s 4.5 million people, has brought about a turning point. Young Muslims here are circulating by cellphone a design for the flag of what they dub the ‘Republic of Northern Central Africa’.
“The partition itself has already been done. Now there only remains the declaration of independence,” said Abdel Nasser Mahamat Youssouf, member of a youth group lobbying for the secession of the north, as he pointed to the flag of what he said would be a secular republic.
It is a familiar story in Africa, where borders from the colonial era ignored ethnic boundaries, storing up tensions for independence. The secessionist calls here echo other African conflicts, notably in neighbouring South Sudan, an oil producer that split from Sudan to become the world’s newest nation three years ago.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and oil producer, has also seen its unity strained by an uprising in its oil-rich Delta region, an Islamist insurgency in the northeast and violence in its Middle Belt, where clashes over land are exacerbated by ethnic and religious enmities.