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In which John discusses the ongoing war in the Central African Republic and how complex news stories that don't meet our expectations can go ignored, even when they're very important. REMINDER: EDUCATIONAL VIDEOS ARE ALLOWED TO BE OVER FOUR MINUTES.

A much more detailed and very interesting overview of the conflict beginning in 2012:

The (slightly out of date but still very helpful from a historical/demographic background perspective) CIA Factbook on the CAR:

Further background from the ICRC on the internal displacement in the CAR:

Good story about the CAR from the Economist:
Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. I want to talk today about what's going on in the Central African Republic, but first a couple prefatory notes.
One, in the US especially, we tend to image Africa monolithically as, like, poor and undeveloped and generally other, even though it is a large continent full of vastly different nations. And, while today we are going to talk about an African state that has struggled more or less continually since its independence, it's worth remembering that seven of the world's ten fastest growing economies are in Africa.

Two, this is speculation, but I think one of the reasons we don't hear about what’s going on in the Central African Republic, is that it's complicated. You know, we like narratives, like the Rebels versus the Empire, or Harry versus Voldemort, or Dora versus Swiper the Fox. I'm sorry; I watch a lot of children's TV. Like, we can stand some shades of grey in our heroes and our villains, but we love to know who the heroes are and who the villains are. And I think a lot of times when new stories don't fit that narrative, we just ignore them because the idea of good guys and bad guys is so central to our understanding of ourselves and our world that we can't abandon it.

And I also think, if I can tangent on a tangent, that this is part of why our interest lags when international news stories grow, like, less narratively powerful. Like, it's easy to root for the rebels in Cairo's Tahrir Square when they want freedom and democracy, but the actual complex business of rebuilding a state, as we’ve seen in Egypt and elsewhere, gets somewhat less attention.

Okay, with all that noted, the Central African Republic is here in, you guessed it, the center of Africa; although, to be fair, it has not often been much of a republic. Life expectancy in the CAR is 51, and it's one of the poorest countries in the world today. So after declaring independence from France in 1960, there were several decades of military rule, but then in 1993, there were multi-party elections, and the elected president was Ange-Félix Patassé, and initially, the economy grew under Patassé, but he failed to be able to pay the military and civil servants which is, like, one of the central things that governments do. Also there was quite a bit of corruption, and there were several coup attempts over the next decade. So Patassé remained president until 2003 when a military coup finally succeeded. Military leader François Bozizé succeeded by using the time-honored tactic of waiting until the president was out of town and then quickly seizing the government.

So obviously the CAR has long struggled with security and political stability, like in the east of the country, the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, whom you might remember from his brief moment of 'Kony 2012' internet fame - yeah, that guy - his group has been murdering and torturing people for decades. In fact, it's believed by many that Kony is hiding out in the Central African Republic. But also, both the Patassé and Bozizé regimes relied on foreign armies from Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere to help, like, shore up their governments.

But, security-wise, after Bozizé took power in 2003, things got significantly worse. So there was this group, the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity that combined with other rebel groups and began to fight against Bozizé's regime in what came to be known as the Central African Bush War. This involved lots of groups, like the People's Army for the Restoration of Democracy, and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace, but anyway, they all banded together and tried to take down the government. It didn't work. Finally there was a peace treaty in 2007, but the fighting never, like, totally stopped.

Okay, so flash forward to 2012: several of the groups from the Central African Bush War unite with some other rebel groups to form Séléka, which means 'union.' And most members of Séléka belong to the CAR's Muslim minority, which is about 15% of the country's population. They quickly take control of a bunch of towns in the north and the center, and then other African countries, including Chad, send in troops to try to protect the capital of Bangui.

But it doesn't work, so in March 2013, the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, falls to the Séléka rebels, and Bozizé flees the country. And one of Séléka's leaders, a Muslim, Michel Djotodia, becomes president, but almost as soon as Séléka takes power, there's a lot of in-fighting among all of these groups that formed the union; like, it's easy to unify when you're all battling the government, but then when you have the power, everybody kinda wants some of the power.

Meanwhile, there was never anything approaching peace, and Séléka militias committed all kinds of atrocities. Like, according to Human Rights Watch, they burned dozens of towns and villages, they shot fleeing civilians in the back, and also a huge percentage of the population has been displaced. There are tens of thousands of Christians who’ve fled to the Bangui airport and have remained there for months.

And now we come to the Christian anti-balaka, or anti-sword militias. These anti-balaka groups have sought to respond to Séléka’s violence with much more violence, and the anti-balaka mass murder of members of the Muslim minority is now being called by many a genocide, or at least the beginning of one. So in January 2014, President Djotodia resigned and was replaced by a woman named Catherine Samba-Panza, but there isn’t currently much of a government to lead in the Central African Republic. Last week, the UN approved an 11,000 member security force that will hopefully bring an end to the violence, but for now, it continues.

Hank, like I said earlier, this conflict is difficult and complicated. It looks nothing like, you know, Hobbits versus Sauron. But that isn’t only the case in the Central African Republic. I mean who were the good guys in the American Revolution? The Americans were for freedom and democracy, right? Well yeah, except for slaves who probably would have been much better off under the rule of England. Or what about the Vietnam War, or the French Revolution, or World War I, in which so many people died for so little?

Hank, we can’t just ignore stories that don’t fit our understanding of the world and we also shouldn’t try to, like, change them to make them fit our preconceived narratives of humanity. We have to make room in our stories for the world as we find it. And the Central African Republic reminds us that war is not, finally, a story of good versus evil as much as we might wish it were so. Let’s hope the UN peacekeepers arrive soon and can live up to their name.

I’ll see you on Friday.