Date: November 13, 2019
by Elizabeth Kendal
In 2012, a coalition of very well-funded and well-armed local and regional Muslim militias known as Seleka (coalition/alliance) overran Central African Republic (CAR: a French-speaking, predominantly Christian nation). On 24 March 2013 they captured the capital, Bangui, and all hell broke loose [see RLPB 210 (15 May 2013)]. Today, after more than six years of war, more than 600,000 people remain exiled in poorly funded refugee camps across the region, while some 580,000 remain internally displaced within CAR. Roughly 2.9 million of CAR's 4.9 million estimated population require humanitarian assistance, with some 1.3 million suffering 'acute' food insecurity [USAID fact-sheet (30 September)]. Whilst Bangui and much of the south-west has been liberated and the Seleka coalition has collapsed, 80 percent of the state remains under the control of 14 Muslim militias whose fighters are mostly foreigners from Sudan, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and who are backed by regional and international powerbrokers.
Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa is president of CAR's Catholic bishops' conference. He recently noted, quite correctly, that the conflict in CAR is first and foremost a conflict over resources, in particular the country's rich diamond and gold deposits. As he explains, the Muslim militias comprise 'rebels who are here to exploit, not to convert'. While that is true, it does not mean that religious freedom and Christian security are not gravely imperilled. The militants might be in CAR for personal gain, but they come with an Islamic worldview which discounts Christians as infidels who, though not obliged to convert to Islam, must submit to its rule. Consequently, the crisis in CAR is economic, political, geostrategic and religious. In CAR today, inordinate wealth and extreme violence are being used to secure authority and influence. CAR's future hangs in the balance.
A peace agreement signed in Khartoum in February between the CAR government and 14 armed rebel groups is hugely controversial, ineffective and fragile. Despite receiving 13 ministerial positions and the right to monitor security in the areas they control, the militias are complaining that they have not received enough. (Among other things, they wanted the post of Prime Minster!) Meanwhile, CAR's traumatised and suffering citizens - who must live with injustice and insecurity - are complaining that the militias have actually received far too much. Nobody is happy! In violation of the Khartoum Agreement, CAR's rebel movements have continued to purchase weapons, including AK-type assault rifles and grenade launchers, ammunition and vehicles from and through Sudan. The main suppliers include Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which is under the command of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, commonly known as 'Hemeti'.
Once a mere camel-herder in Western Darfur, Hemeti rose to become the leader of a pro-Khartoum Darfurian militia, sponsored by President Omar al-Bashir to eliminate Darfurian opposition through genocide. Hemeti's militia was later re-packaged and legitimised as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF effectively served as President al-Bashir's personal paramilitary, with General Hemeti as al-Bashir's personal 'protector'. No longer janjaweed (devils on horseback), Hemeti's RSF comprises at least 40,000 seasoned fighters, most of whom have gained experience in Yemen and Libya. In 2017, Hemeti seized control of Western Darfur's Jebel Amer gold mine; today he is one of Sudan's richest men, his wealth and gold safely stashed offshore, mostly in United Arab Emirates. In April 2019 President al-Bashir was ousted in a military coup and Hemeti became deputy leader of Sudan's Transitional Military Council (TMC). At this point Hemeti undoubtedly had more power than anyone in Sudan. However, on 21 August the TMC was superseded by the half-military, half-civilian Sovereign Council (SC) which is tasked with facilitating Sudan's democratic transition [RLPB 516 (21 Aug)]. Though Hemeti is a member of the SC, the Forces for Freedom and Change want the military ultimately removed from power. Hemeti is doubtless positioning himself to ensure his access to sources of revenue remains, from gold theft to arms trafficking and fighters for hire - whatever the future holds. His links to CAR's Muslim rebels run deep; he casts an ominous shadow over the whole region. Christians around the world need to get on their knees and plead: 'Lord have mercy on Central African Republic.'
PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL
* intervene in power and righteous indignation to deliver Central African Republic from deadly peril.
For we [Paul and Timothy] were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8b-11 ESV)
* disrupt and sever the supply lines that keep CAR's foreign Muslim fighters paid and armed; may all foreign fighters in CAR illegally be forced to retreat. Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted (plea from Psalm 10).
* comfort and sustain his precious Central African Church; may he grant her leaders a double portion of amazing grace and of divine wisdom as they seek to guide the Church, minister as peacemakers, facilitate reconciliation, generate hope and point people to Christ.