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  • Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. I want to talk today about what's going on in the Central

  • African Republic, but first a couple prefatory notes.

  • One, in the US especially, we tend to image Africa monolithically as, like, poor and undeveloped

  • and generally other, even though it is a large continent full of vastly different nations.

  • And, while today we are going to talk about an African state that has struggled more or

  • less continually since its independence, it's worth remembering that seven of the world's

  • ten fastest growing economies are in Africa. Two, this is speculation, but I think one

  • of the reasons we don't hear about what’s going on in the Central African Republic,

  • is that it's complicated. You know, we like narratives, like the Rebels versus the Empire,

  • or Harry versus Voldemort, or Dora versus Swiper the fox. I'm sorry; I watch a lot of

  • children's TV. Like, we can stand some shades of grey in our heroes and our villains, but

  • we love to know who the heroes are and who the villains are. And I think a lot of times

  • when new stories don't fit that narrative, we just ignore them because the idea of good

  • guys and bad guys is so central to our understanding of ourselves and our world that we can't abandon

  • it. And I also think, if I can tangent on a tangent, that this is part of why our interest

  • lags when international news stories grow, like, less narratively powerful. Like, it's

  • easy to root for the rebels in Cairo's Tahrir Square when they want freedom and democracy,

  • but the actual complex business of rebuilding a state, as weve seen in Egypt and elsewhere,

  • gets somewhat less attention.

  • Okay, with all that noted, the Central African Republic is here in, you guessed it, the centre

  • of Africa; although, to be fair, it has not often been much of a republic. Life expectancy

  • in the CAR is 51 and it's one of the poorest countries in the world today. So after declaring

  • independence from France in 1960, there were several decades of military rule, but then

  • in 1993, there were multi-party elections, and the elected president was Ange-Félix

  • Patassé, and initially, the economy grew under Patassé, but he failed to be able to

  • pay the military and civil servants which is, like, one of the central things that governments

  • do. Also there was quite a bit of corruption, and there were several coup attempts over

  • the next decade. So Patassé remained president until 2003 when a military coup finally succeeded.

  • Military leader François Bozizé succeeded by using the time-honored tactic of waiting

  • until the president was out of town and then quickly seizing the government.

  • So obviously the CAR has long struggled with security and political stability, like in

  • the east of the country, the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony whom you might remember

  • from his brief moment of 'Kony 2012' internet fame. Yeah, that guy. His group has been murdering

  • and torturing people for decades. In fact, it's believed by many that Kony is hiding

  • out in the Central African Republic. But also, both the Patassé and Bozizé regimes relied

  • on foreign armies from Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere to help, like,

  • shore up their governments. But, security-wise, after Bozizé took power in 2003, things got

  • significantly worse. So there was this group, the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity that

  • combined with other rebel groups and began to fight against Bozizé's regime in what

  • came to be known as the Central African Bush War. This involved lots of groups, like the

  • People's Army for the Restoration of Democracy, and the Convention of Patriots for Justice

  • and Peace, but anyway, they all banded together and tried to take down the government. It

  • didn't work. Finally there was a peace treaty in 2007, but the fighting never, like, totally

  • stopped.

  • Okay, so flash forward to 2012: several of the groups from the Central African Bush War

  • unite with some other rebel groups to form Séléka which means 'union.' And most members

  • of Séléka belong to the CAR's Muslim minority which is about 15% of the country's population.

  • They quickly take control of a bunch of towns in the north and the centre, and then other

  • African countries, including Chad, send in troops to try to protect the capital of Bangui.

  • But it doesn't work, so in March 2013, the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui,

  • falls to the Séléka rebels, and Bozizé flees the country. And one of Séléka's leaders,

  • a Muslim, Michel Djotodia, becomes president, but almost as soon as Séléka takes power,

  • there's a lot of in-fighting among all of these groups that formed the union; like,

  • it's easy to unify when you're all battling the government, but then when you have the

  • power, everybody kinda wants some of the power.

  • Meanwhile, there was never anything approaching peace, and Séléka militias committed all

  • kinds of atrocities. Like, according to Human Rights Watch, they burned dozens of towns

  • and villages, they shot fleeing civilians in the back, and also a huge percentage of

  • the population has been displaced. There are tens of thousands of Christians whove fled

  • to the Bangui airport and have remained there for months. And now we come to the Christian

  • anti-balaka, or anti-sword militias. These anti-balaka groups have sought to respond

  • to Séléka’s violence with much more violence, and the anti-balaka mass murder of members

  • of the Muslim minority is now being called by many a genocide or at least the beginning

  • of one. So in January 2014, President Djotodia resigned and was replaced by a woman named

  • Catherine Samba-Panza, but there isn’t currently much of a government to lead in the Central

  • African Republic. Last week, the UN approved and 11,000 member security force that will

  • hopefully bring an end to the violence, but for now it continues.

  • Hank, like I said earlier, this conflict is difficult and complicated. It looks nothing

  • like, you know, Hobbits versus Sauron. But that isn’t only the case in the Central

  • African Republic. I mean who were the good guys in the American Revolution? The Americans

  • were for freedom and democracy, right? Well yeah, except for slaves who probably would

  • have been much better off under the rule of England. Or what about the Vietnam War or

  • the French Revolution or World War One in which so many people died for so little? Hank,

  • we can’t just ignore stories that don’t fit our understanding of the world and we

  • also shouldn’t try to, like, change them to make them fit our preconceived narratives

  • of humanity. We have to make room in our stories for the world as we find it. And the Central

  • African Republic reminds us that war is not, finally, a story of good versus evil as much

  • as we might wish it were so. Let’s hope the UN peacekeepers arrive soon and can live

  • up to their name. I’ll see you on Friday.

Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. I want to talk today about what's going on in the Central

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Understanding the Central African Republic

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    W posted on 2014/07/20
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