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13 April 2014

Why the EU Sent Troops to Central African Republic

eu-africaThe Central African Republic may be a country that hasn’t been on your radar, but the political situation is getting more hostile. So here at The Real News, we thought we should bring you the story.
The African country gained independence from France in 1960. It has been torn by rebel groups, coups, and violence since then. For example, in 2003, François Bozizé took power in a military coup, but then was ousted last March by Michel Djotodia. Now Djotodia is out, and a new, female interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, is in.
Joining us now to unpack all of this is Emira Woods. She’s the codirector of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Thanks for joining us, Emira.
EMIRA WOODS, CODIRECTOR, FOREIGN POLICY IN FOCUS, IPS: It’s a joy to be with you. Happy new year.
DESVARIEUX: Happy new year to you as well.
So let’s get right into this. So, in the second part of the interview, we’ll get into more of the history of the conflict, but in this part of the interview I really want to discuss the development that the European Union has sent 1,000 troops into the Central African Republic. And we also have France, as well as the African Union, that has troops on the ground.
Can you break down what these groups’ motivations are for intervening? Let’s start with the E.U. for example.
WOODS: Well, I think for all it’s kind of a simple motivation, right? There is in this Central African Republic tremendous natural wealth. It comes down to that. You have in particular gold. You have uranium. You have also now, you know, these new discoveries of oil in the region. So you have a lot of folks who are interested, because of the natural resources, primarily.
But what has happened is essentially a complete breakdown of the governing system in a very short order. You have had now ongoing, almost now over six months of ongoing violence, an estimated 1,000 people killed in a very short period of time, hundreds of thousands of people now internally displaced and also refugees. So there is a very real crisis on the ground in Central African Republic.
And I think what is at stake for the African Union is a sense of bringing stability to this country that has these vital resources but has not necessarily met the needs of its own people, and trying to figure out, really, how to get to the root of the crisis in order to stem what is becoming characterized as a sectarian conflict, when really at its root is control and access of resources.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s break that down further, because the mass media really does portray this conflict as being between Christians versus Muslim, but you’re saying otherwise, Emira. Can you elaborate further?
WOODS: Well, I think Central African Republic is one of the places that has been the most, really, at ease with different religions in the country and people living for centuries together within communities, within families, right, you know, some family members being Christian, the others Muslim. This is the history there in Central African Republic.
But what you have had is a real fight for control and access of natural resources that has led to a breakdown of the governing institutions in the country. And really–you know, so what you have had is a series, since independence, of attempts to establish governance that have not really been fully rooted in communities and institutions on the ground. So you have, unfortunately, a situation where, you know, the military has been strengthened and there have been coups and counter-coups. And it really escalated over this past year, to the point where you had these, again, forces that were trying to control primarily resource-rich areas called the Séléka. You know, they came out to access and control resources, as well as political power. And then you had an opposition force on the other end, so, you know, the Séléka being, yes, from the north and primarily Muslim communities, and then you had, you know, the anti-balaka forces of, basically, primarily Christian coming forth to try to stem violence that was occurring in the north. And so what was escalating as a sectarian crisis was really a crisis over political legitimacy, as well as a crisis over control and access of vital resources in the country.

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