By Ibrahim Tigli and Shu'eib Hassen
In the past few years violence has been on the increase in Nigeria and the Central African Republic. In the western media, religious sectarianism is blamed for the clashes. Nigeria and Central African Republic expert Ryan Cummings writes for Thinkafricapress about terrorism, security issues and crises affecting the African continent. As well as highlighting the political make-up of the two countries in his articles, Ryan Cummings is also the chief analyst for the South African think-tank RED24.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
What are the current crises facing CAR?
The Central African Republic has suffered from decades of political instability. The country has been subjected to several conflicts. The country has been subjected to several unconstitutional changes in government. It is also one of the poorest countries in Africa, if not the world. All of these factors have boiled over into the Christian communities and Muslim communities where they have seemingly coalesced under a rebel group known as the Seleka alliance. We are seeing widespread and sustained outbreaks of communal violence within the CAR throughout the country. This has devastating effects on the country’s communities and on the country’s economy. The issues within the Central African Republic is that there is a huge humanitarian crisis that is a result of the conflict, as well as a complete breakdown in the country’s economy, and between the social cohesions among the disparate ethno-religious groups.
What has been the United Nations involvement and reaction to the conflict in CAR?
The United Nations role in trying to address the conflict we have just seen at the height of communal violence that occurred between the Christian and Muslim groups within the country. Initially, the security situation as it spiralled out of control this year was first addressed by the African Union that was based in the country. Then we saw the French involvement in the conflict who tried to deploy a peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic in an attempt to bring some form of authority to the country.
Could you comment MONUSCO?
As the situation was not being addressed adequately, there were calls for more humanitarian assistance, more military intervention, and more soldiers on the ground. We saw that the United Nations got involved and they have taken over all peace keeping operations within the CAR. This has all been coalesced under the MONUSCO intervention force. This is made up of the French forces, African Union peace keeping forces, as well as other international partners to try and find a more holistic approach to end the violence and instil and a form of authority and control within the CAR. This will hopefully bring a lasting peace to the country.
What is France’s interest in the CAR? Is it altruism or are there other interests?
I think that is a very good question. Firstly from a strategic point of view, the Central African Republic is located at the centre of Africa. It is surrounded by several countries that who themselves are experiencing significant outbreaks of conflict, and these countries have also been linked to France in some way or another. For example, the Central African Republic borders Chad which was also a French colony. Chad’s role in north and central Africa is immense, because Chad is one the biggest contributors to peace keeping operations in the continent. Specifically Mali, where we see the French is involved in counter insurgency operations against jihadist groups and separatist groups. What France needs to do is to maintain control and authority within the region. The worst case scenario in the Central African Republic is that it could become another Mali. It would then become another platform for insurgent jihadist groups to take root and expand to the rest of Africa.
CAR was once a French colony, does France feel somewhat responsile?
CAR being a former French colony and perhaps France having influence in the way the Central African Republic has played out and developed personal independence, I think there is that motivation for France to try and respond to mistakes France could have made on its part. Perhaps France is feeling responsible for some of the high level of violence that is being experienced in CAR.
In terms of material interests, one could say with little contention, that there is not a lot of material incentives for France to be based in the Central African Republic. The country does have some mineral resources in the form of diamonds and small untapped oil deposits which are difficult to extract. So from a financial perspective, I do not think there is much motivation for France’s involvement.
Has the conflict affected the economy of CAR?
It has affected it immensely. The main issue that we have seen is the minority Muslim population in the CAR have generally been the traders and farmers in the country. They have contributed to the overall economy of CAR both on a macro-level and micro-level. But because of the sustained attacks and violence targeting Muslim groups of which they have either been killed or they have had to flee to neighbouring countries, what we are seeing as a result in the CAR are significant food shortages. The violence in the country have also paused other economic revenues. There are limited mining operations in the country and they have been suspended. Diamond mines have been taken over by rebel groups. So the country has lost revenue in which it could have gained from. The economy, just like the other sections of CAR, has suffered from the violence.
If the violence continues what will happen to the future of CAR?
I think what we need to do and to realise is that communal antagonism and communal violence in the CAR is not a new development. It is something that has been happening for a sustained period of time. It is something that has often been overlooked by the international community. What needs to happen, is firstly the violence needs to end and if we want to avoid a repeat of the violence ethno-religious population then we need to create a situation where firstly you have government that is inclusive and is representative of all the communities in the country. It can’t just represent individuals from one specific ethnic group or individuals from one religious group. It needs to be more holistic and inclusive.
Secondly, we need a plan that will address the socio-economic concerns caused by the conflict. There is a lot of unemployment in the CAR. There is a lot of poverty, which drives many to acts of criminality in order to sustain them. Issues of identity need to be addressed, as well as land ownership. Also, issues regarding religious tensions. There must be extensive dialogue from all parties involved. There must be a holistic resolution in CAR. If this is not done, and only solutions that bring a short termed peace are used then we will definitely see more violence to return.
