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Ethnic and Religious Division in the Central African Republic: Crafting a New Nation?

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The Central African Republic (CAR) has continued a path of failed establishments of democracy entangled in conflict. While the Séléka group aspired to resolve this problem, it not only exacerbated it, it laid the foundation for more violence and difficulties for the CAR. To fully understand the extent of this problem, one must grasp the history behind the country’s political instability as well as the ethnic and religious implications. Not taking into account the preestablished ethnic groups during the French Colonial period, government officials identified areas of influence in the CAR and reinforced their boundaries (KŁosowicz 2016). Without a robust political system, ethnic groups began competing with each other in politics (KŁosowicz 2016). This ethnic competition in politics has continued being a factor of insatiability within the CAR government to this day.

Leadersidentifying themselves solely through ethnic groups would continue down a path of violence for the government of the CAR. When Prime Minister Ange-Félix Patassé became president, he was from the Sara-Kaba ethnic group, while his predecessor André Dieudonné Kolingba was from the Yakoma ethnic group (Isaacs-Martin 2016). When André Dieudonné Kolingba became president, he relied solely on his ethnic group, replacing all government officials with tribal members as well as overpaying the army due to their Yakoma tribe ethnicity (KŁosowicz 2016). Every subsequent presidency or coup attempt would rely on their own ethnic group for support. In other words, the country was already divided into ethnic segregation well before French colonization. But the French certainly exacerbated this division in order to concretize their control over the country. Every attempt to form a democratic government post-colonialism reverted to the same ethnic segregation, ending with de facto ethnic authoritarianism.

The general population of the Central African Republic is comprised of eighty ethnic groups with the most conflictual being the Gbaja, Banda, Mandija, and Sara-Kaba (KŁosowicz 2016). This conflict between ethnic groups has only become exacerbated by religion. The CAR is comprised primarily of two religions, Christianity and Islam. These religions not only brought people together for a time of worship but unfortunately also became a conduit in which to unite people of each religion for acts of violence. In 2013, the CAR experienced greater violence through a coup than ever before from the Séléka group (Vlavonou 2014). The Séléka group combined rebels from the local military commander Damane, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), and the Patriotic Convention for Saving the Country (CPSK) (Vlavonou 2014). Striving for a common goal, the leaders of the Séléka group were able to convince other rebel groups to join. Crossing the borders of the landlocked state, the Séléka group recruited other militias from Sudan and Chad as well (Isaacs-Martin 2016). While each rebel group loosely maintained their independence in the coalition, they all fell under the leadership of Michel Djotobia (Vlavonou 2014). The common goal promulgated by Michel Djotabia was that all joining groups agreed the government of President François Bozizé had to be removed for the “better sake” of the country. Once established, the coalition exceeded 10,300 men, an estimated twice the size of the CAR army (Vlavonou 2014). By establishing a militia greater than the CAR military, combined with an unpopular government, Djotabia’s advantage was soon obvious.

A self-proclaimed Islamist group, Séléka effectively took advantage of an already weakened government and replaced President François Bozizé with their leader Michel Djotobia (KŁosowicz 2016). Once Séléka gained government authority, an Anti-Balaka group was established in response. As Kane described, “the Anti-Balaka aimed to liberate the Christian population from the yoke of the Muslims (Kane 2014).” While this might have been the aim, random violence became rampant throughout the CAR, even mistaking innocent Muslim civilians for members of the Séléka group (Kane 2014). Not only had the Séléka group created violence to overthrow the presidency, but it had also effectively ignited tensions between Christians and Muslims across the country in general.

As Isaacs-Martin suggests, the image portrayed of segregation or preferential treatment among certain groups tends to be the common theme in a recipe for conflicts in the CAR (Isaacs-Martin 2016). For members of the out-group, the perception of further exclusion may bring them closer together. In the CAR, the negative images portrayed by a specific group are then used to expose, pursue, or condemn other groups (Isaacs-Martin 2016). This perception has led to social conflicts such as social cleansing and total rejection of non-aligned ethnic groups (Isaacs-Martin 2016). However, as previously mentioned, conflict is not new in the CAR and neither are coup attempts. What could have contributed to the drastic escalation of violence with the rebel groups Séléka and Anti-Balaka? As Turner et al. (1984) implies, goals determine a group’s actions while inspired by their sense of belonging (Brown 2000). Adding to the violence was the fact that each group would target what was perceived to be the other’s resources or political support (Isaacs-Martin 2016). Villages were destroyed as well as innocent civilians murdered. While each had different goals and objectives, both rebel groups Séléka and Anti-Balaka displayed a unique ability to influence the groups in their favor while seeking outright destruction of the other.

