Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Known also as Fulbé (also as Peuhl, Fula or Fulani), Mbororo are semi-nomadic Islamic pastoralists. They are found throughout the western grasslands. Resented for their relative wealth in cattle, they have been subject to harassment, bandit attacks and police shakedowns. From present-day Cameroon, Fulbé spearheaded slave raids among Gbaye and Mboum peoples in the nineteenth century.
The term ‘Hausa’ is popularly applied to Islamic African petty traders, said to account for three-quarters of all petty traders in the country, who probably number less than 1 per cent of the population.
Thousands of Muslims of Chadian origin have lived in Central African Republic (CAR) for generations and have citizenship, but have at times been suspected of disloyalty and are frequently referred to as ‘foreigners’.
Muslim traders of Chadian origin were objects of rioting and looting in 1994. Following a failed coup attempt by former President Kolingba in 2001, Army Chief of Staff François Bozizé split with President Ange-Félix Patassé and fled to Chad, taking elements of the army with him. From this time the CAR government fostered heightened suspicions of the domestic Chadian community.
As the Patassé government attempted to repel Bozizé’s second coup attempt in 2003 (following a try in 2002), Patassé received assistance from Jean-Pierre Bemba, the leader of the Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo (MLC). In February 2003 the French Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme (FIDH) alleged that government and MLC forces had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in targeting civilians as they re-took several northern towns. Forces under the command of Patassé and Bemba allegedly hunted down suspected rebel accomplices, specifically targeting Chadians and Muslims. The organization filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court, prompting a government denial of the allegations and a claim that the Patassé government was committed to protecting Chadian and Muslim communities.
Even before the outbreak of the current conflict, Mbororo particularly suffered in the prevailing atmosphere of lawlessness and rebellion across the north. Targeted for their wealth and livestock, many fled to camps in Southern Chad. In April 2007, UNHCR announced it was opening a new refugee camp in Cameroon, following the flight of some 25,000 Mbororo from CAR. In a statement UNHCR said the Mbororo had been singled out ‘relentlessly’ by both bandits and rebels. Amnesty International subsequently highlighted the pervasive practise of child abduction from Mbororo communities, in exchange for ransom, with some children have abducted by zaraguinas (armed groups) more than 10 times. Girls are especially vulnerable, as they may be held for months and raped. Ransoms can be up to US$10,000. State security forces reportedly failed to intervene to prevent these abductions, even when they were in a position to do so.
In March 2007, inter-confessional fighting erupted in the town of Kaga Bandoro following the alleged killings by a group of Christians of cows belonging to Muslims. Four Muslims were shot dead with hunting rifles, and some feared that mounting religious tension could complicate the rebellion in the north-west.
While much of the recent violence in CAR was following the Séléka onslaught and its subsequent collapse, some of it is also reportedly rooted in long-standing tensions between farmers and pastoralists, including the nomadic Muslim Peuhl (Fulani, also Mbororo) minority, who in the current climate were perceived as supporting Séléka. Past instances of encroachment onto farmland as well as crop damage by pastoralist herds added to the more immediate resentments that drove the anti-balaka violence.
Moreover, some Peuhl were themselves responsible for attacks on Christians, often in revenge for violence against their own community. In any event, in the wake of the first phase of the conflict, anti-balaka launched a number of vicious reprisal attacks against Peuhl civilians, including the killing of 14 ethnic Peuhl in March 2015, near Kaga-Bandoro, 10 of whom were reportedly under nine years of age. Sexual violence against the community has also been widespread, with many Peuhl women abducted and kept as sex slaves by anti-balaka fighters. Furthermore, looting Peuhl cattle herds provided anti-balaka with a lucrative source of income, meaning sectarian conflict has now been supplemented by criminal violence. At times, Séléka and anti-balaka have even worked together – for example, in Bakala in in January 2017 – which has left Peuhl even more vulnerable.
Thousands of Peuhl were displaced as a result and now make up a very large majority of the inhabitants in almost all of the CAR refugee camps in Cameroon. One militia is reportedly made up predominantly of Peuhl, the Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) group. Created in late 2015 and now comprising hundreds of armed fighters, the militia has been accused of conducting widespread human rights abuses against civilians in CAR, in the process displacing tens of thousands of people. Both Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group note that, while the 3R claims to represent the interests of Peuhl, in fact this is a pretext for profiting from the crisis.
Updated March 2018.