Can we say that France and the African Union are successful in CAR?
I think it is very difficult to claim if there has been any success in their response to the Central African Republic crises. We have to applaud that there has been intervention in the country such as peace keeping forces, processes put into place for a transitional government to be elected that can serve as a broker between the various parties. But I think the solution to the problem will still require more than just deploying soldiers. We need to find ways to bring all the disparate communities at the negotiating table. Everybody must have a say in how the country will be run. There needs to be a government that can represent all the people’s interests. We also need to see a programme that disarms all the rebel forces but that does not displace the monopoly of violence into the government’s hands. This has also been part of the problem. We have seen successive CAR governments ruling with a lot of authority and violence against its citizens. This has created a lot of antagonism against the government, which has manifested in creating many rebel groups in the country.
Other issues that the African Union needs to address are conflicts surrounding CAR’s borders, such as Sudan in the Darfur region, Chad, and the DRC. These are all facets that are maybe not directly linked at the time to CAR crises but it is definitely a by-product or is fuelling the insecurity in the country. This helps create the conditions for communal violence and has helped escalate the violence to what we see now. The violence in CAR can be termed as a civil war.
What are the current crises facing Nigeria?
The main focus at the moment in Nigeria is the Boko Haram insurgency in the North Eastern region. It has been causing significant challenges to the President Goodluck Jonathon. We are seeing daily massacres of civilian populations in the North East. We are seeing attacks in the country’s capital Abuja, as well as in other major cities such as Jos and Kano. It is really taking a toll on the government both nationally and internationally. Nigeria is under much criticism about its response to the insurgency and its role in promoting acts of violence like Boko Haram.
Outside of the Boko Haram issue, they are heading to elections in 2015. There have been a lot of divisions in Nigeria’s political situation. We saw schisms within the ruling party. We saw a breakaway faction then join the major opposition movement. We have seen new major opposition coalition formed to challenge the government in the elections in 2015. It will be very tenuous and potentially violent given all the underlying conditions within Nigeria at this stage.
If we look at the south of the country in the oil producing Niger Delta region, we saw that area was also under insurgency with groups like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. In 2009 that insurgency came to an end because they were offered a 5 year amnesty agreement where all the militancy was absorbed into the oil industry. They were given contracts for supportive industries in the exploration of the Niger Delta. Unfortunately in 2015 this agreement will expire, if those groups are not addressed or those militants who have disarmed are not provided further financial incentives or vocational work within the oil industry we could potentially see a resurgence of violence within the Niger Delta.
How are the international relations between Nigeria and the rest of the world?
They have good relations with the rest of the world. Within the African context, apart from countries like South Africa, Egypt, and Kenya, then Nigeria is a major power player. We have just recently seen its ascendance to be the biggest economy within the African region. Nigeria has such a large Diaspora in major countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. Almost all over the world Nigeria is represented. The export of Nigerians to foreign countries also aided in building good relations with the world. So it has good relations with Africa and other continents.
Nigeria recent evaluation placed Nigeria above South Africa in Africa's economy. Economics is often seen as a solution to many of the problems facing a country. What could we expect from Nigeria's economy? And will the economic advances to come be able to patch some of the crises in Nigeria?
Nigeria’s economy is growing. We recently saw Nigeria’s economy overtake South Africa in being the major economic powerhouse in Africa. We will continue to see Nigeria’s economy grow over the years. The problem with Nigeria, which has been an issue for decades in the country, is that economic growth and prosperity on a macro-level is not resulting for economic prosperity on a micro-level. The country is plagued by high levels of corruption which affects and permeates not only on the federal level but also on a state level. The poor, who are the majority of the population, are not benefitting from the financial growth.
A lot of money is being lost by misappropriation of funds by government officials and by other forms of corruption. In Nigeria, the richer are getting richer while the poorer are getting poorer. This caused a lot of dissatisfaction in the country and has caused many problems in the country.
The recent kidnapping of the girls in Nigeria has place Boko Haram on the international spotlight:
a) Who is Boko Haram?
There are lot of theories about what Boko Haram is. Common consensus suggests that Boko Haram is a Salafist Islamist movement that blames a lot of Nigeria’s problems on its secular government, and how its secular government has been influenced by Western norms such as western education and western judicial processes. What Boko Haram wants is that it believes it can convert a lot Nigeria’s shortfalls by converting the country into an Islamic state governed under shariah law. For the past 10 years Boko Haram has been fighting for this. Boko Haram wants to convert Nigeria into an Islamic Caliphate that will rule under the Islamic shariah and will then be able to solve all the problems of Nigeria.
b) Why has Boko Haram become increasingly more aggressive since 2009?
