Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

CAR Violence: A Unique Case of Insurgency

By Deborah EgboPublished March 17, 2014

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As long as land ownership remains a problem in Central African Republic (CAR) conflicts like the CAR Bush War and the current state of unrest between the seleka and anti-balaka rebel movements, discord will be a continuous occurrence in the country.
By Deborah Egbo, 3/17/14

Since December 2012, the Central African Republic (CAR) has been under civil unrest as a result of the rise of the seleka movement, an alliance of rebel militia factions whose goal is to overthrow the Bozize government. Seleka claimed that the government ignored the peace treaty signed in 2007 after the CAR Bush War, and failed to meet the demands of the population, especially the Muslim minorities. The seleka rebel movement targets the majority Christian population in CAR, and is responsible for the civil unrest during the CAR Bush War in 2007. The groups include the Coalition of Patriots of Justice and Peace (CPJP), the Patriot Convention for Saving the County (CPSK), and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR). The majority of the members of the seleka rebel group are Muslim, who are nomadic; hence, they cannot lay claim to most of the land in CAR. Many believe that the unfair treatment of the Muslim population, their under-representation within the government, and their lack of land ownership are the major contributors to the uprising. In fact, prior to the uprising, there had been no Muslim president in CAR. Seleka rebels succeeded in overthrowing the government in March 2013, four months after the violence began; however, despite their success and the appointment of the first Muslim president, Michel Djotida, the country remained in a state of turmoil. President Djotida failed to restore peace in the country and was also unable to maintain control over the seleka rebel movement. This eventually led to the dissolution of the movement and his resignation from office.

Following the dissolution of seleka rebel movement and the resignation of president Djotida, the Christian civilians formed a rebel movement, anti-balaka.  The group's goal is to protect the Christians from the terror of the seleka rebels and protect the ownership of land of Christians in the country. The anti-balaka rebels targets the Muslim minority population they claim is responsible for vandalizing their property and orchestrating massive killings of Christians since the beginning of the unrest in 2012. The acts of violence committed against the Muslim population is in retaliation to the seleka rebels terrorist activities on the Christian population. Since the attacks on Muslims begun, thousands of Muslims have been killed and tens of thousands have been displaced. Although, the seleka rebel group still perpetuates violence in CAR, it is of lesser proportions and is only carried out in the countryside.

The violence in CAR is unique because very rarely do Christian populations form rebel groups to protect themselves from Muslim rebels or in response to oppression or retaliation for injustices performed by Muslim rebels. Many arguments can made for this occurrence. In the case of CAR, the Christians are the settlers and as a result, the land owners. This act of violence by the group can be seen a way to protect their land. In fact, the rebels have mentioned maintaining ownership of land as one of the reasons for the movement during interviews with news reporters. Another explanation for the anti-balaka movement is that government officials who had to resign when president Bozize was overthrown are using the movement as a means of attacking the seleka movement and regaining political power.

On the other hand, the motivation for the seleka movement is the same as that of most other Muslim terrorist groups in Africa. They are the oppressed minority. Their lack of access to land not only diminishes their chances of survival but also ensures they remain in a continuous poverty cycle. This reduces their chances of getting an education and subsequently, of being represented in the government. The leaders of the rebel groups that form the seleka movement take advantage of these land ownership issues and use it along with the lack of opportunities available as a tool to motivate young Muslims to join the movement. To the followers, the movement is a means of securing a better future filled with equal opportunities and treatment.

While it is easy to blame one group or the other for the state of civil unrest, the apparent cause is a flaw in the system of land ownership. As previously mentioned, land ownership influences the opportunities available to people in the long run. As long as land ownership remains a problem in CAR conflicts like the CAR Bush War and the current state of unrest, discord will be a continuous occurrence.