Empathy has been replaced with hate for generations in the CAR. Ethnic groups have isolated themselves and lacked a necessary trust for each other through every attempt at democracy. It seems the people of the CAR have lived for generations passing down ethnic traditions of customs, beliefs, languages, and religions. Cultural context defines and ultimately allows a causal perception of “how the world works” that justifies an individual’s rationale for conduct by establishing norms(Beasley et al. 2001). As Beasley et al. suggests, the options of solving a problem across groups become more difficult with established cultural norms (Beasley et al. 2001).Cultural norms encompassing an ideology of distrust between ethnic groups have contributed to the coups and violence in the CAR (Vlavonou 2014).  The coups created over the decades are a clear example of strong ideologies being intensified by ethnic cultural norms.

Religion broadened the scope of hate by crossing boundaries of ethnicity while justifying the cause of continued violence. The Séléka and Anti-Balaka groups both took advantage of this fact to pursue their goals and objectives. This alone arguably increased the destruction and violence in the southwest and southeast of the CAR (Vlavonou 2014). The majority of state affairs were managed at the time by Christians, adding more enflamed desire for the establishment of a coup by Islamic ethnic groups (Mehler 2011). This sectarian conflict, led by the Muslim Séléka group, successfully removed President François Bozizé (KŁosowicz 2016). Since 2013, the Séléka group has been disestablished. However, Anti-balaka has continued to create violence, including crimes against humanity (Glawion and Giga 2018). These norms of hate based on ethnicity now included religion and was justified and conditioned in a positive light over time by the Séléka and Anti-Balaka groups.

Recommendations

As Bales (1953) suggests, expressive activities should be used to mitigate tensions within a group (Brown 2000). While ethnic groups might be separated by religion now, they must have a clear understanding that they all fall under the umbrella of the CAR government and must begin peaceful, respectful, active communication. The problems may seem self-evident to a global civil society but not to the people of the CAR without active communication amongst each other. Although they may not immediately like each other, having the same purpose, overseen by international participants, may bring them together. Once this is established, social interactions with each other should be reinforced to build bonds of trust and reliability, thereby mitigating the likelihood of failure. However, overcoming the cultural history and established social norms may be extremely difficult without committed international help.

The key to establishing norms may begin by applying the self-categorization theory for a better understanding of intergroup behavior and in-group norms established in the CAR as a result of the violence created by the Anti-Balaka and Séléka groups. As the theory of self-categorization states, a group’s behavior is a result of a collective understanding (Smith and Postmes 2011). The Anti-Balaka and Séléka groups used religion as an avenue to expand their social categories while developing a collective understanding. The challenge now would be to reverse this through an alternative national collective understanding and bring all ethnic groups together under the same social/national category umbrella. To solve the continued violence and failed establishments of democracy caused by the rebel groups Séléka and Anti-Balaka in the Central African Republic positive norms creating trust and empathy must be established between all ethnic groups. As Roessler implies, a common practice through African countries is the exclusion of certain ethnic groups who threaten their political party (Roessler 2011). While not perfect, South Africa implemented what they call a “rainbow nation” in an attempt to unify groups feeling a sense of national identity (Gibson 2006). While the group dynamics in the CAR may be entirely different, this could be a system to consider as a start.

Attempting to establish a democracy without positive normative change first may result in reliving a history of violence. The rebel groups Séléka and Anti-Balaka not only created an increased state of chaos through violence, they also laid the foundation for new norms of hate for future generations. As Idowu Koyenikan once said as a lesson for all Africans,“You can no longer see or identify yourself solely as a member of a tribe, but as a citizen of a nation of people working toward a common purpose” (Koyenikan 2014). This great challenge needs to be adopted by all of the CAR. Failure to do so may ultimately lead to the failure of the state as a whole.

Ivan Gulmesoff is a doctoral candidate in Global Security in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University. Currently serving as a Naval Aviation Maintenance Officer in the United States Navy, he hopes eventually to transition to an agency like DARPA, specializing in technological innovations/advancements.

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U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit: Matters Arising and Way Forward

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On the eve of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit planned for December 13-15 in Washington, the Corporate Council in partnership with the African Union and the U.S. State Department hosted discussions which was a combination of online and offline with a number of experts from the United States and Africa.

Katherine Tai, the 19th United States Trade Representative and Secretary-General Wene from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Ambassador Rama Yade, Senior Director of the Africa Center. Taking part was the Dean of the African diplomatic corps in the United States.

This discussion came on the eve of the US-Africa Leaders Summit (ALS), which will advance US-African collaboration on today’s most pressing global and regional priorities. The ALS will reflect the breadth and depth of US partnerships with African governments, businesses, civil society, and citizens-partnerships based on dialogue, respect, and shared values that harness the ingenuity and creativity of American and African people.

