Indigenous World 2019: Central African Republic
There are three indigenous groups in the Central African Republic (CAR): the M’bororo Fulani, the Aka and the Litho. The M’bororo Fulani are largely nomadic pastoralists. They are found in the prefectures of Ouaka in the centre-east, M’bomou in the south, and Lobaye in the south-west. The 2003 census estimated their population at 39,299 people or approximately 1% of the total population. The proportion of M’bororo is higher in rural areas, where they represent 14% of the total population, while they account for only 0.2% of the population in urban areas.
The exact number of Aka Pygmies is unknown, but they are estimated to number in the tens of thousands. Around 90% of them live in the forests of CAR, which they consider their homelands and where they carry out their traditional activities of hunting, gathering and fishing. The Aka live in the following prefectures: Lobaye, Ombella M’polo and Sangha-Mbaéré in the south-west, and Mambéré Kadîe in the west. The Litho are a minority group located in the north of the country. They are semi-nomadic and practise farming togeth-
er with hunting, gathering and fishing.
CAR voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in September 2007 and ratified ILO Convention 169 in August 2010. It was the first and only African State to ratify this Convention. On 11 August 2011, under the terms of the ILO Constitution, the Convention entered into force.
Political and security context
The political climate in the Central African Republic (CAR) remains deeply marked by recurrent violence. On 7 and 8 April 2018, serious outbursts of intercommunal violence occurred in Bangui, resulting in 70 dead and 330 injured, mostly civilians.1 On this occasion, like many others, “the fighting gave rise to international and humanitarian human rights violations”.2
In the country’s interior, massacres are virtually a daily occurrence. Three-quarters of the country is now in the hands of different armed groups, which violently oppose each other. Since 2018, the regions of Bambari, Bria, Ndélé, Kaga-Bandoro, Markounda, Paoua and Bokaranga have experienced serious loss of life, as was previously the case in Bangassou, Mobaye, Alindao and surrounding areas, where large numbers of people have also died. Six UN peacekeeping soldiers were furthermore killed during 2018,3 as well as three Russian journalists and three Chinese nationals. Three priests have been brutally attacked despite being in full religious dress, and mosques have been burned down.
The re-organisation of the Central African Armed Forces, recently deployed in support of the UN peacekeeping force, seems to have given the population a glimmer of hope. That hope remains fragile and has been repeatedly tarnished by further attacks, including those in the centre of the country in August and September 2018. These attacks, in the town of Bria and along the Bria-Irabanda highway in Basse Kotto Prefecture, ended with 30 dead and four wounded. “According to surveys of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), many of these crimes, which could constitute crimes against humanity, can be attributed to the rebel armed groups.”4
At the end of October 2018, other “clashes resulted in several victims and forced displacements of the population to Batangafo to the north and Bambari in the centre of the country”.5
In November 2018, rebel armed groups attacked the site where internally-displaced persons (IDPs) were living in Alindao in the southwest of the country, killing 100, including two priests. This brought the number of priests killed in 2018 to five. When the government was challenged by MPs on this subject in the National Assembly, the prime minister stated that “the UN peacekeeping groups […] are not meeting our expectations”.6
Following the massacres at Alindao and Batangafo, several people have attempted to hold the UN forces responsible for having abandoned the population to the mercy of the disparate rebel groups. Since November 2018, the escalation in number and severity of massacres has only deepened the Central African crisis. In response, the President of the Republic has declared that, “there is serious violence being planned”.7 Faced with these massacres, he declared three days of national mourning and again called on the UN Security Council to lift the arms embargo that was imposed in 2013. The president of the National Assembly also sent out a distress call to the Security Council calling for a “total” lifting of the arms embargo to enable the Central African army to become operational. Other voices, such as those of “civil society women, insistently called (during a press conference at the start of November 2018) on a total and unconditional lifting of the arms embargo. [According to them] to ignore the people’s distress is to shut one’s eyes to the massacres, to the benefit of other interests...”.8
Through the voice of the Cardinal, during a press conference, the clergy castigated the serious lack of international opinion and the absence of UN forces in the light of the repeated attacks. Amnesty International has ordered an inquiry to shed light on the Alindao massacres, particularly with regard to the behaviour of the UN forces.
