As the Central African Republic (CAR) waits for European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) officials to decide whether or not the current crisis warrants large-scale intervention, there are 15 numbers that are important for those officials to consider. Reporting on the events in the region has become a continuous stream on increasingly-indecipherable anagrams that have lulled all but the most intimately involved into a stupor of indifference. Meanwhile, the CAR waits in line to be the next “coffee table” genocide for Western governments to just miss out on intervening in with sufficient alacrity to make a difference. Given the historical precedents in African nations over the last couple of decades, particularly in Rwanda and Sudan, expectations are understandably low that this crisis can end differently. Some numbers put together by the BBC, the Peace Pledge Union, and other human rights organizations based on the African continent might shed light on matters arising in the CAR slightly better than the usual anagram soup.
The first of the 15 important numbers pertaining to the Central African Republic is the population of the country, which is 4.6 million people. It is most important because of the proportions that become apparent when comparing it to the others on the list. There are at least 460,000 people, roughly 10 percent, who have been displaced by the conflict. The term displaced is used to politely describe the process by which a tenth of the population of a country was chased from family homes by armed militias and forced to take refuge in the jungle with little more than rudimentary cover and virtually no food. It is one of the euphemisms used in the legislative bodies across Europe and North America to discuss the things happening at the moment.
In order to better clarify the situation, a few more numbers might cut to the heart of it. There have been 8 coups in the CAR since 1960. The most recent was successfully staged by Muslim leader, and now interim President Michel Djotodia and his Seleka militia. There were 5,000 fighters that put him in place, a large number of which are now roaming the countryside. The 200 police officers in the country have yet to make significant headway in stopping any of the bloody raids.
Djotodia claims no responsibility for the attacks his former associates are committing in Bangui and beyond. Despite the fact that these armed militias are carrying out brutal assaults on members of the Christian majority that supported his predecessor, Djotodia’s denials are largely being accepted as fact by those debating action. Although sanctions are being considered for violations of the peace agreement that secured his position, he holds the position still. It would appear, judging from the lack of uproar, that the armed murderers roaming the countryside disposing of his detractors are there by coincidence. He would also seem to be blameless in the retaliatory strikes being made by Christian forces, killing unarmed Muslims with similarly gruesome results.
France has sent troops to its former colony to attempt to implement a UN mandate to disarm the terrorizing militias. To date, 1,600 troops have been sent. Not long after commencing operations, two of the men from France were killed attempting to execute their mission. The African Union (AU) has committed to contribute 3,600 more troops to the effort. Most of those troops are set to deploy at an unspecified time in early 2014. The United States has agreed to provide two C-17 aircraft for the purpose of bringing some Burundi support troops from Uganda on Thursday. Nobody else has decided yet.
The Belgian Defense Ministry has indicated that it will be sending tactical aircraft to assist, along with some 35 soldiers who will be needed to support them. It backed away, however, from reports surfacing earlier in the day that they might be sending as many as 150 soldiers. They reiterated that no decision had been made yet on that.
Polish Foreign Minister Donald Tusk suggested that Poland may be able to provide a transport aircraft and a small group of soldiers to support it towards the effort. He stated that it might be possible, but no decision has been made yet on that either.
The World Food Program has not shied away from giving numbers for consideration. They have stated that nearly 1.15 million people are currently in need of food aid right now. That is nearly 25 percent of the population of the CAR. After several days of coordinating the efforts of those willing to help with humanitarian aid, they announced today the successful delivery of enough food to feed 18,000 of them, for 10 days.
The numbers are there; 4.6 million people, 460,000 displaced, 8 coups, 5,000 Seleka rebels, 200 police, 1,600 French soldiers, 2 dead, 3,600 AU soldiers, 35 Belgian soldiers, 150 Belgian soldiers possibly not coming, 2 American C-17 transports, 1.15 million hungry, and 18,000 fed, for 10 days. These can be said to be the 15 most important numbers that characterize the situation in the Central African Republic right now, if anybody is listening.
By Jim Malone