Seven people have been killed and at least 20 injured in a grenade attack on the Central African Republic’s (CAR) capital, Bangui. The attack occurred on Saturday, November 11 evening at a concert designed to encourage peace and social cohesion. Two individuals are reported to have approached concert goers on a motorcycle before throwing a grenade into the densely packed crowd. The CAR has experienced a turbulent recent history, with inter-religious conflict erupting in the country in late 2012. Groups of Christian and Muslim militias have fought for religious dominance, with respective groups violently seizing settlements and towns across the country. Two-thirds of the CAR is now thought to be controlled by armed groups. Thousands have already died as a result of the conflict, and over one million civilians have now been displaced. In recent months violence had reportedly decreased, and optimism was rising of a more secure peace. However, Saturday’s attack has reignited fear of a widespread conflict between Christians and Muslims. This fear was magnified after heavy gunfire in Bangui’s PK5 neighbourhood (a Muslim district in the generally Christian city) led to the deaths of three Muslims. The weekend’s incidents leave Bangui residents restless and fearful of a return to the dark days of regular violence and unrest.
Prime Minister of the CAR Simplice Mathieu Sarandji has recognised the threat of a return to widespread violence. Speaking out over radio following the attack, Sarandji stated that “the enemies of peace have just set a trap” and called upon the population “not to slide back into violence.” However, on the streets of Bangui residents believe there is a realistic chance that conflict could erupt once more. Speaking to Reuters, a PK5 resident who asked to remain anonymous claimed that in reprisal for the grenade attack, three Muslim taxi drivers had been killed in the district. Subsequently, “people are afraid the Muslims could take revenge for their dead” and that “even now there is sporadic gunfire in PK5, and the surrounding neighbourhoods are emptying.” A fellow resident, Habib Soule, made it clear that the majority of Muslims “deplore the attack” and that peace in the city remains their priority. The UN peace keeping mission, MINUSCA, has stepped up security measures in Bangui in response to the attack. UN peace keepers have now been stationed at the entrance to PK5, with barricades also set up in hopes of deterring any further reprisal attacks.
In the coming weeks, MINUSCA’s role will be vital in ensuring that violence. UN peace keepers have been active in the country for some time, helping to resettle civilians displaced by the violence, as well as attempting to bring about a peaceful resolution between conflicting groups. Interestingly, the grenade attack last Saturday came just days before the UN Security Council is scheduled to vote on “a French-drafted resolution to authorise an extra 900 troops to protect civilians in the Central African Rebulic” (Reuters). This is a resolution that should be encouraged by the Security Council. Its benefit to the CAR would be significant, especially at a time when the possibility of a return to civil unrest is finely balanced. The introduction of extra peacekeepers to the CAR could play a significant role in preventing the region from descending once again into harmful civil conflict.
Aside from the role of the UN, authorities within the CAR also need to be active in ensuring peaceful resolutions to the weekend’s violence. Leading figures within local communities can take an effective role in furthering social cohesion between Christians and Muslims. The efforts of town mayor Boniface Katta is a useful example. In recent years Katta used his position as mayor of the town of Boda to work closely with Christian and Muslim leaders in his community, “urging them to relay peace to their communities” (Guardian). Regular events such as football matches, drama workshops and open church/mosque days have also been utilised in bringing about social integration. In responding to last weekend’s horrendous grenade attack and in ensuring that a lasting peace is achieved in the CAR, the effective cohesion of communities is essential.