Overnight on 30-31 December 2018, armed groups attacked the town of Bakouma, a strategic uranium mining site, killing four people including the sultan, an important “identitary and cultural figure” in the area. Just prior to this, recognising this upsurge in criminal activity, on 14 December 2018, the Security Council had renewed the UN peacekeeping force’s mandate in the CAR for another year. At the same time, the UN Secretary-General appointed a new representative to head up MINUSCA in the CAR.
It should be noted that “the armed conflicts have [also] contributed to a rise in cases of sexual violence and physical aggression, in particular inhuman and degrading treatment of women and young girls”.9 The population is demanding justice and that the perpetrators are brought to trial. A former head of the anti-Balaka militia was arrested in November and taken before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Another former anti-Balaka leader* arrested in Paris is in the process of being extradited to The Hague. The population have expressed surprise and confusion that the Séléka*, mercenary warlords and the perpetrators of numerous crimes, still enjoy freedom of movement while only the anti-Balaka militia have been taken before the ICC.
Thousands of people have been forced into an exodus the size of which has never before been seen in the country’s history: “More than 577,000 refugees [remain] in neighbouring countries and 669,997 IDPs, of which 50,000, remain [displaced] in the capital, Bangui.”10 However, “the Commission for Population Movement has observed an overall decline of 7% in the number of IDPs”.11 Despite these reports the issue remains monumental: “At the end of June 2018, the total number of IDPs was 608,000: 249,522 at sites and other meeting places, 354,017 estimated to be living with host families and 4,489 in the bush.”12
Voluntary return of IDPs
A timid return of IDPs to their homes has been observed in 2018: “41,670 people in the Sub-Prefecture of Paoua; 3,575 in the Sub-Prefecture of Batangafo, still occupied by rebel groups; 1,076 in the Sub-Prefecture of Carnot and 13 in the Sub-Prefecture of Berbérati.”13
Nonetheless, insecurity remains high in these regions, as in many others. In addition, “one person in every four is still either internally displaced or a refugee”. In October 2018, “a large number of M’bororo Fulani who had taken refuge in Cameroon returned to the region of Baboua in the west of the country with their livestock. [...]. The local authorities conducted a census and warned them against illegally carrying arms.”14 Since the start of 2018, 15,000 IDPs have voluntarily returned home and received support from humanitarian organisations. In general, thanks to a lull in the violence in some areas, there has been a more or less continuous return of displaced persons.
Another widespread scourge is famine, despite temporary assistance from humanitarian organisations. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “550,000 people are in an urgent situation of food insecurity”.15 The crisis is growing to the extent that, according to UNICEF, “1.5 million children are in need of humanitarian aid”.16
Impacts of conflict on indigenous peoples
There are three groups of indigenous peoples in the CAR: the Pygmies, the M’bororo and the Litho, a minority group rarely acknowledged. There are also the Ndris, considered to be the first inhabitants of Bangui, the capital, prior to colonial settlement. Today, they are totally unknown and on the verge of extinction.
The Aka Pygmies live in Lobaye and Ombelle-M’poko in the south of the country. The Babénzélé Pygmies live in Sangha-M’Baéré in the southwest and Mambéré-Kadei in the west.
The invasion of armed groups into the CAR in 2013 caused considerable harm to the Pygmies with consequences that can still be seen to this day. There was loss of life and serious plundering of the biodiversity. The forest, home and food source of the Pygmies has served to feed the war, just as the gold and diamonds have in mining areas. More than 50 elephants have been destroyed for their ivory in the Dzanga-Sangha Forest Reserve in the west of the country. Constantly under pressure, the Pygmies, known for their hunting skills, have been forced to embark on large-scale hunting to the benefit of their oppressors when, traditionally, they would take only what they needed from the forest for their daily needs. The insecurity is such that they no longer go into the forest to gather, hunt or fish. Now, because of the trauma they have suffered, they have settled around the outskirts of villages.17
This is simply reinforcing the effects already being suffered due to constant deforestation by multinational companies.
The Mbororo Fulani
A nomadic people, the Mbororo are constantly on the move in search of grassland. They are found over a large area of the country, particularly in the prefectures of Ouaka in the centre of the country, M’Bomou in the south-east, Nana-Mambéré in the west, Ouham in the north, and Ombelle-M’Poko and a part of Lobaye in the south-west. During their movements, they come into constant conflict with agricultural farmers because of the damage their herds cause to the plantations. The local authorities (prefects, sub-prefects and mayors) have repeatedly intervened to resolve disputes between these groups.
The prefectural and communal-level authorities have designed regulations to try to ensure reciprocal respect for agricultural and pastoral spaces.
