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Moment that mattered: Michel Djotodia resigns as president of the CAR

Christian residents celebrate as Séléka Muslim militias evacuate the Kasai camp in Bangui, Central African Republic, January 2014

Christian residents celebrate as Séléka Muslim militias evacuate the Kasai camp in Bangui, Central African Republic, January 2014

“When Michel Djotodia resigned, I was in Bangui. I had been appointed to the Central African Republic [CAR] within the framework of what the UN calls ‘emergency level three’, which is currently in place in the CAR, South Sudan and Syria.

Djotodia had come to power [after a coup] in August 2013, but he was not prepared to run his country. After he took power the Séléka, the mainly Muslim alliance of rebel militias that he had led, committed violence against the population. It led to the organisation of the mainly Christian anti-balaka, [meaning ‘anti-machete’], militias, who in December attacked Bangui and Bossangoa. Since then, they have been committing atrocities against the Muslim community, which triggered
widespread displacement.

In a country of 4.5 million people, 2.5 million have been directly affected. By early May, 600,000 people were internally displaced, 300,000 were seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, and another 100,000 people from other countries, particularly those in West Africa, had left. The other 1.5 million are not displaced or seeking refuge, but their vulnerability has increased. We estimated that $500 million was required to cover the needs of these people in 2014.

After Djotodia resigned, the Séléka had to leave Bangui because they were the ones who had supported him. The ‘anti-balaka’ groups were celebrating in the streets. Then the country entered into a period of selecting a new president, and right after the appointment of the new government we found a space for dialogue and discussion with the new authorities. Though there were challenges, interaction was much easier.

However, when the Séléka left, it created a space for the anti-balaka to occupy. Now, they are extremely powerful. The most difficult aspect of dealing with a group like this is that you have lots of people who claim they are anti-balaka, but they don’t have a leader you can identify to talk to. Whenever there is somebody who you believe is one of the leaders, he is contested by the rest.

The CAR is a country which has almost collapsed – there is no administration, civil servants have not been paid for months, teachers are not going to schools, food insecurity has increased, the minimum healthcare that exists is run by the international community, particularly NGOs… but we are not yet seeing people dying of hunger. However, this country is completely isolated and landlocked, and we are going into the rainy season, the lean season in Africa, and the majority of people have exhausted all their resources. The most difficult period lies ahead of us.

A UN resolution has been passed to deploy international forces, but it takes time to complete deployment. Right now we need another 2,000-3,000 international force members to reach the 12,000 required. But the biggest challenge is that the forces are not equipped to respond to such a crisis. It is not additional forces alone that will make the difference. It is the equipment, the assets, the helicopters – because to be able to protect people you have to access them, and most of the country’s infrastructure is in a very bad state. Without international assistance, we will not be able to provide that support. What is frustrating is that both the UN and the European Union called donors round the table in Brussels in January and pledges were made that were extremely high, but we have not seen them translated into reality.

If you look at the root causes of this crisis it has to do with poverty, it has to do with lack of hope. It’s this lack of hope that really struck me. Many people believe this conflict started this year or last year, but it is the consequences of bad governance over the last two decades, which are only just now blowing up in everyone’s faces.”

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