Militias are back on the streets of Bangui, raising fears of more sectarian violence.
Who is fighting whom: Muslim and Christian militia groups that were formed along sectarian lines during the previous conflict.
The Seleka militia, a coalition of anti-government fighters who are mostly from the country’s Muslim minority, emerged in 2012. In March 2013, they overthrew President François Bozizé and installed rebel leader Michel Djotodia as president. Once in power, the Seleka rebels wrought a campaign of terror on the population and refused Djotodia’s orders to disband.
Rival militias, calling themselves "anti-balaka" (mostly translated as "anti-machete"), formed to protect members of the country’s Christian majority, but they brought terrors of their own, massacring Muslim civilians and hounding the Muslim population from large swaths of the country.
What began as a power struggle took on the rhetoric and fanaticism of religious violence. “Although many Christian and Muslim communities lived as friends and neighbours before the war, the conflict became coded in religious terms and vicious inter-communal violence between Christian and Muslim groups broke out,” wrote field researcher Kasper Agger and senior fellow Christopher Day at the Washington-based conflict resolution group the Enough Project. The sectarian violence left at least 5,000 people dead and displaced nearly 1 million.
After the rival militias signed a ceasefire deal in July 2014 and agreed earlier this year to lay down their arms, a semblance of normal life returned to the capital. But elsewhere in the country, militants hung on to their weapons and outbreaks of sectarian violence continued.
French troops and African Union peacekeepers were deployed to the country in late 2013 (the United Nations took over the peacekeeping mission in 2014), but they struggled to contain violence outside of the capital. The mission has also been blighted by accusations that peacekeepers sexually abused children.
On Tuesday, U.N. peacekeepers clashed with militia fighters in the capital and helicopters from the French mission fired on militants near the airport, witnesses told Reuters.
“Over time, the machinery of regime politics in Bangui has changed little, only occupied by different sets of elite operators that view access to the state as a way to attain privilege and accumulate personal wealth. The current Transitional Government has slotted nicely into this pattern, with President Samba-Panza stocking her government with close associates, recycled elites, and members with ties to the Séléka and anti-Balaka.”