CAR – A Forgotten Crisis
On July 25, 2014, a ceasefire was signed between the two main warring groups in the Central African Republic: a predominantly Muslim rebel coalition known as Séléka, and violent vigilante groups who opposed their advance through the country, which became known collectively as the “anti-Balaka” (“Balaka” means “machete”). A year later, CAR has dropped out of global news headlines, but its people continue to suffer.
The interior regions of the country remain largely unprotected by UN troops and vulnerable to armed militias. The Séléka rebel movement, together with the local Muslim population (consisting mainly of locals of Chadian and Sudanese migrant descent and Fulani Mbororo herdsmen), continues to dominate the north and east of the country. The anti-Balaka holds sway in the south and west, virtually dividing the country in half.
Despite the official peace agreement, Central Africans—particularly those in the northeast—are still tormented by persistent violence. Access to the northeast is very limited; traveling by road is impossible, and there are no commercial flights into the region.
World Watch Monitor has heard reports of Fulani herdsmen abducting hundreds of people in the northeast, subjecting them to hard labor and forcing women to be sex slaves. The herdsmen also reportedly invaded the towns of Mbres and Bria, where they killed many Christians, burning down their homes and churches, and forcing many survivors to flee. Pastors in particular were hunted down and killed.
World Watch Monitor describes the experiences of three Central Africans contacted by an anonymous source, which provide troubling insight into the horrors still being experienced by Christians.
Debriel, 48, is a pastor from a village in northern CAR, “When Séléka arrived in Kaga Bandoro, the sound of gunfire from heavy weapons could be heard from all directions,” Debriel explained. He hid at home with his wife Angelique and their six children during the raid. Three of their neighbors were killed, their bodies dumped in nearby boreholes. Terrified and traumatized, his family fled into the bush for cover, joining other villagers.
Overwhelmed by the trauma, his wife Angelique became ill and died soon after the attack. She was only 42. One of her family, a member of Séléka, demanded a fine of just over $400, blaming Debriel for her death. Despite the help of Christians in the area, they only managed to raise less than half of the fine. “They [Séléka] said the money was not enough. They took my goats and six bags of groundnuts. They also took the church’s musical instruments,” Debriel said.
They threatened to kill Debriel, who was still unable to pay the remainder of the fine, and church members persuaded him to flee with his six children to the Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camp.
The town of Bangassou, in eastern CAR, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, was invaded in March 2013 after Séléka defeated the national army. Séléka rebels quickly began harassing the local population with the help of local Muslims. This left regional prefect [appointed leader in the district] Omer Youmoina, the main source of authority in the region, in grave danger.
However, Youmoina praises the courage of a group of pastors who decided to confront Séléka. They marched into their camp and asked the rebels whether they were fighting a jihad (holy war) or political war. If it was purely political, they asked, then why were Christians being targeted?
Although the leader of the rebels promised to stop harassing the Christians, Séléka members came to the home of one of the pastors that night to rape some of the women under his protection. Many more Christians were then killed, women raped, and Christians’ homes, businesses and churches looted and destroyed.
After spending two months in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Youmoina decided to return to Bangassou with his 12 children. At the time of writing, he remains the only local authority to have returned to the town.
Daud is from Bambari, an important market town in the southern province of Ouaka. For nearly 50 years, the Christian and Muslim inhabitants lived in relative peace, working together, renting houses from each other, intermarrying and trading at the same markets.
The arrival of Séléka in January 2013 radically changed life. Local Muslims helped Séléka murder Christians, loot their homes, rape their wives, and destroy their businesses and crops. Muslim men who refused to voluntarily join in were recruited by force. Christians experienced intense trauma and sorrow, most of them losing several family members.
As a result, Bambari became deeply divided; one half consists of Muslims protected by Séléka and the other half, non-Muslims (predominantly Christians). The situation worsened following the anti-Balaka attacks on Bangui in December 2013 as Séléka forces carried out revenge attacks on the non-Muslims of Bambari. Séléka burned houses and churches and killed men as they were fleeing to the St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral, which served as an IDP camp for the Christian population. They also fired shots into the camp and threw a grenade into it, killing 87 people.
Today, churches in areas controlled by Séléka do not hold services. Even in other areas throughout CAR, Christians often do not attend church because they do not trust the UN to protect them.
Daud’s conversion from Islam to Christianity has made his life even more complicated. His Muslim family was furious and sought to kill him. Meanwhile, anti-Balaka members distrusted him for his ties to the local Muslim community. They also killed many members of his family; the few that survived were forced to flee. Had it not been for the protection of his church, Daud said, he would have not survived. “Some of my family call me and are surprised when they hear that I am still alive,” he said.
*Daud’s real name has been withheld to protect his identity.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, as Christians in the Central African Republic continue to suffer at the hands of warring factions, we pray Your protection to cover them in Your perfect peace. We pray for Your provision as homes and land have been destroyed or taken over by Séléka forces. We pray specifically for Lucien, Omer and Daud as they seek to live out their faith in Christ in the midst of opposition; that You would remind them of Your encouragement to, “be strong, and let your heart be courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord.” (Ps. 31:24) Thank You for the churches that have gathered around these men. We pray that You would fill Your church with compassion for their Muslim neighbors who are living in spiritual darkness, and that You would provide opportunities to share the gospel, the Good News, of Christ. And, we pray that Your peace would one day soon pervade this nation. In the Name of Jesus, our hope and sure defense, Amen.