Last month, Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive of the Save the Children Foundation, wrote a guest piece for the Huffington Post about his visit to the Central African Republic.
Forsyth describes a graphic, horrendous scene in the country:
Dead bodies littering the streets. Children shot and injured in the fighting. Hundreds of thousands of families driven into the bush by fear, living out in the open with no food or shelter. In the capital, thousands huddled around a monastery frightened for their lives. I will never forget the fear in the eyes of the children I met.”
Forsyth goes on to note that 400,000 people have been displaced, and a whopping 70% of kids are out of school for the foreseeable future.
The conflict in the CAR is just the latest in a longtime rivalry between the country’s recently deposed president, François Bozizé and Michel Djotodia, leader of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity opposition group.
The story begins in 2003 when Bozizé was serving as Army Chief of Staff under Ange-Félix Patassé, who was the first president chosen in fair democratic elections.
Patassé had won subsequent re-election in 1999, but when he took a trip outside the country in 2003, Bozizé used his military forces to take the capital in a military coup.
Bozizé’s coup spurred the creation of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (or UFDR) and the rise of Michel Djotodia. The battles between the UFDR and the Bozizé government between 2004 and 2007 have been deemed the Central African Republic Bush War.
A peace agreement in 2007 led to a brief period of reconciliation and cooperation, but in December of 2012, a coalition of anti-Bozizé militias known as Séléka (which includes the UFDR) launched an offensive against the government. The Séléka were able to capture key towns early in the conflict, and took the capital of Bangui in March of 2013.
Bozizé fled to neighboring Cameroon as Bangui fell and was indicted for war crimes in May. However, battles between his support and the forces of Michel Djotodia, who became president, continued to tear the country apart.
The conflict is also fueled by the fact that Djotodia is the country’s first Muslim leader. He immediately faced opposition from a number of Christian-militias after seizing power in 2013. The situation worsened, with both sides being accused of countless atrocities and war crimes.
On Saturday, Djotodia resigned and left the country for Benin, but the violence has not slacked off. Children have been used as soldiers by both sides and are now being particularly targeted as a result.
More photos from the conflict:
Read the full report from Save the Children’s Justin Foryth on Huffington Post here.
Read more about the religious element of the conflict on the Sydney Morning Herald here.