March 18, 2014 at the White House Conference Center, three prominent religious leaders from Central African Republic (CAR), Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Chief Imam Omar Kabine Layama, President of CAR Islamic Community and Reverend Nicolas Guerkoyame Gbangou, Chair of Executive Committee of the Alliance of Evangelicals in CAR, held a roundtable conversation with religious leaders in the Washington DC Metro area about the situation in CAR. They noted that they were in the US to let us know “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” and seek assistance to end the conflict.
Urgent needs for CAR
Observing that a small group of radicals hold the country hostage and continue to sow seeds of division, the religious leaders noted that their number one concern is to disarm the Seleka, the anti-Balaka and the LRA operating in the CAR, attend to the problem of child soldiers, and bring security. Western media, they noted, have bought into the extremist propaganda of a religious-based genocide and continue to chase the worst of the conflict for “news”.
Atrocities committed by both sides
No doubt, atrocities have been committed by both Muslims and Christians. The Seleka movement, made up of about 80% Muslims, whose officers were mostly foreigners from Sudan, Niger and Chad, committed untold atrocities against Christians, burning down churches, dragging people out of hospitals and killing them, atrocities that left thousands dead. Unfortunately, Muslim preachers did not condemn these atrocities, making the rest of the community conclude that Muslims were out to exterminate the Christians. In the post Seleka terror reign the anti-Balaka movement has carried out retaliatory attacks against the Muslim community, including killings, burning down Mosques and preventing Muslims from going to hospitals to get treatment. The Catholic Church in CAR has strongly condemned the actions of the anti-Balaka movement both in writing and from the pulpit.
A witness to religious values
The Catholic Church has turned many of her churches into shelters for Muslims fleeing violence. Chief Imam Layama told the roundtable gathering that his house was burnt down by the anti-Balaka militia and that he is now staying with the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui. The Seleka and anti-Balaka activities have introduced divisions into CAR community that did not exist before the war. There is an urgent need to bridge these divisions. “We want reconciliation, but reconciliation that is grounded in justice,” said Chief Imam Layama. Asked what the Muslim community in the US can do to support the Muslim community in CAR, Chief Imam Layama replied that the Imams in CAR, most of whom assumed ministry by succession, need training in genuine Islamic theology and practice so they can guide the community. He also pointed out the need to rebuild both mosques and churches bearing in mind that atrocities were committed by both sides; schools are melting pots for children regardless of their religious affiliation.
An unanswered question
The puzzle remains: how did a mostly foreign militia estimated at over 20,000 become so organized as to take over another country, depose a president and terrorize its citizens? Who funded, recruited, and organized them? How and where did the militia obtain their weapons and who is behind it all? It is vital to lasting peace that the CAR and the Africa Union tackle this issue to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.
Solidarity with the people of CAR
The Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN) stands in solidarity with all the peoples of Central African Republic. AFJN condemns the atrocities of the anti-Balaka militia and their shedding of blood (committed under the guise of “retaliation”) in the strongest terms. We join CAR’s religious leaders in calling on the international community to double their efforts to disarm the factions and stop the atrocities in CAR.
This article was first published in our January-March Newsletter, By Aniedi Okure, OP, AFJN Executive Director