There were various themes during the discussion against the difficult geopolitical backdrop of high global economic imbalances slowing direct investment into the continent as well as accelerating shifts in the job market. 

Worth noting that the United States – Africa Leaders’ Summit will be hosted by President Joe Biden, and it primarily serves as a demonstration and commitment towards the African continent and further provides the platform for new joint initiatives between the United States and countries in Africa.

The discussion reviewed, somehow the current relations as well as possible new initiatives to boost the continent’s recovery from coronavirus pandemic, how to effectively bolster food security and to promote investment in various critical sectors including infrastructure, health and renewable energy, among other priorities.

On the other hand, the discussion also focused on strengthening the African diaspora communities and engage them in advancing a two-way trade and investment partnership, scale up innovation and entrepreneurship, and drive advancements in key sectors. 

The United States together with the African diaspora have a very unique opportunity to make sure to change the narrative of trade and focus on inclusive rather than only on market access. Supporting women and youth in  identifying opportunities, challenges and also barriers that confront them.

Questions such as what are the challenges that we can confront together and what are the solutions that we can present to heads of states and government to begin to change the last 60 years or so of exclusion of young people people for mainstream economic activity excluding – exclusion of small medium enterprises from mainstream economic activity to make them partners in the implementation.

The United States understands that African Union and African leaders are looking at regional linkages very strategically and then always around inclusivity. How and what to do better with economic engagement inside and outside, to bring everyone along and not to leave people behind.

The United States already plans to take concrete action to benefit young people including women, to benefit small medium enterprises, small cum medium enterprises in Africa, creating over 450 million jobs. And the bulk of that 450 million jobs are young Africans. 

The Corporate Council on Africa significantly undertakes the tremendous support and even galvanize U.S. leadership and engagement in partnership with allies and with partners to shape solutions to global challenges Africa. Its people have a critical role to play in achieving such solutions, Ambassador Tai noted in her discussion.

Nearly the discussants agreed all that will require a combination of private sector activities and governmental actions and one key governmental framework for Africa is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The free trade area promises deepening economic integration. It creates a single market for goods and services for almost 1.3 billion people across Africa. In fact, the 50 for African Union members have signed the agreement, 42 members have ratified it and 39 have deposited their instruments of ratification.

The Secretary General of the the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) during the summit will be able to discuss the way forward. The United States intends to fully engage with Africa as the recent Africa strategy says in a 21st century U.S.-Africa partnership and one aspect of that Africa is a friend shoring, which is to say working with reliable partners. It is noted to work within the framework that provides integration between West Africa and East Africa, between North Africa and Southern Africa.

Within the framework of the African Union agenda, the new generation who wants to build on geopolitical partnership dimension in the regional economic communities and with African countries. The point is that there are symmetries, obviously, between the economy and industrial development trajectory, and between developing and developed countries.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act offers rules and regulations relating to trade agreements, especially tariff liberalization, this is an important aspect for building sustainable economic cooperation between the two regions.

The United States and its partnering institutions (both public and private) can best work together to spearhead continuous complementary work as it relates to both business security for participating actors and investors and including for example, the global African diaspora and beyond industry for things like creative and cultural industries. 

The speakers unanimously confirmed the summit as the highest unique platform to determine the geo-economic centers, examine thoroughly the global priorities and challenges, and concretely design the main directions of U.S.-Africa cooperation. It offers, especially this critical times, an orientation towards the future, at least the next decade, between the African continent and the United States.

U.S.-African Leaders Summit 2022, aims at enhancing cooperation on shared global priorities. The heads of state and leaders from across the African continent will converge in Washington D.C., within the context of the United States-Africa Leaders’ Summit hosted by President Joseph R. Biden, President of the United States of America. 

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The Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora Announces AU20 Writing Project Winners

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The African Union (AU) in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) hosted a residency programme under the AU20 project for established writers from across Africa to produce a piece of work that celebrates the unity and potential of the African continent.

This year, the African Union celebrates its 20th anniversary since the organization’s establishment at the Durban Summit of July 2002. Dubbed AU20, the celebrations have taken place under the theme “Our Africa, Our Future” and focuses on the AU’s initiatives, successes, impact, challenges and the way forward. 

The writers residency took the form of a hybrid programme, with two online meetings in October/November and a two-week physical residency at the Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) in Accra, Ghana from November 14 – 28.

Catering to the theme “Our Africa, Our Future”, five writers from the continent were tasked to interpret the theme in a broad and expansive way across a selected genre, including fiction, narrative non-fiction and poetry. The piece is pegged between 5,000 and 7,000 words (or five poems for poets) on the theme “Our Africa, Our Future” for the e-book. The final work will be published in an e-book anthology to be released in early 2023.

