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Although the civil war in the Central African Republic now a religious character, it is not religious in origin. Decades of bad governance and political instability have accentuated sectarian sensibilities which revolve around distribution of dwindling resources in a zero-sum proposition.

The staggering accumulation of crises in recent months seems to have overshadowed the ongoing sectarian bloodbath between the Muslim and Christian communities in the Central African Republic. Over 2500 peoples have died since January, and more than one million of the 4.5 million population displaced internally, by violence whose roots are complex but have however been simplified and reduced to a religious cleavage by the international community and most analysts. This is the first time religion is source of violence in the country, and the worst ever in its history. On the scale of brutality, the conflict in the CAR is notorious and compares with few in the continent in terms of catastrophic levels of violence, too. At the core, the civil war is not a fight about the right way to God as widely viewed. But the escalating levels of violence so far, is an end of a long progression which started by a complex interaction of factors, in particular deteriorating grazing lands and water resources, aggravated by bad governance as well as porous borders over the years.


The Central African Republic has been marked frequently by its internal conflicts and unconstitutional take-overs of power since independence from France in 1960. The immediate cause of the present crisis followed a path in history. Violence erupted in March 2013, when a rag-tag coalition of rebel groups—Seleka Alliance—led by a Muslim Michel Djotodjia ousted former President Francois Bozize . It, however, took a religious turn when the mostly Muslim rebel group started directing violence against civilians mostly Christians in Bangui. The reprisal led to the formation of a Christian self-defense group, Anti-Balaka forces, which have locked both communities in a vicious cycle of revenge and counter revenge killings.

Political and security strategies to address the immediate causes of the civil war have not only been ineffective, but more so failed to consider the root causes. As a consequence, the Central African Republic has de facto been partitioned along sectarian lines with Muslims and Christians living in separately protected areas in the capital city and across the country. The 15 percent Muslim population in the country have almost been ejected from the capital Bangui. The majority Christian populations have concentrated in the South while the Muslim in the North. At the moment of writing, the security and humanitarian situation appears relatively calm but volatile thanks to the intervention of the African-led international peace keeping force. Sporadic violence between both communities however still continues in the capital city, but increasingly more in the regions.


The environmental ingredients were in place immediately after independence. A growing number of environmental stressors have been interacting with a variable and changing climate to drive conflicts in the country. By accident, those environment-driven conflicts have overlapped with religion in particular, the divide between the Christian sedentary farming livelihoods and the mobile Muslim pastoralist way of life.

While long-term climate change is projected to heighten risks of environmental change, the water and agriculture sectors are already feeling the impacts of an increasingly unpredictable climate. The per capita availability of crop land has fallen by more than 3-fold since independence.

The downward availability of croplands shows a regional dimension. Over the same period, Chad has even suffered more from the shortage of land for farming and pasture, a major driver in the growth of transhumance migration across the border into CAR. With competition over increasingly dwindling grazing lands come spikes in violent conflicts between pastoralists from the water-poor north and farmers in the water- rich south.

A water attraction

Together with the falling availability of grazing lands, water, one of CAR’s important comparative advantages over other countries in the region, has been declining from year to year too. The two river basins: the Ubangi and Chari, which flows into Lake Chad, have experienced a worrisome decline in their water potential. Also the quality of surface water is also deteriorating, especially that of its rivers, springs, ponds, and traditional wells that provide drinking water to around 70 percent of the population.

The rich water resources and extensive grazing lands have traditionally attracted cross-border migration into CAR. In fact, according to FAO estimates, 20 percent of all cattle in the Central African region are found in CAR. Historically, conflicts have been intricate part of the experience of herding pastures from Chad southwards into the CAR. However because of the negative consequences of environmental stressors, these conflicts have taken a violent tend, accelerated by the present insecurity in the country, too. Since 2008, violence has reached records level with significant percentage of populations living along the grazing lands in CAR, internally displaced

The mainly Muslim pastoralists from Central Africa Republic including some from Chad and Sudan are collectively perceived negatively by Central Africans farmers as ‘’conquerors’’. And due to the worsening security situations, they have changed their migration routes as well as equipped themselves with more sophisticated ammunitions including Kalashnikovs making it difficult to distinguish them from armed groups, bandits or rebellions. And the disruption of the traditional migration routes has led to further destructions of crops and fueled conflicts between sedentary farmers and pastoralists group. Given the increasing inter-communal tensions, it is likely that pastoralists who are predominantly Muslim will increasingly armed themselves, against the spiraling religious inspired violence.


