Central Africa is a republic

Domestic conflicts

Helga Dickow

To person

Dr. Helga Dickow has been a research assistant at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute since 1988. From 1996 to 1998 she worked at the German Institute for International Educational Research in Frankfurt, from 1999 to 2002 as head of department at the Diakonisches Werk der EKD and from 2002 to 2004 for the GTZ in Chad. Research focus: Central and Southern Africa, transformation processes, ethnic and religious conflicts, evangelical (charismatic) churches.

The Central African Republic has been falling into violence since 2013 - with dramatic humanitarian consequences. Neither the government under President Touadéra nor international mediation efforts succeed in stabilizing the country. With the exception of the capital, the country is largely ruled by rebel groups.

Refugees in Bangui, Central African Republic, in January 2014. (& copy picture-alliance)

Current conflict situation

The active fighting in the spring of 2020 is mainly concentrated in the region around Ndélé in the north-east of the country, which is predominantly Muslim. The clashes began after the influential Front Patriotique pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, which controls large parts of the northeast, and other Islamic militias withdrew their approval of the Bangui peace treaty of February 2019. The fighting is primarily about the control of raw materials (diamonds, uranium, gold) and pasture areas.

The civil war also began in 2013 in the chronically neglected north. In 2012, Muslim insurgents put pressure on the government to give the northern regions more access to national resources. The government did not keep to the agreements, the rebel alliance Séléka ("coalition") captured the capital Bangui and overthrew President Bozizé in March 2013. The fighters of the Anti-Balaka ("Against the Machetes") opposed the rebels. The loose association of militias emerged from the village self-defense groups of the Christian population in the southern parts of the country.

Since the beginning of the civil war, attacks, assaults and acts of revenge by rebel groups and criminal armed groups have killed thousands. Both parties to the conflict committed horrific human rights crimes. With a population of just under five million, over 700,000 people are internally displaced, and more than 610,000 seek protection in refugee camps in neighboring countries. According to estimates by the UN, over two and a half million people are dependent on emergency aid. Seven out of ten people are poor. Rebel groups and militias control about 80% of the country; large parts are considered ungovernable. The violence does not stop at the UN task force MINUSCA, international aid organizations and journalists. They are regularly targeted by armed groups and soldiers and employees are killed.

The election of Faustin Archange Touadéra as President of the country in February 2016 ended the transition period under President Catherine Samba-Panza. Former math professor Touadéra won 63% of the vote as an independent candidate. But he can neither fulfill the hopes placed in him for peace and the restoration of the state's monopoly of violence, nor does the government succeed in disarming the rebel groups. Despite the support of numerous international organizations and actors, the power and influence of the government in Bangui hardly extend beyond the borders of the capital Bangui.

Following the Bangui Peace Treaty, signed in 2019, President Touadéra reshuffled the government twice to allow the militias to participate more in government. But the eighth peace treaty between the government and rebel groups within two years is not being kept either. President Touadéra and Prime Minister Firmin Ngrébada are trying in vain to mediate so as not to jeopardize the presidential elections planned for December 2020.

Causes and Background

The resource-rich ZAR is one of the poorest countries in the world. In the UN's 2019 Human Development Index, it ranks last out of 188 countries. The provinces in the northeast are difficult to reach and have been completely neglected by the government. There are no roads, hospitals or schools here - but oil, uranium and diamonds. Traditionally, Muslim population groups live in the province of Vakaga. Many are cattle nomads or traders.

The conflict between Muslims and Christians also has a historical dimension: in the CAR already in pre-colonial times, slave raids by Arab-Muslim groups from today's Sudan took place. This is deeply anchored in the memory of the local population. There is also a traditional conflict between the settled (Christian) farmers and nomadic herders of Arab descent. The majority of the subsistence economy in the south feel at a disadvantage compared to the wealthier Muslims who control most of the retail trade across the country. Conversely, Muslims are still seen as immigrants and foreigners in the second or third generation and are politically discriminated against. They were also excluded from political power.

The former colonial powers France and Chad share responsibility for the conflict. Both countries have long shaped the political development of CAR. With their support, Ange-Félix Patassé (1993 to 2003) and then François Bozizé (2003 to 2013) came to power. In the history of the country there has so far been no really democratic structure or even a democratic change of power. The dependence of the political elite on France allowed French companies to exploit the raw materials and the French military to use the military bases in the country until 1998. When Bozizé tried to break away from his former protective powers and turned to other international partners, namely China and South Africa, Paris and N‘Djamena dropped him.

Road tariffs as well as the trade in raw materials are an important source of income for militias and rebel groups. Therefore, the struggle for control of the resource-rich areas and diamond mines is intensifying. In addition to France, countries such as China and Russia are now also benefiting from the raw material trade.

Processing and solution approaches

The Central African Economic Community (ECCAS) tried to find a political solution between the conflicting parties (President Bozizé, SELEKA, Anti-Balaka, transitional government) immediately after the fighting broke out in 2013. Several contracts were concluded under the aegis of ECCAS. A transition process was agreed in the Treaty of Libreville (Gabon) of January 2013 and reaffirmed in the N’Djamena declaration of April 18, 2013. The transition period under a government of national unity ended, as contractually agreed, with the elections in 2016. This meant that the civil war was also considered over. But the fighting between the various factions and former combatants of the ex-SELEKA and Anti-Balaka broke out again quickly.