The Litho are a minority group living in the north of the CAR around Bamingui, Ndélé, Kaga-Bandoro and Kabo. They are also found at Sido 2 and Maro in Chad, on the border with the CAR. They are semi-nomadic. They practise agriculture and live from hunting, gathering and fishing. Like the Pygmies, they reject modern medicine and remain traditionally attached to their pharmacopeia, for which they enjoy a widespread reputation.18
Their vision of the world is strongly influenced by their spiritual beliefs, which they invoke to regulate the life of the group. Their way of life is similar to that of the Pygmies, with the sole difference that they live in a wooded savannah environment while the Pygmies inhabit the equatorial forests. It is not currently possible to say what effects the political and military crisis is having on their community. What is certain is that they live in areas of high insecurity in which the warmongers have established their bases.
Legal protection of indigenous peoples
Since the Central African Constitution incorporated the provisions of ILO Convention 169 on the protection of indigenous peoples in 2015, the country has struggled to put this into effect. Plans, including a draft bill of law, remain no more than good intentions. The conflict in the country is preventing government and civil society initiatives for indigenous peoples from being implemented. Nevertheless, in 2018, through the SENI Project (a project to support the CAR’s health system), the government’s national public health policy took the sanitary conditions of indigenous peoples, in particular the Pygmies, as one of its focal points. In June 2018, a “Framework Plan for Indigenous Peoples/CPPA” was thus drawn up with the aim of “providing responses to the precarious sanitary situation […] of indigenous peoples [who] do not participate, for example, in vaccination campaigns and who have no access to health facilities.”19 The Framework Plan anticipates that “Aka populations from Sangha-Mbaéré prefecture, in Health Region 2 covered by SENI”,20 will be the first to benefit from this project.
Indigenous peoples’ representation and participation
Two of the indigenous peoples are organised into associations. The Mbororo have created the NGO Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) to represent them within civil society and state structures.
The Aka Pygmies are organised in the Association for the Defence of Ba Aka Interests in the CAR (ADIBAC) for the same reasons and objectives. These associations are now virtually paralysed due to the conflicts. They also still have little access to other areas such as education. Initiatives in this regard are at an embryonic stage and quickly dashed through lack of pedagogical strategies appropriate to their way of life. The lack of information due to illiteracy is a serious obstacle for indigenous peoples, who find themselves unable to defend their interests in different areas of public life.
Notes and references
- Centrafrique Presse, Bangui, 29 July 2018. Bilan à mi-parcours du Groupe d’Experts sur la Rép. Centrafricaine, Report from UN Security Council, published on 23 July 2018
- Centrafrique Presse, Bangui, 15 October 2018, MINUSCA Press Release
- Centrafrique Presse, Bangui, 1 November 2018
- RJDH – Bangui, 22 November 2018
- La Nouvelle République – Bangui
- Centrafrique Presse, Bangui, 6 November 2018 (RJDH)
- N’Djoni Sango, Bangui, 25 September 2018
- Corbeau News Centrafrique, Bangui, Alain Nzilo
- Centrafrique Presse, Bangui, 24 July 2018 (RJDH), Fridolin Ngoul or Report of the Commission for Population Movements
- NDéké Luka, Bangui, 8 October 2018
- Centrafrique Presse, Bangui, 19 October 2018, FAO
- Ibidem, 30 November 2018
- Séraphin MOUSSA, Assistant at Bangui University, Interview
- Justin GOTINGAR, Student at Bangui University, Interview
- Ministry of Health and Population Cadre de Planification en faveur des Peuples autochtones, June 2018, p. 14
The Séléka (“Coalition” in Sango) is an ethnic and Muslim coalition formed in August 2012 among rebel groups to remove the Central African President, François Bozizé, from power, which they did in March 2013.
The anti-Balaka are a self-defence militia established by farmers in the Central African Republic. They took up arms in 2013 against the Séléka during the third Central African civil war.
Abel Koulaninga is a Doctor of Educational Science at the René Descartes Paris V Sorbonne University. He used to be a Senior Lecturer at Bangui University where he taught group dynamics, at the same time as holding the position of General Secretary of the National Central African Commission for UNESCO. Among other things, he has contributed to getting the Aka Pygmies’ oral tradition proclaimed and recorded as world heritage. He is the author of “L’Éducation chez les pygmées de Centrafrique” [Education among the Central African Pygmies], 2009, L›Harmattan.