A Second Rwanda


“I cannot help thinking that if the Central African Republic were not a poor country hidden away in the heart of Africa, the terrible events that have taken place and continue to take place would have stimulated a far stronger and more dynamic reaction by the outside world. How many more children have to be decapitated, how many more women and girls will be raped, how many more acts of cannibalism must there be, before we really sit up and pay attention?”

Navi Pillay’s the UN Chief of human rights and she had this to say about the lack of International attention to the ongoing crisis in the Central African Republic.

Reports out of Bangui are alarming. Workers have cited cases of cannibalism, gruesome and open rapes and murders and public torture. Many of the pictures are alarming. And the inter-communal hate is at fever pitch. The last time we saw such a level of violence it lead to the Rwanda genocide.

We said we would not let a second one happen, but we are. We are so enthralled by Ukraine we forget that the CAR crisis exists.

And the violence is extraordinary. Legitimate international sources have reported torture, mutilation and dismemberment. In one case children were decapitated in front of their parents and at least four cases of cannibalism have been witnessed. The chronic instability has lead to incredible violence and the fracture of society into near open warfare.

The deaths of Indian soldiers defending refugees a month or so ago is just the tip of the iceberg.

It all started when president Francois Bozize was toppled by a rebel force. The ensuing campaign of rape, murder and looting by mainly Muslim former rebels caused the Christian vigilante group called the “Anti-Balaka” (Anti-Machete). And this caused tit for tat violence and an escalation of atrocity. And since the Christian groups outnumber the Muslims, the campaign has become one of ethnic cleansing. International forces helped stem the mass murders of December and January but troops are a thin red line. The Indian troops who gave their lives to buy time for an evacuation show the scale of the problem. They are outnumbered and as they are peacekeepers… lack  the offensive capability and are merely there to defend. A concerted effort would wipe them out and caused the deaths of millions.

We now have terrible dilemma. Either we aid the ethnic cleansing by evacuating Muslims to safer areas or we leave them to get slaughtered. So far around 15,000 Muslims are under international protection and around 4.6 million people are now refugees.

To point out the scale of under-funding? Just 20% of the funding required to deal with the situation has been met. All these people are being cared for at a fifth of the norm.

We have learnt painful lessons from the past at Bosnia, Rwanda, East Timor, Kosovo and Iraq. Yet we choose not to act on this education. And that is the most painful lesson of all.

And where we fail, another response rises. And their backlash will not be measured, it will be terrible and painful and will definitely fracture the CAR into an absolute and brutal civil war since they are not interested in peace.

Comments

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  2. exi5tentialist says

    Let’s not be too keen to back western, especially European military intervention. CAR has huge mineral resources: France as the colonial power is already far too heavily involved here. There are underlying imperialist risks to consider. Even the Germans seem to be keen to get into Africa – for humanitarian, peacekeeping purposes, of course. Of course.

    Any peacekeeping force should as far as possible be African-led, and closely monitored to ensure they are deployed effectively to prevent attacks on ordinary people.

    There is a role for the UN and international oversight – but “we” must not allow the French or anyone too close to them to lead it – and please, not the Americans either. Making a bad situation worse will help no one in the CAR.

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  4. says

    @2. People have died trying to stop another genocide. And France was invited to be there.

    Your alternative is to leave the genocide to happen. Like Rwanda. Where we just watched.

  5. exi5tentialist says

    @4 Avicenna can you please stop using the word “we” to mean “you and me, NATO, the UN, America and all things wonderfully western”. Or at least define who you do mean by it – and in doing so, please leave me out of your definition. I am not part of your “we”.

    I oppose French military intervention in the CAR, in the guise of a humanitarian mission or not, whether there is a crisis or not. If your every answer is to say “but WE must intervene because of Rwanda…’ your position is not going to be nuanced enough to respond rationally when the discussion develops further. You have a chance to draw back at this stage.

    Do you not get just a bit suspicious when the colonial power is ‘invited” back into the colony? French paternalism in Africa is not entirely altruistic – can I ask what your knowledge is of that?

  6. Seth says

    French paternalism is certainly worse than children being decapitated in front of their parents and people getting raped in the streets. Je comprends.

  7. exi5tentialist says

    @6 Seth – I see, so we’re actually going for imperialism as the lesser of two evils. At least oppression is better than atrocity?

    I think not.

    France has so far intervened in Ivory Coast and Mali and CAR. Perhaps look at a map? There is a swathe of French-speaking countries across Africa where France has sent taken military action to determined the outcome of conflicts in the last 10 years.

    Question is, if the imperial power in the former French Empire is still determining who gets to govern right across that region, are we really right to be calling them ‘former’ colonies? Or do we turn a blind eye to France’s assertion of its imperial self-interest, because the cry of ‘genocide!’ wipes out all attempts at debate.

    Talk about a solution that doesn’t involve France and that’s a starting point. Otherwise, France is part of the problem, not the solution.

