The Central African Republic’s Hidden Conflict
Africa Briefing N°105
12 Dec 2014
While the international community and the transitional government focus on Bangui, the capital, most of the rural areas, in particular the west and centre of the Central African Republic (CAR), have turned into fields of violence. The fierce struggle between the ex-Seleka and anti-balaka militiamen has led to a surge of intercommunal clashes between pastoralist and farming communities since 2013. These clashes have formed a conflict-within-the-conflict that further destabilises the country, away from the international spotlight and the attention of the transitional government. Ahead of a new transhumance period that may intensify the ongoing rural warfare, the transitional government and the international community should focus closely on preventing the escalation of violence between pastoralist and farming communities by making this aspect of the CAR crisis an integral part of their stabilisation strategy.
Before the CAR crisis began at the end of 2012, pastoralism had been a source of violence in rural areas for several years, notably between pastoralist and farming communities. The crisis has further exacerbated resentment and violence between these groups because of the herdsmen’s perceived links to ex-Seleka members. Livestock is coveted both by anti-balaka and ex-Seleka militiamen, and pastoralists often respond to cattle thefts with brutal retaliations as cattle is the wealth of the poor. The enrolment of vulnerable young herdsmen in armed groups, the crumbling of traditional agro-pastoralist mediation structures and the yearly coming of pastoralists, especially Chadians, to CAR may amplify the ongoing bush warfare.
Since 2013, this rural war has forced many pastoralist communities to take refuge in Chad and Cameroon or to flee to other CAR regions, often after having walked for a long time. These displacements are exacting a heavy toll, causing the collapse of the livestock farming sector, the radicalisation of some pastoralist groups and the blockage of transhumance movements between Chad and CAR. These long-term obstacles to the stabilisation of the country must be addressed.
To contain rural violence in the short term:
- Create an information network, coordinated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the CAR livestock ministry, in order to locate the areas at risk of violent confrontation between, on the one hand, pastoralists and, on the other, anti-balaka and local communities. This network must serve as an early warning mechanism for CAR authorities, NGOs and international forces (the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca) and the French mission Sangaris).
- Include the fight against cattle theft and trafficking into the mandate of a MINUSCA cell against diamond, gold and ivory trafficking, whose creation has been recommended by Crisis Group since June 2014.
- Reduce cattle density in south-western Chad by organising a regional consultation between Chadian, CAR, Cameroonian authorities and NGOs, under the aegis of MINUSCA, in order to identify in those countries safe areas with pasturelands for pastoralists. This should be a temporary settlement that requires the agreement of the host communities and the pastoralists.
To address the causes of rural violence in the medium term:
- Revive traditional agro-pastoralist mediation mechanisms through organisation of informal meetings between representatives of the different communities by conflict prevention NGOs. As confidence-building measures, international forces should forbid armed groups to get involved in these mechanisms.
- Broadcast messages through community radios run by churches and local NGOs recalling common interests and exchanges between pastoralists and farmers. These messages should especially be circulated among women who usually play a key role in these intercommunity exchanges.
- Include in livelihood activity programs led by international NGOs the pastoralists without livestock who took refuge in Chad and Cameroon and those still living in CAR.
- Launch a feasibility study by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to restart livestock breeding where the security situation permits it.
Nairobi/Brussels, 12 December 2014