The latest images of violence in the Central African Republic shocked numerous observers across the globe. This shock is explained by a variety of factors, including the scale of the violence happening in our civilized world, yet it is also related to the fundamental question/issue of the ability of the international community to learn lessons from its previous mistakes. While the conflict in CAR has its own internal causes, perpetrators and victims, it is also strikingly similar to previous humanitarian horrors, particularly to the Rwandan genocide. The genocide in Rwanda, which started on 7th April 1994, resulted in the deaths of 800,000 civilians in just 100 days with a shocking ignorance by the international community. While there are many differences between the two conflicts, both cases share three important similarities.
Firstly, violence in both conflicts intensified after the end of the civil and official signing of the peace accords, which gave rise to the optimism regarding the peaceful settlement of the conflict and normalization of the security situation within the state. This optimism ignored the fact that peace agreement were not signed due to the critical reassessment of the internal situation either by government or opposition forces, but were the product of the pressure from the external actors, particularly by the leading members of the OAU. Thus, the commitment of the signatories the principles expressed in the agreement was minimal, making its practical enforcement potentially void. This meant that peace treaty became a cover under which conflicting parties could carry out/proceed with their violent activities.
Secondly, the international community was hesitant to intervene during early stages in both cases. The existing peace accords were supported by a small peacekeeping force with limited knowledge of the complex internal situation within the state.
Once the violence started, peacekeepers became a passive eyewitness of the massacres, as their legal mandate, restricted to the consolidation of the peace and promotion of electoral democracy was clearly not enough to stop the atrocities. Thus, instead of demonstrating its firm will to resolve the complex security situation, the international community showed reluctance to get involved, thereby unleashing the hands of the perpetrators.
This reluctance can be explained by the factor that major powers were preoccupied with other issues and lacked any strategic interest in distant African conflict. The United States were concerned with their domestic economic and security problems, while focusing their foreign policy on Syrian problem, Mandela funerals, nuclear dialogue with Iran and most recently, the Ukrainian protests. The European leaders were concerned with the monetary problems in the EU and the question of the organization’s eastward expansion. Britain, rarely an active mediator in the African conflicts, focused on its continuing economic crisis and the changing nature of its relationship with the EU. The China and Russia, great powers with increasing influence in world affairs, have very limited strategic interests in the observance of human rights within Africa.
Thus, the conflict in Central African Republic, similarly to the earlier crisis in the Rwanda, became ‘’no one’s agenda’’ and forgotten conflict. The only actors interested in the conflict resolution are human rights NGO’s and the leading members of the OAU, yet their limited influence and resources is not enough to solve the problem.
Finally, even the late response of the international community, in the form of the UN authorization of French led-humanitarian intervention, happened only as the consequence of the intensive French pressure pressure within the UN Security Council. However, the causes of the intervention are far from humanitarian and can be explained by more important/immediate French geopolitical and economic considerations.
Geopolitically, French influence in the international arena has been steadily declining since the end of the Cold War and the remaining influence in Africa remains the pivotal, and largely the only attribute of its great power status. Simultaneously, France sees the region as a competitive battleground with rapidly expanding US interests and the ability to lead the humanitarian intervention could illustrate to the rest of the international community that France still remains a chief international mediator in the African conflicts. Economically, French multinational corporations have a significant share in the CAR economy, particularly within the nuclear energy sector, and intensifying civil violence threatens the territorial integrity of the state, and hence the stability of the French economic position in the CAR.
In this situation, the fundamental question is whether the humanitarian intervention would lead to stabilization of the internal security situation. On the one hand, a relatively small number of victims in the conflict (in contrast, with Rwanda) and the rapid deployment of the French troops gives some grounds for optimism. On the other hand, the situation remains uncertain as France uses small resources (1,000 soldiers) for resolving a deep religious conflict and the recent deaths of two French soldiers could lead to domestic pressure over the immediate withdrawal of troops from the country. Thus, the question over the success of the French operation in the near future would remain unresolved.
To conclude, the current crisis in CAR is both historical and contemporary. In contemporary terms, it is about the deaths of the civilians and the intensifying humanitarian tragedy within a specific state; historically, crisis relates to the inability of the international community to learn fundamental lessons from its previous mistakes in Rwanda.
However, the final importance of the conflict within Central African Republic is about the issues it raises about the future (of the international community). Unless the international community can prove its solvency by learning the right lessons from the past mistakes, unless the international institutions can successfully resolve the key problems of our world(can alleviate our key concerns), unless states would prefer the humanitarian interests to their national ones, the question over the successful future of the international community would likely to be unanswered and the horrendous humanitarian tragedies similar to the conflicts in Rwanda and Car will likely to occur over and over again.