  8. says

    1. The UN is a global organisation and peacekeepers from such well known imperialists such as Georgia and India are there. And in fact have taken casualties trying to keep the peace. What solution doesn’t involve the world? Are we to say that genuine willingness to help should be ignored because it’s from Western Nations?

    2. The increase in UN presence has averted an outright slaughter and this is despite working on a 5th of the normal manpower and budget. They are desperate for additional manpower

    3. I repeat. You are trading the deaths of people for your ethical stance. For you the French and interntional presence there is worse than the current situation when I say “How can it get worse”. On what basis are we suggesting that the mere presence of French Peacekeepers is worse than rape and murder without going into instances of cannibalism or specific and gruesome attacks on children.

    4. Ivory cost and Mali both had massive civil wars and the French intervened on behalf of the legally elected governments and did not participate in combat. They defended refugee camps and prevented attacks on those.

    Because ethnic cleansing is a reality.

    And I pointed out what has happened in places where we did not intervene and historically the lessons of non-intervention in the past.

  9. exi5tentialist says

    Well, of course the French intervention in Mali and Ivory Coast had a humanitarian outcome! History is always written by the victors! As the French went into Mali and Ivory Coast under the smokescreen of humanitarianism, it’s hardly surprising they have come out of it proclaiming their humanitarian victory. Let’s not be too naive about this.

    Yes the UN is a global organisation. One that stood by and did nothing while the United States embarked on vicious attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. You think “we” should trust them? I do not believe their propaganda half the time.

    No I do not regard Georgia and India as imperialists; I do not know if they taking part in an imperialist game. I am sorry some of their people got killed there. We (and I mean you and me) owe it to cover the subject thoroughly, so other deaths do not happen.

    But please do not talk about me “trading the deaths of people”. You’re very much into the politics of escalation, aren’t you? But there again… as a supporter of French Military Intervention in Ivory Coast, Mali and the Central African Republic, that does not surprise me. Here’s a fact: armies kill people. You are promoting deployment of armies; to satisfy a narrative around the fate of Rwandans. I do not trust military interventions. You talk about lessons from Rwanda – what about lessons from the middle east? For me this is the start of a discussion – I do not consent to it being the end of one.

    Yes ethnic cleansing is real, and thousands of muslims have been forced out of CAR. Fat lot of use the atheist communities were when that happened.

    On what basis are we suggesting that the mere presence of French Peacekeepers is worse than rape and murder without going into instances of cannibalism or specific and gruesome attacks on children.

    French Peacekeepers? With a capital P?

    There is too much swallowing of propaganda in this discussion. Let us discuss this whole question further. I will follow this up as soon as possible.

  10. says

    I am shocked and stunned that someone can be so lucky yet so callous to those who are not. If you know anything about this blog and the person who runs it you would know that if I had the capacity to work there I would be there.

    I have my own projects to do and my own life at this point to live so I won’t be going. But I do know people who are there. And who have worked at places like Darfur and indeed Rwanda.

    And here is the thing. Either this is a conspiracy theory that has fooled everyone so perfectly and in a world of the Internet? This is unlikely. Or you have a bias and that intellectual bias allows you to callously suggest we let people die solely to please your attitude.

    I am sure the people would be thrilled to know that there are no French about as they are being driven from their homes under threats or indeed fear of actual rape, murder and mutilation.

  11. exi5tentialist says

    @10 Avicenna – I give everyone on this website the benefit of the doubt – that they are not callous, that they would help those in desperate need if they had the chance, and that they would actually want to prevent rape, murder and mutilation if they opportunity were presented to them. I therefore feel it behoves all of us to take a stance on the subject of our governments’ support for military intervention in the Central African Republic and this discussion is absolutely essential.

    I’d like to contribute a bit by having a look at a few of the things that are troublesome about France’s recent past and present relationship with the people of CAR which cast doubt on their sincerity in the present ‘humanitarian’ deployment. It is well-known that France once had an extremely large and lucrative empire in Africa, of which the CAR was a part until it gained nominal independence in 1960. I do not blame today’s French for the reported atrocities of their predecessors who are mostly long dead.

    But French intervention in living memory (for those of us who are still relatively young!) started in 1979 when French paratroopers deposed dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa and reinstated David Dacko as president. Dacko was thereafter seen as a French colonial puppet and was deposed yet again in 1981.

    In 1996, French troops intervened three times to suppress army mutinies and civil unrest, enabling President Ange-Félix Patassé to carry out reprisals which foreshadowed his own overthrow seven years later by François Bozizé. When troops of the CAR army mutinied against Patasse in 1996, France had about 1,400 troops stationed permanently in the CAR, but were able to fly in hundreds more from Chad and Gabon.

    The civil unrest consisted of thousands of people marched through Bangui with banners denouncing the government and French imperialism and then burning down the French cultural centre. They tried to march on the French embassy, but they were driven off by French soldiers throwing tear gas and firing their weapons. The Associated Press also reported that Mirage jets and helicopter gunships also fired into the city many times.

