The Pope in Central African Republic


With the Middle East consuming much of people’s attention, sectarian violence in the rest of the world has escaped general public notice. The poverty-stricken, multi-ethnic and religiously divided Central African Republic (CAR), has been plagued by sectarian violence, between its Christian majority and Muslim minority, since the overthrow of its former president Francois Bozize. This was by an alliance of militias mostly composed of Muslims known as the Seleka in 2013. The Pope has dedicated two days of his African tour to the devastated Central African Republic to urge reconciliation between its warring religious factions.[1] Despite the sectarian nature the conflict in CAR, the papal visit was endorsed by both sides. The pope also dismissed security concerns expressed by local security officials and refused to travel in an armoured car, insisting on the usual open-topped vehicle. The pope was warmly greeted by both the Muslims and Christians during his visit, although some commentators are pessimistic about any impact the pope can have on the divided country. They believe that without collective introspection by Central Africans, the pope’s visit is unlikely to have a lasting impact on the prospects for peace.[2]

The Central African Republic has been in throes of civil war for decades, but it has only been recently that the conflict began to take on religious dimensions.[3] The Seleka rebels were mostly composed of militias from the north of the country, and tapped the feeling of exclusion by the central government under Bozize. The Seleka is not an overtly religious movement, but most of its leadership and soldiers were Muslims. After toppling the Bozize regime many of the Seleka militias refused to lay down their arms but instead ran amok and began to target Christian communities. In response, the mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias were formed that tapped the fear of the country’s Christian community.[4] The anti-Balaka ousted the Seleka installed government in January 2014 before launching reprisal attacks against the Muslim population. Since then, there have been killings and reprisal killings committed by both sides of the sectarian conflict. It has been estimated that 100,000 Muslims have fled the CAR capital Bangui, leaving behind a besiege community of 15,000 in an enclave known as PK5.[5] Around 1/5th of Central African Republic’s population has either fled the country or is internally displaced.[6] Most of the Muslims fled northwards, resulting in increased segregation in the country and the threat of breakup.[7] The UN estimates around 447,500 people are internally displaced within the Central African Republic,[8] with more than 1.2 million children in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.[9]

 

 

Bibliography

 

Bavier, Joe. “Pope Francis Goes to War-Ravaged Central African Republic Sunday, Amid Killings and Violence.” CBC, 26 Nov. 2015 2015.

Fouchard, Anthony, and Ty McCormick. “Pope Francis Heads to Central African Republic Amid Security Fears.” Foreign Policy, 27 November 2015 2015.

“Pope Brings Unity Message to Car.” Al Jazeera, 30 Nov. 2015 2015.

“Pope Francis: ‘Christians and Muslims Are Brothers and Sisters’.” BBC News, 30 Nov. 2015 2015.

Pullella, Philp, and Joe Bavier. “Under Tightest Security, Pope Urges Peace in Central Africa.” Reuters, 29 Nov. 2015 2015.

Section, United Nations News Service. “In Central African Republic, Pope Francis Calls for Peace among Christians and Muslims.” UN News Centre, 30 November 2015 2015.

———. “More Than a Million Children Need Urgent Assistance in Conflict-Torn Central African Republic.” UN News Centre, 30 November 2015 2015.

 

[1] “Pope Brings Unity Message to Car,” Al Jazeera, 30 Nov. 2015 2015.

[2] Anthony Fouchard and Ty McCormick, “Pope Francis Heads to Central African Republic Amid Security Fears,” Foreign Policy, 27 November 2015 2015.

[3] “Pope Francis: ‘Christians and Muslims Are Brothers and Sisters’,” BBC News, 30 Nov. 2015 2015.

[4] United Nations News Service Section, “In Central African Republic, Pope Francis Calls for Peace among Christians and Muslims,” UN News Centre, 30 November 2015 2015.

[5] “Pope Francis: ‘Christians and Muslims Are Brothers and Sisters’.”

[6] Joe Bavier, “Pope Francis Goes to War-Ravaged Central African Republic Sunday, Amid Killings and Violence,” CBC, 26 Nov. 2015 2015.

[7] Philp Pullella and Joe Bavier, “Under Tightest Security, Pope Urges Peace in Central Africa,” Reuters, 29 Nov. 2015 2015.

[8] Section, “In Central African Republic, Pope Francis Calls for Peace among Christians and Muslims.”

[9] United Nations News Service Section, “More Than a Million Children Need Urgent Assistance in Conflict-Torn Central African Republic,” UN News Centre, 30 November 2015 2015.

Hanyu Huang