The three top religious leaders of the Central African Republic have once again travelled to the United Nations in New York to urge the Security Council to act quickly on its recommendations for a UN peacekeeping operation, as violence in their country continues. Despite a change of president and the arrival of a few thousand peacekeeping troops (although the EU’s promised 500 troops have not arrived on schedule) the slaughter has not abated.
The Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, the leader of the Protestant churches, and the the person who leads prayers in a mosque. of Bangui also met UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon, who said “We want to pass on an essential message: that the conflict in the Central African Republic is not about religion.” Ban described the three prelates, and their joint ‘platform for peace’ initiative, as a “powerful symbol of their country’s long-standing tradition of peaceful co-existence…Religious and ethnic affiliations are being manipulated for political purposes”, he said.
The Central African Republic has been plagued by violence since December 2012, when a coalition of Islamist rebel groups, led by Michel Djotodia under the Seleka banner, moved through the country to eventually drive out President Francois Bozize in March 2013. Djotodia took control of a transitional government, while Seleka elements continued a campaign of looting, rape and murder, with a particular focus on Christian communities.
“Many church leaders we interviewed in the CAR observed that along with the military and political aspects of the political change was the intention to Islamise the country,” said Arne Mulders, a research specialist for Open Doors International, a charity that provides aid to Christians under pressure because of their faith.
Djotodia resigned in January, and the National Assembly appointed Catherine Samba-Panza president, making her the first female president of the CAR. As Seleka influence waned and the rebels retreated to the north and to neighbouring Chad and Sudan, local Muslims perceived as accomplices of Seleka have faced attacks by self-defence militias known as Anti-Balaka.
Adding their voices to the global calls for peace at the UN, two renowned singers called for an end to violence in CAR. The Senegal star and one-time Minister, Youssou N’Dour, and the Central African singer Idylle Mamba, respectively Muslim and Christian artists, promote a message of peace and tolerance in a single titled “One Africa,” which they sing as a duet.
“From Dakar to Bangui, let’s be proud and strong for Africa. Let’s come out from darkness and celebrate peace in music,” said the duo, who say religion is not a source of division but a source of richness.