It is not uncommon to come across weekly or even daily headlines concerning the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen. On occasion, the media may extend its coverage to include a news piece briefly going over the ongoing conflict in Somalia. Yet, there is one conflict that seems to have been archived away in newsrooms across the majority of media outlets, which is that of the Central African Republic.
There has been a significant human cost of the conflict, which has seen over a million civilians displaced into the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad, and the DRC. The U.N also estimates that 2.2 million people within the war torn nation, half of whom are children, are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. In spite of these figures, it is difficult to understand why a conflict of this size has not received equal attention and reactions from those countries that are so willing to intervene in the equally horrific conflicts unfolding in Syria and Yemen. While it is almost guaranteed that the geo-political interests of key states, including the United States, and the complex web of international relations have deemed the C.A.R to be insignificant, the suffering of its people is all too real.
Conflict in the C.A.R broke out in 2013 when a loose coalition of mainly Muslim rebel groups calling themselves the Seleka rose up against the dictatorial government of Francois Bozizé. The Seleka eventually forced Bozizé out of power and seized control of the already poor and underdeveloped nation themselves.
Following allegations of political abuse and corruption, an armed coalition of primarily Christian rebel groups under the name Anti-Balaka rose to counter what they perceived as Muslim caused turmoil in a series of genocidal attacks on the country’s Muslim minority while engaging in a full out war with the Seleka. Despite many civilians within the CAR banding together in their time of great need, such as those churches that sheltered Muslim refugees from impending death and in some cases vice versa, it is clear that an intervention from outside the CAR is desperately needed to bring the conflict to an end and prevent further acts of genocide from taking place.
The Seleka were ousted from power in early 2014, and ever since then, the nation has faced a brutal civil war, which masks some of the most horrific and underreported war crimes to take place in the 21st century.
For any to whom history is not just a mere memory of the past, the conflict in the Central African Republic strongly echoes the failures of the world in intervening to prevent a genocide in Rwanda in 1994 that cost the lives of over a million people within the span of a few months. To an extent, these very countries have also failed to properly prevent crimes against humanity and war crimes in all of the aforementioned conflicts. Yet, what distinguishes the C.A.R conflict from the others is that it has not received an inkling of the media attention in order to raise awareness and bring attention to the events unfolding there that the others have had.
The effects of this neglect in media coverage are far from intangible for the people of the C.A.R. For instance, economic initiatives for the displaced, such as those in place at Mbilé refugee camp in Cameroon, which provided refugees with an income in exchange for their labour are coming to an end due to a lack of funding. As well, in the nearby Timangolo camp, due to a lack of funding, a sewing program that was meant to empower the displaced by teaching them new skills had also never expanded and has been cut.
Similarly, when donations to the World Food Programme dropped last year, the already meagre food rations for the refugees displaced in Cameroon had to be halved. These initiatives have directly suffered from the lack of funding needed to operate them, which in turn is partially caused by a lack of financial contribution and public support that has been spurred on by little to no coverage from the media to carry the message.
With that said, an effort must be made by those countries, who are so willing to intervene and invest billions of dollars in resources in other countries, to get involved in the C.A.R and help to end the conflict. The first step to this, however, will be to educate the public on the war and by giving it equal coverage as any other. It is far too telling, perhaps, that in the words of Lewis Mudge, the Africa Senior Researcher for Human Rights Watch, the most often heard statement on his trip to the C.A.R was “don’t forget us.” As such, it may be wise to remember the echoes of those we have failed before in Rwanda and Srebrenica, among many others today.