What we saw in 2009 was that the government adopted a very aggressive tactic in addressing the Boko Haram insurgency. We saw the killing of Boko Haram’s spiritual leader Mohammed Yusuf, in which 800 Boko Haram members were also killed. Those killings were conducted extrajudicially. This means that that those killed were not put to trial. After the Boko Haram, or the Maiduguri uprising, we saw Boko Haram trying to get vengeance for the death of its members and leader Yusuf. It adopted a very aggressive style. They started attacking police stations and government installations. These attacks then permeated into civilian populations.
On one side we could argue that it is retaliation for the violence against its members. The other side to it is that Boko Haram is now led by Abubakar Shekau who is more militant. Mohammed Yusuf was more concerned with trying to negotiate Boko Haram’s terms. Abubakar Shekau is trying to achieve this by using violence. This is why we have seen the recent increase in aggression by Boko Haram.
c) How has international attention affected the Boko Haram case?
What we are starting to see is more focus on the group. We have recently seen that after the Chibok kidnapping that more countries are looking at the insurgency and looking for ways to aid the Nigerian government in addressing the crises. Recently the UN has imposed sanctions against Boko Haram, as a means of curtailing any form of money or weaponry supplies that they may be getting from external sources. There is more dialogue now between international partners in aiding the Nigerian government in trying to find a solution to the Boko Haram crisis. In the past there was limited foreign focus on the Nigerian government in addressing the insurgency. But in recent weeks we are seeing more stakeholders and more groups trying to find solutions to a lasting peace in Nigeria.
Why has the Nigerian government been unsuccessful thus far?
There are many reasons for that. Firstly, there is current evidence to suggest that Boko Haram is no longer only Nigeria’s problem. It seems that there is evidence that the group has infiltrated neighbouring countries such as Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. So the mandate by the Nigerian military in responding to the threat is only limited to its country’s borders. Boko Haram has now safe havened themselves in neighbouring countries in which Nigeria’s military cannot infiltrate.
The second reason is that Nigeria has unfortunately focused on a one dimensional policy in addressing the problem. They have focused only on a military solution but have neglected the grievances behind the problems. Nigeria’s north east remains one of the most impoverished regions in the country and has created conditions where Boko Haram can easily recruit the population.
The government has also responded to the group extremely violently by antagonising civilian populations, kidnapping children, and kidnapping wives who are suspected Boko Haram members. What this has done is that it has made local populations extremely hesitant to operate with the Nigerian government to provide them with the support and intelligence that they need to address the problem.
The other issue is that there is political involvement behind the insurgency. However, there is little claim to this. It is believed that certain state officials in Nigeria are funding Boko Haram as a means of under mining the federal government especially ahead of the elections that will be held in 2015. So there are a lot of reasons why the government has failed in addressing this problem.
We have seen terrorism in many countries on Africa. Is an international intervention project possible in the future?
When we reference other countries like Mali and Sudan, international intervention was easy at the time, because they were deemed as failed states since they had no effective government. The difference with the Nigerian state is that it is a government that is capable of running the country as a sovereign administration. So it has not asserted itself as a failed state. From this perspective Nigeria will be very hesitant in asking for foreign military assistance. This type of support undermines a country’s authority. A country must try to come across as capable as providing security for its citizens. I think this will complicate any external intervention in addressing the Boko Haram issue.
From a foreign government perspective, they might be unwilling to get involved in the conflict directly. Boko Haram is still a domestic insurgence and needs to be addressed as such. It is not as simple as putting troops on the ground and responding to Boko Haram with violent measures. The Nigerian government has to shape a more holistic policy to not only end the insurgence but also to create the necessary socio-economic conditions that won’t develop another Boko Haram uprise.
There will be international intervention but it will mostly be technical and logistical support, as opposed to seeing troops from America and France conducting combat operations in Nigeria. I think they will rather help the Nigerian government in providing the equipment and training needed to combat Boko Haram. But also they will try to open dialogue between the government and Abubakar Shekau, in order to hear the demands of Boko Haram. They might try for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, which will be a longer termed peace solution.
Is there a possibility of conflict between Muslim and Christian population groups in Africa?
We just have to take a look at countries like South Africa and other Southern African countries where Muslims and Christians are living in complete peace. What we are seeing in CAR and Nigeria is that religion is being used as a vehicle for the conflict. Religion is being used to indoctrinate and use people for organisations that have political or financial goals. People are using religion and religious identity to differentiate themselves from the opposition. But religion is not central to the conflict, because there are many examples in the African continent where we see multiple religions coexisting harmoniously. We do find in other regions in Africa religion being used as a tool to firstly stoke tensions between groups of people, and also used as a tool to manipulate people to acts of violence.Last Mod: 28 Haziran 2014, 13:12