With the West’s latest war in the Middle East against the Islamic State and the vilification of Russian President Vladimir Putin dominating the news it is easy to forget that the West is involved in numerous brutal military interventions around the world – in Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, the Ivory Coast, Pakistan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Niger, Haiti, Yemen, and elsewhere.
The Central African Republic, an impoverished former French colony with abundant mineral resources, has been marred in sectarian violence since the start of hostilities between Seléka, a coalition of insurgents led by Michel Djotodja, a former guerrilla leader in the Bush War, and the regime of Francois Bozize. The Seléka rebels accused the regime of failing to abide by the peace agreements made in 2007 and 2011 that ended the Bush War.
Seléka rebels in Bangui. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Bozize, who had come to power through a military coup in 2003, had run afoul of Western imperialism when he signed mining and oil contracts with China; the U.S. and France indirectly supported the Seléka rebels by withholding support for the Bozize regime. In the words of Bozize: “Before giving oil to the Chinese, I met Total in Paris and told them to take the oil, nothing happened, I gave oil to the Chinese and it became a problem.” French President François Hollande cynically declared that the hundreds of French troops in the country were “in no way to intervene in internal affairs,” a clear indication of support for the rebels considering France has been intimately involved with the internal affairs of the country since its independence in 1960, including launching air strikes against anti-Bozize rebels in 2006 and 2007. The U.S. has dozens of Special Forces stationed in the CAR, ostensibly to assist in the search for Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, although likely being another deceptive cover for a regional imperialist intervention. When Bozize was overthrown in 2013 and Seléka’s leader Michel Djotodja declared himself president, then U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, infamous for her leaked “Fuck the EU” tape, symbolically condemned the coup, but stopped short of calling for Bozize’s return to power.
The country quickly deteriorated into a state of warfare following the coup; the predominately Muslim Seléka rebels that brought Djotodia to power, many of whom came from Chad and the Sudan, refused to disarm and committed mass atrocities against civilians, especially Christians from the country’s south. Christian peasants and Bozize supporters formed anti-Seléka groups known as anti-Balakas, and armed with machetes, committed retaliatory massacres against Muslims. Close to a million have since become internally displaced or fled to neighboring countries and there have been reports of widespread rape, torture, beheadings, recruitment of child soldiers, and even cannibalism.
The African Union and the United Nations formed the International Mission to Support CAR (MISCA), launched in the summer and expanded in December 2013 with a force of 6, 000 and support from the nearly 2, 000 French troops, to replace the regional African peacekeeping force. However these “peacekeepers” inflamed tensions in the country; the ‘neutral’ French soldiers have been accused of siding with the Christian anti-Balakas, and the African peacekeepers sent to restore peace have different agendas, with soldiers from Chad supporting the Seléka militias and soldiers from the Republic of Congo and Burundi supporting the anti-Balakas. Indeed, soldiers from Chad and Burundi attacked each other, causing Chad to withdraw its forces from the CAR.
Two protesters fatally shot by foreign peacekeepers in Bangui. (CNN)
France forced the resignation of Djotodia to be replaced by Catherine Samba-Panza, the former mayor of Bangui, in January 2014. Violence nevertheless continued, and the European Union deployed a thousand soldiers to the CAR, its first mission in six years. Several controversial incidents occurred where foreign soldiers killed unarmed protestors demonstrating against the transitional government and the presence of foreign troops in the country.
Despite the arrival of a larger United Nations peacekeeping force and a peace agreement between the belligerents, the sectarian violence continues, and in July the leader of Seléka called for the country to be partitioned into Christian and Muslim states.
The exploitation of the CAR’s extensive natural resources – oil, timber, gold, diamonds, copper, iron, and uranium – by Western corporations and competition with Chinese investments are the true reason for the Western-backed intervention.
It is well known that both Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo and former president François Bozize of CAR got into trouble with the master – meaning France – because they turned to China for win-win cooperation. They were swiftly removed from power. In the case of CAR, France opted for Michel Djotodia who headed the Seleka…which overthrew Bozize in a matter of weeks.
Former French President Jacques Chirac famously acknowledged in 2008 that “without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power.”
Several Western corporations have invested heavily to exploit the country’s mineral resources. Areva, the French-state owned nuclear corporation notorious for its exploitation of African uranium, was forced to suspend its Bakouma uranium mine, which is “France’s biggest commercial interest in its former colony,” following an attack on the mine by rebels. The first French troops to arrive in the country were sent to “protect its [France’s] nationals, many of whom work in Areva’s large uranium mine at Bakouma in the south-east of the country,” as reported by the BBC. Nuclear power is France’s main source of electricity, therefore a continuous supply of cheap uranium from Africa is vital for French economic interests, a fact that was not lost on the French ruling class when Bozize’s regime contested Areva’s acquisition of the mine.