The CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) is slowly moving out of the focus of the headlines, but a bitter after-taste still lingers. Africa was on its way to more democracy and stability and the last tyrants seemed to seal their biological fate. But then again Mali, DRC and now the CAR. Blatant disregard of any aspect of humanity or the need for the affected peoples.
The self-proclaimed president of the Central African Republic, Michel Djotodia, has now announced a caretaker government as allegations emerged that he sent child soldiers to their deaths during a bloody coup. He will also act as defence minister while several members of his Seleka rebel coalition are to run other ministries, a decree broadcast on national radio said. Civilian opposition representative Nicolas Tiangaye will remain as prime minister.
Djotodia, who drew several hundred residents in a march of support a week ago, has vowed to run the former French colony until elections in 2016. He seized power last month when rebels swept into the capital, Bangui, after the collapse of a power-sharing deal, forcing president François Bozizé to flee the country.
The internationally condemned coup caused bloodshed and widespread looting. Last week, the Red Cross said 78 bodies had been found. Thirteen South African soldiers were killed, the country’s worst military loss since the end of apartheid and the subject of growing political controversy. Soldiers who were among South Africa’s 298-strong force defending the regime have told of their trauma at realising they were shooting at children in the ranks of an estimated 3 000 rebels.
“It was only after the firing had stopped that we saw we had killed kids,” one survivor of the battle of Bangui was quoted as saying by South Africa’s Sunday Times. “We did not come here for this … to kill kids. It makes you sick. They were crying calling for help … calling for [their] mums.” A paratrooper told the paper: “We killed little boys … teenagers who should have been in school.” Other reports said many of the rebel fighters appeared to be 14 to 16 years old, with some under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The surviving soldiers have also complained that they began running out of ammunition and only had one doctor to provide medical support.
The incident has cast an unflattering light on South Africa’s ambitions to project itself as a continental power and raised questions about its support for Bozizé, a deeply unpopular figure who himself came to power in a coup a decade ago.
When does this insanity end? Awaiting the Return of the Jedi?