April 5, 2019
Crisis in the Central African Republic
Congress has held hearings, appropriated aid funds, and
conducted oversight in response to the situation in the
Central African Republic (CAR), which has experienced
state collapse and conflict since a rebel movement known
as the Seleka seized control of the government in 2013.
Despite a post-rebellion political transition culminating in
the 2016 inauguration of a new president, Faustin Archange
Touadera (a former Prime Minister who ran as an
independent), security and humanitarian conditions have
deteriorated. The European Union (EU), U.N., Russia, and
the United States are providing support to the national
military (the FACA), but state security forces remain weak
and dogged by a history of abuses and militia infiltration.
Competitions over mineral resources, cattle migration
routes, and trade have been key drivers of conflict.
Armed groups control much of the country, despite donorbacked efforts to extend state authority. In February 2019,
the government and 14 armed groups signed a peace accord
brokered by the African Union (AU) in Khartoum, Sudan.
The new agreement—the eighth since 2013—calls for a
unity government, demobilization of non-state combatants,
and the creation of interim mixed security units comprising
security forces and former rebels. Several groups threatened
immediately to withdraw from the accord, prompting
questions over its durability and impact. Prospects for full
implementation—which arguably would require that armed
groups relinquish control of lucrative economic interests—
are tenuous. Few drivers of grassroots-level conflict have
Much of the violence in CAR has played out along ethnic
and sectarian lines, driven by tensions over identity,
citizenship, and exclusion. The Seleka was led by largely
Muslim combatants with ties to CAR’s remote northeast,
and to neighboring Sudan and Chad, drawing support from
communities that some in CAR view as foreign. Christianand animist-led “anti-balaka” (“anti-machete” or “antibullet”) militias formed to fight the Seleka, but ultimately
targeted Muslims in general. CAR’s population was about
15% Muslim and 85% Christian or animist, but anti-balaka
attacks in 2013-2014 forced much of the Muslim population
in the south, center, and west to gather in small enclaves or
flee to other countries or the rebel-held northeast—a pattern
U.N. investigators termed “ethnic cleansing.”
Rebel alliances have since shifted as groups have sought to
gain leverage in peace talks and advance their economic
interests. Some coalitions have bridged sectarian divides,
underscoring the extent to which social cleavages have been
instrumentalized during the conflict. Notably, some antibalaka groups have collaborated with some ex-Seleka
factions to target members of the (mostly Muslim and
pastoralist) Fulani ethnic community. Several Fulani-led
armed groups have emerged in response.
Figure 1. Central African Republic: At a Glance
Source: CRS graphic. Data from U.N. agencies, IMF, and CIA World
Factbook; 2018 estimates unless otherwise noted.
Humanitarian and Human Rights Conditions
As of late 2018, one in five Central Africans were
displaced: 580,700 as internally displaced persons (IDPs)
and 591,000 as refugees in neighboring countries. Over
275,000 CAR refugees reside in Cameroon, which has
faced a rise in armed banditry along its border with CAR.
About half of CAR’s population, 2.9 million people,
reportedly need humanitarian aid, with nearly 2 million
facing severe food insecurity. CAR is among the world’s
deadliest countries for aid workers; militia attacks on IDPs
have further impeded relief efforts.
The State Department’s 2018 human rights report on CAR
cites arbitrary killings, forced disappearances, sexual
violence, harsh prison conditions, and impunity as key
issues. A Special Criminal Court has been established to
prosecute crimes since 2003, but it has been slow to launch.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also opened
investigations related to CAR, with the trial of two antibalaka leaders due to open in mid-2019.
CAR’s development indicators are among the lowest in the
world: it ranked 188th out of 189 countries on the 2018 U.N.
Human Development Index. The already fragile economy
collapsed with the onset of violence in 2013 and the
ensuing flight of much of the Muslim population, which
had previously played a key role in trade nationwide.
Economic growth has recovered moderately, averaging
4.5% per year from 2015 to 2018, but this rate is
insufficient to alleviate poverty significantly, and
displacement and conflict continue to hinder wellbeing. In
2015, legal diamond exports formally resumed from certain
areas in the southwest deemed free of armed groups by the
Kimberley Process, an international certification initiative
aimed at preventing diamonds that fund rebel groups from
entering legal trade. Most diamonds reportedly continue to
Crisis in the Central African Republic
be exported illegally, however, including from ex-Seleka
controlled areas in the north and east.
journalists were killed in CAR in unclear circumstances
while probing private military contractor activities.
U.N. Peacekeeping and Other Foreign Troops
The U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization
Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) was established in 2014,
absorbing a previous AU military force. MINUSCA is
mandated to protect civilians, assist the peace process,
protect aid delivery, support the extension of state authority,
and, under certain conditions, take “urgent temporary
measures...to arrest and detain in order to maintain basic
law and order and fight impunity,” among other tasks. As of
early 2019, MINUSCA had nearly reached its authorized
deployment of 12,870 uniformed personnel, including
11,650 military troops. Force protection, logistical capacity,
and adequate equipment remain key challenges. A
sweeping sexual abuse scandal implicating MINUSCA
contingents has also hurt relations with local populations.
