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Germany and Central Africa

Claus Stäcker / sh
February 13, 2014

Central Africa requires military aid, also from Germany, if the violence is to be ended. Ethnic cleansing and anarchy threaten to engulf the entire region, warns DW’s Claus Stäcker.


They are disturbing images, which should not be allowed to be shown. In the center of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, a man is lynched on an open street. A crowd of international media representatives films and takes photos unhindered as he is torn apart - and a passerby eats one of his organs. The cannibal is clearly insane. But what is really insane is that the heavily armed French soldiers who observed the gruesome episode did nothing to stop it.

Deutsche Welle Claus Stäcker
Image: DW

Much of the country out of control

The 1,600 troops from France are said to have the capital largely under their control. UN aid flights from Cameroon are able to land in Bangui. A tough new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza has been appointed. Thanks to the foreign soldiers she was able to venture outside the city for the first time. She did not get far. The greater part of the country is out of control and there is no sign of either French or African forces offering protection.

Place names that today are linked with massacres and lynchings are tomorrow forgotten. Names such as Boda, Bouka, Nzakoun. Muslim militias kill women and children, Christian groups take bloody revenge on Muslim civilians who serve as substitutes for the militas they wish to target.

Estimates put the number of dead at over 2,000. The true figure is probably much higher. Human rights organizations now use the term "ethnic cleansing" and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has spoken of a "humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions." 1.5 million Central Africans have fled and are in need of food aid.

Following its successful intervention in Mali, France was full of confidence but then seriously underestimated the Bangui mission. The soldiers can repulse or disarm military units but are powerless against spontaneous lynch mobs. The African Union (AU) reacted unusually quickly by sending in the African-led International Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) with a troop strength of more than 5,000. However, the force is rightly viewed with suspicion as most of the soldiers come from neighboring Chad which is actively involved in the conflict.

UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon has therefore called on Paris to increase the number of its troops. Interim President Samba-Panza has called for a mandate for UN peacekeepers but such a force would only be ready in six months time at the earliest. By then there is a strong possibility that Central Africa could be split – into a Muslim north and a Christian south. That would have unforeseen consequences for the entire region with its countless marauding bands of soldiers at large in Sudan, South Sudan, Congo or Uganda.

German policy on Africa needs a military component

France has, in the past, made many mistakes with its post-colonial string-pulling, especially in Central Africa. President Hollande wanted to end that and become a more honest broker. A good start was made in Mali. The new approach could be continued in Central Africa but Paris needs allies. Fellow European Union states have so far shown little interest. Germany was strong on rhetoric but then only held out the vague promise of an air ambulance. That will not be enough to bring peace to Central Africa.

There is much talk in Berlin of a new Africa strategy. A courageous trio of foreign minister, defense minister and development minister appear to stand shoulder to shoulder on the issue of greater involvement in Africa. Defense Minister von der Leyen is right to recall the collective failure at the time of the genocide in Rwanda and in Congo. The new Africa trio must now clarify Germany's military role and contribute towards a logical EU security strategy and distribution of responsibilities. No other world power shows any serious interest in military adventures in Africa. This leaves a key role with the EU. Since the last refugee disaster off the coast of Lampedusa, it should be clear that African and European stability are linked. Germany cannot duck away or leave things to the French. In such situations, solidarity is called for. And the military would doubtless add: esprit de corps.

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