Congolese soldiers from the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic stand guard in a street where people burnt tyres following the assassination of a man on Sunday, in Bangui. *AFP photo
Congolese soldiers from the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic stand guard in a street where people burnt tyres following the assassination of a man on Sunday, in Bangui. *AFP photo

Bloodshed has erupted in the Central African Republic and the people there have recently witnessed the full force of violent clashes, humanitarian atrocities and even reports of cannibalism between warring factions. This is the story behind why one in five people have fled the country.

Simon Jones

, drawing from BBC reports, explains what’s happening and why.



Where is the Central African Republic?

As its name suggests CAR is slap-bang in the middle of Africa bordered by Cameroon to the west and South Sudan to the east. To the north of this country, which is bigger than Spain and Portugal put together, lies Chad, while to the south it is bordered by the Congo.

When did the trouble start?

The Central African Republic has been in turmoil since rebels seized power in March 2013. Rebel leader Michel Djotodia became the first Muslim leader in the mainly Christian country. Since then, the country has sunk into a state of near-anarchy, with schools and hospitals looted by gunmen

What is the conflict all about?

The bloodshed boils down to ethnic rivalries between Christians and Muslims and has therefore become sectarian in nature. Rebel leader Michael Djotodia disbanded his Seleka rebels after seizing power but they continued around the country. This in turn prompted the formation of vigilante groups, which have targeted Muslims.

How serious has the situation been in recent weeks?

BBC reports from earlier this month state that lawlessness and terror had overtaken much of the country. At its height armed men from rival groups were trawling the streets looting, killing, burning crops and homes. There have also been isolated reports of cannibalism in some parts of the country where violent clashes raged.

How successful have international aid agencies been in helping those affected by the conflict?

The lack of security means that the UN and other agencies are unable to help those in remote areas. Schools and hospitals have been looted by the former rebel coalition, Seleka that took power. About 70 per cent of children are no longer going to school, and some are being recruited as soldiers.

A small regional peacekeeping force was deployed to the country about a year ago but was unable to stop the rebel takeover and subsequent chaos. 

Has any other country sent troops to help?

The African Union has taken over command of the peacekeeping operation, with 4,000 soldiers now on the ground. France, with UN approval, has also deployed 1,600 troops to try to end the violence, but fighting has continued, with more than 1,000 killed in clashes since December.

What is it like now?

Just this week media reports suggest that relative calm may have returned to the streets of the country’s capital, Bangui, for the first time in many weeks. Banks, offices and markets have begun to reopen since the resignation of rebel leader Michael Djotodia last Friday.

How bad is the overall situation?

At least 2.2 million are finding it difficult to feed themselves and almost half of those living in the capital, Bangui, have fled since December, many to a makeshift camp at the airport.  Many villages are empty; with people either hiding in fields or in the bush. Some 935,000 people, 20% of the 4.6 million population, have fled their homes. Some observers have warned it is not an exaggeration to say it could turn into a sectarian genocide. 

Source: BBC