France is preparing to send military forces to Africa again. Operation Serval dislodged Islamist militants in Mali around a year ago. The new one risks adding fuel to the debate about France’s relationship with countries that were once its colonies. At the heart of the matter this time is the Central African Republic. The United Nations is expected to issue a second resolution calling for intervention soon.
French foreign Minister Laurent Fabius outlined his country’s priorities as: helping in a humanitarian setting that he calls abominable; restoring stability and allowing a political transition to run its course, as he considers the present authorities there as temporary.
The Central African Republic had a coup in March, in which the president of the previous ten years, François Bozizé, was removed. Leading the coup was Michel Djododia, at the head of a military coalition from the mostly Muslim north – although the country is 80 percent Christian. Djododia’s troops – the Seleka rebels – refuse to disarm and they have been attacking the Christians.
Djododia controls very little. The blue shading on this map shows unstable areas. Some ten percent of the population has been forcibly displaced. A quarter of the people are not getting enough to eat and need help urgently. African and French troops already deployed are expected to be reinforced in the next few days. The aim is also to prevent the instability from spreading to neighbouring countries as well, which are also prone to trouble.
Even Djododia’s supporters are angry at the downward spiral.
One woman said: “I’m disappointed. What is his role supposed to be? He came to us saying he was a liberator, our father! What, is he asleep?! He’s sleepwalking, I don’t know. They’re going to kill us all, here; he’s going to live. Who’s he going to govern?”
So the people of the Central African Republic are looking forward to French action. The Seleka are seen as marauders and murderers. Christian self-defence militia in their turn have contributed to the climate of violence. It’s feared a religious war could grow out of it. Historically, the Christians and Muslims have lived together in mutual understanding and respect. There is also a risk that outsiders move in to stir up still worse trouble, from Uganda, Sudan or Nigeria.