Violence has once again hit the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui ahead of a visit by Pope Francis at the end of the month. In the current political climate, elections seem unthinkable.
Attack and retaliate - that is the current strategy of the groups fighting in Bangui. DW correspondent Jeff Murphy Bares said three people died, at least 22 people were injured and more than 100 houses were burnt down over the weekend. Thousands have fled their homes over the last few days. This latest violence was triggered by a retaliatory attack by Muslim groups. Christian extremists killed two young Muslims in the predominantly Muslim neighborhood PK-5 a few days earlier. Two people who came to the aid of the victims were also killed.
Many of PK-5's residents can't comprehend what is happening. "We don't know who can stand in front of us and explain to us why we are dying and for what cause," Melanie Anjokra, a resident, told news agencies. "Some say it's because of the French, others say it is Central Africans themselves who want the violence to continue," she said.
"There must be an end to the retaliatory attacks, which aim to weaken the transitional government, sabotage the visit of Pope Francis and disrupt the electoral process," interim president Catherine Samba-Panza said on Monday (02.11.2015).
'A year of mercy'
Pope Francis' visit to the CAR is now far from certain. His visit is scheduled for November 29, 2015 as the last stop on his six-day Africa tour. Pope Francis hopes to open the doors of Bangui's main cathedral and declare 2016 a 'year of mercy'. Last Sunday, the pontiff voiced his concern over the situation in CAR and called on all involved parties to end the cycle of violence.
It would seem that the violence affects nearly everybody. Bangui's Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga was preparing for the papal visit when a group of youngsters entered Bangui's main cathedral and verbally threatened him. Francis' visit now depends on the security situation.
Just a month ago, at least 42 people died when fighting broke out after the death of a motorbike taxidriver. He was killed in PK-5. Hundreds were injured and hundreds of Christians fled to refugee shelters in the south of the city. At the time UN troops were able to prevent an assault on the presidential palace, as protesters demanded the resignation of the interim president and the withdrawal of the international troops. Interim president Samba-Panza herself believes the attack was an attempted coup.
The neighborhood PK-5 was at the center of deadly clashes between Christians and Muslims in 2013 and 2014. They began in 2013 after the ousting of President Francois Bozize in a coup led by Muslim Seleka rebels. In March 2013, Christian rebels formed the anti-balaka movement in opposition to Seleka and a lethal conflict unfolded. Thousands were killed and even more displaced.
In September protesters demanded the withdrawal of intenational troops and the resignation of the interim president.
Elections now seem unlikely. Parliamentary and presidential polls were initially planned for October 18, 2015, but have now been postponed until December. Herve Ladsous, who heads the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA, said that the limited resources, the ongoing violence and the destruction of ballot papers have made the elections unthinkable.
Kag Sanoussi, an expert with the International Institute for Conflict Management (IIGC) agrees: "At the moment, I don't know which candidate would be able to tour the country and run an actual campaign," he told DW. Sanoussi hopes that the international community can exert enough pressure on the armed groups to create a certain degree of stability.
Thierry Vircoulon, an expert at the International Crisis Group (ICG), said the most important thing at the moment is to establish law and order in the PK-5 neighborhood and secure the main transport route between Bangui and Cameroon. The road is no longer safe from attacks by the anti-balaka militia. According to Vircoulon, however, even fresh elections might not be the answer. "The next government might be weaker than the transitional government," Vircoulon explained. The only hope for the country, he says, is a coalition government.