U.S. Policy and Aid
As of late 2018, an EU Training Mission (EUTM)
established in 2016 had trained more than 4,000 vetted
FACA soldiers, out of a total pre-2013 force of about 7,000.
The EU previously deployed some 750 soldiers to help
secure Bangui in 2014-2015, and later established a military
advisory mission to support reforms. France, which
deployed some 2,000 troops to CAR from 2013 to 2016 to
disarm militias and secure Bangui, has military personnel
participating in the EUTM and MINUSCA.
The U.N. Security Council has maintained an arms
embargo and targeted sanctions regime on CAR since 2013,
but in recent years it has approved some arms transfers to
the government on a case-by-case basis. CAR officials have
called for the embargo to be fully lifted for the government.
In late 2018, the Council authorized MINUSCA to provide
logistical support for the FACA’s “progressive
redeployment” through CAR’s territory. The mission had
previously coordinated some operations with the FACA in
Bangui and other cities where the military had established a
presence. Although some communities have welcomed the
military, the legacy of FACA disintegration and
involvement in anti-Muslim violence in 2013-2015 may
hinder its effectiveness. U.N. sanctions investigators
criticized a botched 2018 joint operation by U.N., FACA,
and CAR internal security forces in Bangui’s Muslim
“PK5” enclave for worsening intercommunal tensions.
Russia’s growing presence in CAR has raised concerns for
French and U.S. policymakers. The Commander of U.S.
Africa Command testified to Congress in early 2019 that
CAR was an example of Russia’s “more militaristic
approach in Africa,” in which “oligarch-funded, quasimercenary military advisors” have secured mineral rights in
exchange for weapons. Russia may also be seeking greater
diplomatic influence in Africa at the expense of colonial
power France. Russian military personnel and private
contractors first deployed to assist the FACA in 2017, after
Russia secured a U.N. arms embargo exemption to donate
small arms. As of late 2018, U.N. sanctions monitors
reported that FACA deployments outside Bangui were
“most often accompanied” by Russian instructors. Russian
personnel also have established a presence in mineral-rich
rebel-held areas, and Russia pushed to locate the AUbacked peace talks in Sudan, where it has close ties (as do
key Seleka figures). In 2018, three Russian investigative
“Our primary U.S. objective is to help the elected
government of President Touadera expand state
authority. We support the African Union-led peace
process, efforts to bring justice to victims of atrocities,
and reestablishment of civilian security and justice
capabilities.” – U.S. Ambassador to CAR Lucy Tamlyn
The United States is the single largest donor to the
humanitarian response in CAR, allocating about $124
million in emergency humanitarian aid per year in FY2017
and FY2018. Other U.S. assistance has sought to support
conflict resolution and reconciliation, atrocity-prevention
efforts, livelihoods, security sector reform, and
environmental conservation. U.S. bilateral aid totaled $34
million in FY2018, including $18 million in food aid, $13
million in security aid, and $3 million in development aid.
Starting in 2014, during CAR’s transitional government,
U.S. security assistance initially centered on the police and
justice sector. In 2016, it expanded to include military
professionalization, right-sizing, and defense reform
programs, along with efforts to encourage disarmament,
demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of rebel fighters.
The Trump Administration requested $6.6 million in Stateand USAID-administered bilateral aid funding for CAR in
FY2020. The Administration backed an increase in
MINUSCA’s troop ceiling in 2017, but has recently sought
to limit U.S. funding for the mission, in line with its broader
critique of U.N. peacekeeping. U.S. financial contributions
to MINUSCA totaled $267 million in FY2018, with $157
million and $163 million requested for FY2019 and
The Administration has expanded U.S. targeted sanctions to
deter support to CAR’s domestic armed groups and the
Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which originated in
Uganda and is active in CAR. Sixteen individuals and three
entities are designated for U.S. sanctions under Executive
Order 13667 (2014) on CAR, including former presidents
François Bozizé and Michel Djotodia, ex-Seleka leader
Noureddine Adam, LRA leader Joseph Kony, two of his
sons, and the LRA as a group. The U.S. designations are
more extensive than those imposed by the U.N. Security
Council sanctions committee on CAR. In 2017, the
Administration withdrew U.S. military advisors who had
supported Ugandan-led counter-LRA operations in eastern
CAR since 2011.
Congress has directed the executive branch to issue a
strategy toward CAR (S.Rept. 113-195); in 2015, the State
Department submitted a strategy document that defined
U.S. interests and outlined U.S. diplomatic and aid efforts
in CAR. Congress also has directed funding for
reconciliation and peacebuilding aid in CAR, and for DDR
and early-warning programs in LRA-affected areas, via
annual foreign aid appropriations measures (most recently,
under §7042 of P.L. 116-6). The conference agreement on
P.L. 116-6 includes $8 million in military aid for CAR via
the State Department’s Peacekeeping Operations account.
Alexis Arieff, Specialist in African Affairs
Crisis in the Central African Republic
Tomas F. Husted, Analyst in African Affairs
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to
congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of Congress.
Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other than public understanding of information that has
been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the
United States Government, are not subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be
reproduced and distributed in its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include
copyrighted images or material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you
wish to copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.
https://crsreports.congress.gov | IF11171 · VERSION 1 · NEW