The Central African Republic (CAR) has been afflicted by political turmoil, civil unrest and major outbreaks of violence for several decades, following independence from France in 1960, a one-party state formed under then-president David Dacko. In 1966, Dacko’s government was overthrown in a coup d’état by his cousin, Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who subsequently established a violent dictatorship and declared himself Emperor of the renamed Central African Empire in 1976. French forces deposed Bokassa in 1979 and briefly reinstated David Dacko, who was again overthrown in a coup in 1981, by General André Kolingba who led a military junta until forced by international actors to hold elections across two rounds in 1992 and 1993. This resulted in the election of Ange-Félix Patassé, who fostered close relations with Congolese rebels and the Libyan government. During Patassé’s ten-year period as president, CAR saw increasing ethnic tension and violence with the government perceived as purging ethnic Yakoma from government and state institutions. The escalating violence resulted in a number of mutinies and an unsuccessful coup attempt, before Francois Bozizé, a former chief of staff of the CAR armed forces, launched a successful coup attempt from exile in Chad, defeating Patassé’s supporters and foreign fighters.
Bozizé’s seizure of power marked the beginning of civil war in CAR. A variety of groups with predominantly Muslim membership – some connected to the regime of Patassé, others breakaway factions of the armed forces – sought to overthrow Bozizé. Among them were the Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement (UFDR), the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix (CPJP), the Armée Populaire pour la Restauration de la Démocratie (APRD), the Forces Democratiques du Peuple Centrafricain (FDPC), the Mouvement des Libérateurs Centrafricains pour la Justice (MLCJ) and the Union des Forces Républicaines. They waged a bush war in the north, northwest and northeast of the country. Despite signing a series of peace agreements with Bozizé’s government from 2007 onwards, the groups formed a new coalition in late 2012 under the leadership of Michael Djotodia – the Séléka. The Séléka successfully overthrew Bozizé in February 2013 and Djotodia declared himself president. Violence continued however, along ethnic lines. Local self-defence groups in Christian and animist communities formed the anti-Balaka movement to confront the disbanded (ex-)Séléka forces. Regional leaders forced Djotodia to resign in January 2014. A transitional administration followed ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections across two rounds in 2015 and 2016, which resulted in the election of Faustin Archange Touadéra as president.
Fighting nevertheless continues in CAR, with frequent realignment of armed groups in new coalitions, and warlords competing for control of CAR’s wealth of natural resources (in particular, diamonds and timber). In 2015 and 2016, hardline factions of both the ex-Séléka (led by the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique or FPRC) and the anti-Balaka (specifically, the faction led by Maxim Mokom) formed a new coalition in opposition to Touadéra’s government. They sought alliances with other major groups, including the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) – a powerful faction in control of significant natural resources in CAR – which rejected the proposed alliance. The conflict accordingly reoriented along ethnic lines with the coalition of the FRPC, anti-Balaka and other groups focusing their attacks on the UPC and the Fulani and Chadian Arab communities associated with it. However, in 2017, opposition emerged within the FPRC and the allied Mouvement Patriotique de la Centrafrique (MPC) to the coalition’s attacks on the UPC and Muslim communities, resulting in a realignment of factions and new fighting lines, with the ethnically Runga faction of the FPRC, MPC and UPC allied in opposition to the ethnically Gula faction of the FPRC and the anti-Balaka.