The AU20 project aims to elevate the profile of the AU in the minds of Africans, particularly the creative community, and better connect the AU to African citizens. Powered by Africa No Filter, the writers residency is a unique contribution towards bringing the African Union closer to the African people by selecting creative professionals who think outside the box, dare to challenge conventions and offer new and original work through their chosen materials, techniques and subject matters.

The Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) together with the African Union, the UNDP and Africa No Filter have now announced the final winners of the AU20 writing project. Here are the five winners and bit of their professional backgrounds.

i) Nour Kamel from the Arab Republic of Egypt. Nour writes about identity, language, sexuality, queerness, gender, oppression, femininity, trauma, family, lineage, globalization, loss and food. She is the author of the chapbook “Noon” in New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Sita).

ii) TJ Benson from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His writing explores the body in the context of memory, migration, utopia and the unconscious self and his works have been exhibited, published in several journals, and shortlisted for awards. The author of three novels, his latest, People Live Here, is out now.

iii) Musih Tedji Xaviere from the Republic of Cameroon. She is a writer, activist, and Moth Storyteller. Her debut novel, These Letters End in Tears, won the 2021 Pontas and JJ Bola Emerging Writer’s Prize. It will be published in the US and UK in 2024 by Catapult and Jacaranda Books.

iv) Tony Mochama from the Republic of Kenya. He is a poet, author and senior journalist at The Nation Media Group. He is a three-time winner of the Burt Awards for African Young Adult Literature and is a recipient of the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship. His futuristic novel, 2063 – Last Mile Bet, was published by Oxford University Press.

v) Sue Nyathi from the Republic of South Africa. She is the author of four novels, her latest, An Angel’s Demise, published in October by Pan Macmillan. A Zimbabwean based in South Africa, she was shortlisted for the 2020 Dublin Literary Award and is a JIAS Fellow ’22.

According to reports, The Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) received an overwhelming number of applications from across the continent, and the selected writers represent the best of African literary talent as well as the literary future. 

Started in a one-room office, the library attracted significant national and international attention and quickly outgrew itself. In 2020, it re-branded as the Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora and moved to a bigger space that includes a special collections/archive room, a screening room and extensive outdoor event space.

As a complete African library, it has also an archive, a museum, a writing residency and a research facility. It is dedicated to the collection and visualization of authors from Africa and the African diaspora from the late 19th century to the present. 

The library has over 4000 volumes of literary fiction and narrative nonfiction dating from the early 20th century to the present day. From Algeria to Kenya and from Liberia to Zimbabwe, the collections represent the rich diversity of the African continent and its vast Diaspora. 

LOATAD’s focus is on books by writers of African descent including African, African American, Caribbean, Black European, Afro-Latin, and Indigenous writers. The Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) is located in Accra, Ghana. 

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Ramaphosa Faces Possible Impeachment for Corruption

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has fallen into turbulent waves and struggling to save his position and reputation. It has tainted image of and changed the global perception about South Africa, if Ramaphosa is finally impeached for corruption scandal similar to his predecessor Jacob Zuma. He, however, made corruption fight a top priority during the political campaign and has fallen victim himself.

Ramaphosa ousted former president Jacob Zuma in 2017 amid optimism that the new leader could rid the ruling party of graft and revitalise the economy. Zuma faces several corruption investigations, but denies wrongdoing.

He faces possible impeachment over claims that he tried to cover up the theft of millions of dollars stashed inside his commercial farmlands. Former State Security Agency director Arthur Fraser laid a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa in June over the theft in 2020. 

The Investigative Committee has concluded its report which report found the president may have breached anti-corruption laws. The African National Congress, the ruling party, has called for him to step down. But, Ramaphosa has denied wrongdoing.

“We are in an unprecedented and extraordinary moment as a constitutional democracy as a result of the report, and therefore whatever decision the president takes, it has to be informed by the best interest of the country. That decision cannot be rushed,” according to the spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya.

A panel report that found preliminary evidence that President Cyril Ramaphosa may have violated his oath of office is a “troubling moment” for the government and governing party, South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor said in an interview with the Reuters.

Pandor added that she was still reading the panel report on the robbery at Ramaphosa’s farm and that she did not want to rush into the public space with additional comments.

The panel’s findings come less than a month away from an elective conference that will decide if Ramaphosa gets to run for a second term on the African National Congress ticket in 2024 polls.

According to his biographical record, Ramaphosa is an anti-apartheid champion, and later South Africa’s wealthiest businessmen and then its most powerful politician and president. Born in Johannesburg on Nov. 17, 1952, the son of a retired policeman. Ramaphosa is a staunch member of the African National Congress (ANC).

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