The Republic That Never Was: Another Violent Takeover in Central Africa
By William Lloyd George
Victory came swiftly for rebels in the Central African Republic. It took just three days of fighting for them to capture the capital Bangui on March 24. The constitution was quickly suspended, parliament dissolved, and the new, self-declared leader Michel Djotodia insisted on ruling by decree. As he settled into the presidential palace (and ousted President François Bozizé found refuge in a Hilton in neighboring Cameroon), rebels and gunmen went on a rampage in Bangui, looting shops, churches and international organizations.
Residents say the rebels are now trying to stop the looting, but electricity and water are off, and many shops remain closed. Prices have shot up; and food shortages are leading to hunger. “Even if we were very poor under Bozizé, we are now living in fear,” says Armel Bangon, a local teacher. “Nobody knows what will happen next.”
What initially seemed like a contained and manageable conflict has quickly become internationalized. France has sent 250 troops to augment 350 already in the country in order to secure the airport. French President François Hollande declared that all parties should “remain calm and hold talks on a national unity government” but he added that France’s days as “Africa’s policeman” had passed. Adding to the drama, French troops shot and killed two Indian expatriates who appeared to have been driving toward the airport in search of refuge.
The other regional policeman, South Africa, has had worse luck. During the rebel advance, 13 South African military personnel were killed, leading to an uproar in that country directed at South African President Jacob Zuma’s decision to send them into harm’s way. The South African peacekeepers, numbering 400, were defending Bozizé up against thousands of rebels and say they were severely underequipped. In the weeks before the attack, South African commanders reportedly told their seniors that the mission amounted to “suicide.” On Wednesday, six more South African special-forces members were reportedly killed. The death toll is the worst for the nation’s army since apartheid. Read More