    If we’re invoking Rwanda, let’s not forget this French intervention in the CAR was only 2-3 years after the Rwandan genocide. It was hardly a good example of impartial humanitarian intervention if the French are now trying to sell themselves as some kind of benign presence.

    The actual pattern of western intervention – economic and military – in the CAR is complex. A forced devaluation of the French franc in all the French-speaking African countries in 1994 may have spurred exports (and raised investors’ profits). But it also drove up prices to consumers, cheapened workers’ wages and left many of hte people with no alternative but to revolt against the government – a revolt the French put down.

    France is extremely heavily implicated in bringing the CAR to this state, America and France both have economic interests in various African states, including neighbouring South Sudan and the CAR, in regard to oil, diamonds, uranium and other strategic minerals. The recent history clearly indicates that the presence of these imperialist military troops, along with U.N. forces that often operate in league with the Western states, cannot bring peace and stability to Africa.

    Your attitude seems to be ‘never mind all that. Rape, murder and mutilation are happening NOW!’. To which I would reply that if France hadn’t stuck its nose in the CAR affairs dozens of times in the 1970s to 2000s, the CAR might have stood a chance of developing its own political stability. And there is no time like the present to start not intervening, since it clearly does very little to stop attacks on civilians (and probably just stokes them), and then lays the foundations for political imbalances that will form the basis of the next round of atrocities not so long down the line.

    So no. My vote is not to support military intervention. We’ve seen what France has done in the Central African Republic. We’ve seen what America and Britain have done in Iraq and how America has crushed Afghanistan. And no. It is not surprising that there is not much public support for a military intervention in Syria, Central Africa or anywhere else.

  12. jagwired says

    exi5tentialist:

    Do you really think you’re helping anything by whining about French colonialism?

  13. exi5tentialist says

    jawired:

    You think French colonialism is ok then in 2014?

    Or is it just the history of French colonialism from 1960 to 2013 that you want to be dismissive of?

  14. jagwired says

    This post isn’t about French colonialism though, is it? It’s about children being hacked to death in the Central African Republic. Avicenna is trying to shine a light on an atrocity taking place there and your comments are distracting. I don’t think Avicenna or many of his readers would disagree with you that colonialism is/was bad, but children being hacked to death is a more pressing concern.

  15. exi5tentialist says

    Yes, this post is about French colonialism. It’s about puppet governments being propped up by the French for years. It’s about the French destabilising the CAR and nurturing a situation which leads to children being hacked to death. And you think the answer is to let the French send their army in? Or their allies, who have been so good at destroying bodies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, with more than just machetes?

    Well you think what you like. I don’t think that. I’ve argued why, I’ve addressed the exact argument you’re making, and you are just dismissing as irrelevant all of the things that make Western and military intervention an utterly bad thing.

    So yes, this post is about French colonialism. If you’re sincere when you say you don’t disagree with me that colonialism is bad, then you will oppose any further French involvement in the Central African Republic. Stop excising the imperialist context that has led to this situation and continues to define it.

  16. jagwired says

    Bullshit! The post is about how little attention this genocide is getting compared to what’s going on in the much whiter country of the Ukraine. And now you’re, oh so helpfully, detracting from what little attention is being brought to it by Avicenna and thrusting some cultural relativism into the discussion. Or maybe you think this is just some sort of conspiratorial media campaign to try and garner Western support for another military intervention? If it is, they’re doing a shitty job of getting our attention.

    How convenient for you that the solution to the problem is to do nothing but sit on your hands and lecture us about the evil West.

  17. exi5tentialist says

    Well I think this post is about what is the best solution to a serious problem in the Central African Republic. To try to discuss that while at the same time dismissing the history of French miltarism right up to 2014 hardly bolsters the anti-racist credentials of the pro-military faction here. You should be more careful with your words.

    Of two anti french demonstrations in Bangui the capital in December, the website

    africanquarters.com

    …quotes partly from an Associated Press report saying,

    ‘It marks a dangerous turning point for the more than 1,600 French soldiers sent here, who were initially cheered by the population, who ran out to greet the arriving troops, waving tree branches, and holding up pieces of cardboard emblazoned with welcoming messages. That was before French President Francois Hollande bluntly said that the country’s Muslim president needed to go, and before French forces were accused of only disarming Muslim fighters and ignoring the Christian militias who have infiltrated the city, organizing attacks on mosques, and on neighborhoods like Kilometer 5, where a majority of Muslims live.

    On Tuesday the crowds making their way down the deserted city streets were holding signs that said: “We say No to France!” and “Hollande (equals) Liar.” ‘

    So it seems that the French have made themselves unpopular, and are now calling international help on the basis of the mess they’ve made of this country again disguised as humanitarianism.

    But from reading the responses to contributions here about French military aggression in the CAR, you would think the French can get away with anything and it will be swept under the carpet, while the deplorable actions of local militias against civilians is elevated to being THE big problem.

    There are biases in the way this is being presented which cannot be ignored and which put claims of this being a “second Rwanda” into serious doubt.

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