During the transition phase, representatives of the ex-SELEKA, the anti-Balaka, members of the transitional government and civil society met for negotiations in Brazzaville at the invitation of the Congolese President and mediator of the ECCAS for the crisis in the CAR, Denis Sassou N’Guesso. The participants in the "Forum of Brazzaville" signed the Treaty of Brazzaville on July 23, 2014, which provided for an immediate end to hostilities. This agreement was joined on January 22, 2015, also through the mediation of N‘Guesso in the Nairobi Treaty, by further representatives of the anti-Balaka and ex-SELEKA spin-offs. They also agreed a ceasefire and an amnesty. On April 14, 2015, the ex-presidents Bozizé and Djotodia also signed the contract.

On April 10, 2014, the UN Security Council voted in favor of sending a blue helmet mission (resolution 2149 (2014) and resolution 2217 (2015)). The MINUSCA mission [1] initially consisted of 10,000 military personnel and 1,800 police officers as well as civil advisers. Their tasks include protecting civilians, helping with the organization of elections, reforming the police and the judiciary, as well as disarming, demobilizing, reintegrating and repatriating members of the militia. On September 15, 2015, the UN mission replaced both the French military mission Sangaris and the African Union (AU) MISCA mission. France officially ended the Sangari mission on October 30, 2016. The current mandate of the UN mission runs until November 15, 2020. In addition to Pakistan and Bangladesh, African states make up the largest part of the contingent now comprising 13,252 military and police officers. Despite their number, they cannot adequately protect the civilian population.

Christian and Muslim leaders and officials work closely together to convince people of peaceful coexistence. In November 2015, the Pope visited the country and prayed in a mosque in the Muslim quarter PK5. In May 2015, on the initiative of religious leaders, the "Bangui Forum" tried to stop the spiral of violence. Around 600 participants from all parties to the conflict, the government and civil society agreed on the disarmament and demobilization of all fighters and their integration into the national army. Immediately after the forum ended, however, the fighting continued.

The Catholic lay organization Sant‘Egidio also took part in the peace efforts in vain: the peace treaties negotiated with their support in Rome were signed on June 19, 2017 by the government and thirteen militias and rebel groups on an immediate ceasefire. But an internal split of the ex-SELEKA, the "Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique" (FPRC), immediately resumed the fighting and massacred the civilian population.

In November 2018, two former anti-Balaka militia chiefs, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, were extradited to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the first time and charged there with crimes against the Muslim population during 2013 and 2014. The preliminary negotiations have been completed and the process is expected to start in 2020. [2] Abdoulaye Miskine, head of the "Groupe Armé Front Démocratique du Peuple Centrafricain", was arrested in neighboring Chad in November 2019 and charged there with founding and leading an insurgency - although he is said to be very close to the Chadian leadership.

On February 6, 2019, the government and 14 rebel groups signed the Bangui peace treaty negotiated under the auspices of the AU and by neighboring states in Carthage. In addition to disarmament, it provides for the creation of a special unit made up of security forces, which is to be composed of militias and state security forces. In addition, it was agreed that the armed groups involved would be represented in an "inclusive government". Thereupon President Touadéra appointed a new cabinet and, after renegotiations in Addis Ababa, another one in March 2019 to meet demands of individual militias for greater representation. The compromise did not last long, however. At least seven groups, including the "Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique" by Ali Darassa and again the FPRC by Nourredine Adam, terminated the peace treaty in April 2020.

Contracts and obligations are broken again and again because political groups and rebel groups hope that the continuation of the fighting will have more influence on the political development of the country and access to natural resources and other resources. In the face of increasing fragmentation, smaller groups also have the power to prevent a sustainable peace.

History of the conflict

Since independence from France in 1960, violent transfers of power have been the norm in the CAR. As in the colonial era, the respective government elite sold concessions for the exploitation of the country's raw materials to French and other international consortia. Meanwhile the population became impoverished; this applies in particular to the less developed regions in the north of the country.

President Patassé was overthrown in 2003 by his chief of staff Bozizé with Chadian support. But Bozizé's rule - he belongs to the largest ethnic group of the Gbaya - was limited to the greater Bangui area. It was characterized by the favor of his family and his clan. His supporters occupied the most important positions in business and politics. Again and again there were riots against Bozizé. In 2007, the French and Chadian military had expelled Muslim rebels from Birao in the northeast. But when the Séléka marched from the north in the direction of Bangui in 2012, Paris and N’Djamena reacted negatively to Bozizé's call for help. In predominantly Christian regions, already existing village self-defense groups formed for anti-balaka.

The head of the Séléka rebels, Michel Djotodia, proclaimed himself the first Muslim president of the CAR when he marched into Bangui in March 2013. He suspended the constitution and appointed a transitional council that included members of the old government and opposition. However, at the instigation of France and Chad, he was relieved of his office on January 10, 2014. The National Transitional Council then elected the Mayor of Bangui, Catherine Samba-Panza, as interim president on January 20, 2014. Members of the Séléka and the anti-Balaka as well as the overthrown Bozizé government were represented in the transitional government.

The transitional government failed to pacify the country. Séléka groups marched through the country. The clashes quickly escalated into a bloody conflict between Christians and Muslims. What began as a resistance to the coup by Islamic insurgents grew into a hunt against Muslims. All Muslims were suspected of supporting the Séléka and were therefore brutally persecuted, murdered and driven out.

The transition phase agreed in the Libreville Treaty ended on December 13, 2015 with a constitutional referendum. Presidential and parliamentary elections took place in December, February and March 2016. The new president, Faustin Archange Touadéra, took office on March 30, 2016. However, the new president did not embody a new beginning; after all, he was Prime Minister under Bozizé from 2008 to 2013. The greatest danger comes from the increasing fragmentation of the rebel movements. In the meantime, at least fourteen factions of the ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka are fighting for the largest possible share of political power and for control of territories and mineral resources.


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