The organization of pastoralism is changing too, increasingly becoming welded into the capitalist economy. Wealthy Chadian business men in the cities including military as well as politicians have invested in herding. Herding as a profitable business is becoming increasingly sophisticated with strong linkages to the urban elites and political class. The new entrepreneurs bring not only financial resources but also provide important networks that may trample and even corrupt local institutions including security apparatus for managing conflicts between herders and farmers. The sizes of the herds combine with increased resources and political connections of pastoral entrepreneurs have changed the balance of power between herders and farmers, a major source of conflicts between Chad and CAR. It is unclear what will happen if Chadian troops decide to accompany the herders across the border into CAR.

In the absence of effective government in the borderlands, local communities have started taking laws into their own hands even before the present crisis— forming vigilantes groups to fight against the cattle herders. Conflicts have increasingly spiraled into violence. For example in 2011, it was reported that conflicts between pastoralists from chad and local communities around Batangafo caused the displacement of thousands of people. In a revenge attack, cattle herders burnt down several villages following the murder of one of their own (La Croix, 2013)


Regional attempts to regulate transhumance movement of cattle have been suboptimal. While legislation in CAR is obsolete, recent bilateral attempts to address the problem were aborted with the onset of the current crisis. There is no adequate legal response to the influx of pastoralists from Chad and changing migratory routes of pastoralists. Government’s efforts have been mostly internal with institutional attempts to delineate particular areas for pastures during the rainy season. But most of the top-down attempts have failed because of lack of sufficient ownership from the communities and villages as well as lack of resources by the communities to police the earmarked pastures against pastoralists with increasingly sophisticated arms.


While strong awareness exists in the country about climate change, there’s no effective adaptation program to mitigate the consequences of climate-induced conflicts. In a vicious cycle fashion, the ongoing conflicts limit environmental governance which in turn makes the country even more vulnerable to climate change.

And it is projected that CAR’s climate could warm by 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2080 (CIFOR, 2013)


The way to God is not the root of the violence. In fact, many threads unify the country including a common language Sangho. As well as, there are many sources of divisions beyond religion including more than 80 ethnic groups. However, a self-interest driven political class in the country has leveled off those differences and erased the common threads within the society, leaving bare sectarian divisions, and identities which revolve around distribution of resources, in a zero-sum proposition. Each sectarian community perceives and frames its survival at the expense of the other.

And instead of the country’s elites and war entrepreneurs strengthening institutions to manage or reduce the emerging structural conflicts over resources; they have opted to build their power-based around the symptoms of the problem: the manufactured divide between Christian and Muslim communities. And to sustain war, the two main God’s warriors— Ex Seleka and Anti Balaka forces—, share in common the looting of the country’s abundant natural resources including diamonds and wildlife, too.

Environment matters but operates in a chicken and egg fashion. Rainfall availability has transformed the conflicts in Middle Africa into large-scale violence but do so in combination with other proximate factors including broken security institutions, failed politics and greedy elites (see fig4 ) The perennial insecurity and weak institutions undermines environmental sustainability efforts. Without addressing the underlying resource-based causes to conflicts, current peacekeeping interventions would remain cosmetic at best. A multi-level approach including strengthened environmental cooperation between the Central African Republic and neighboring Chad on transhumance migration could boost confidence between the fractured Chad-CAR relations, crucial for sustainable peacebuilding in the country.


• La Croix. (2013, June 13 ). Retrieved June 1 June, 2014, from

• ACCORD. (2011). Drivers of Conflicts in the Central African Republic, Chad and Sudan. ACCORD.

• CIFOR, C. f. (2013). Institutional Perceptions, Adaptive Capacity and Climate Change Response in a Post-Conflict Country: a Case Study of Central Afrrican Republic. CIFOR.

* Akong Charles Ndika is global affairs blogger @



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