If you want to know how bad things are in the Central African Republic, you should read Peter Bouckaert’s account of the anti-Muslim backlash in the Washington Post:
Most places I and a videographer visited in a five-day journey were emptied of Muslim residents, despite the presence of peacekeepers in many towns. The outnumbered French and African Union forces have often acted too passively, unable to prevent the looting and burning of homes and businesses that have forced Muslims to seek opportunities elsewhere.Entire Muslim communities have disappeared. Baoro was once home to at least 4,000 Muslims and more than a dozen mosques. Now there are none. The last Muslims of Boali, where the local Catholic priest sheltered 700 in his church, left for Cameroon. The last Muslims of Yaloke, where more than 10,000 had lived, left for Chad.The last Muslim in Mbaiki, Saleh Dido, was murdered recently by the anti-balaka, his throat slit as he tried to find shelter with police. Three weeks earlier, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza and the French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, had visited Mbaiki and declared it a “symbol of living together and reconciliation.” Now, its 4,000 Muslims are gone, their mosques destroyed.
Unless something changes, violence of this kind and on this scale—and perhaps even greater—is likely to spread in Africa in coming years. Both Christians and Muslims will be victims. Both communities run the risk of being trapped in a cycle of radicalization and polarization.Africa is going through the early stages of a modernization and development process. In Europe, a similar process led to generations of ethnic cleansing and conflict that made the first half of the 20th century the bloodiest and most horrible period in European history. Americans like to think that all good things go together, that “development” leads quickly and smoothly to “democracy,” and that that breeds “stability,” and finally “democratic peace.” This is a very rose-tinted view of a bloody and tumultuous history.All too often, the conversation about Africa is divided between “Afro-optimists,” who constantly point to evidence of economic growth here or there to tell a story about the continent’s emergence from despair, and “Afro-pessimists,” who claim that the whole continent is on a grim slide downhill. More sophisticated observers make the point that Africa isn’t one place; it is the world’s second-largest continent and home to many different trends and events. But beyond that, there’s another point you should understand: The development process that the Afro-optimists love to highlight signals danger as well as opportunity. As economic development shakes up traditional ways of life, and as new ideas (like Christianity and Islam) take hold and challenge and redefine traditional identities and understandings of the world, new conflicts emerge and old ones will intensify.Africa is much more complicated than many people think, and development is much more complicated and much less automatically benign than people think. Africa is simultaneously developing and sailing into increasingly troubled waters.