Armed insurgent groups fighting in Central African Republic have set up a virtual parallel economy — complete with for-profit businesses and an elaborate system of taxes — to finance a campaign of terror, sexual violence and other activities, according to a new report released Wednesday.
The two main armed groups operating in the landlocked, resource-rich country — the Muslim Seleka and largely Christian and animist Anti-Balaka — are responsible for violent atrocities that have shocked the international community, including extreme violence, conscripting child soldiers and massive property seizures, including forcibly taking control of lucrative diamond mines.
But their activities and continued resistance are only possible because of the millions of dollars they make through illicit activities.
“Armed groups in CAR have turned into profit-making entities through illicit sale of natural resources, taxation, extortion and the strategic use of killings and violence,” concludes a new survey entitled “Warlord Business,” released Wednesday by The Enough Project, a Washington-based anti-genocide activist group. The report explores the business side that makes these crimes against humanity possible, and recommends strategies to combat their influence.
Author Kasper Agger explained in an interview how these groups are taking advantage of political instability and the failure of the Central African Republic government to assert its authority in large swaths of the country.
“The government does not have much control really,” Mr. Agger said via Skype from Africa. “We are talking about a country essentially without an army.”
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Stepping into that power vacuum, these groups have taken on fiscal roles normally reserved for established nation-states.
This includes illegally taxing legitimate businesses, traders, and road travelers. Seleka rebels even have established a systematic set of taxes for travelers stopped on roads in its territory, from $1 for a motorbike to $50 for a cow and up to $600 for a truck.
In addition, the groups also engage in more common thuggery such as looting, demanding “protection money” from businesses and participating in the illegal diamond trade.
Mr. Agger estimates the “total value of the illicit diamond trade and taxation by armed groups in CAR to be between $3.87 and $5.8 million annually.”
Although the international community banned the exportation of rough diamonds from CAR, militant groups simply smuggle so-called “conflict diamonds” to other African countries for resale.
The report also claims that rebel groups collect as much as $2 million annually from illegal taxation and extortion of road travelers. Even more income is generated through protection money and taxes imposed on traders and businesses.
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All of this revenue goes on the fund more murder and chaos, while also lining the pockets of ruthless warlords.
The Seleka and Anti-Balaka were born out of political instability and tensions between Muslims and Christians in CAR, tensions which reached a peak of violence during a civil war in 2013.
Between them, the two groups are responsible for displacing more than 426,000 people within CAR, as well as driving at least 460,500 people out of the country entirely. Over 5,000 are estimated to have been killed in sectarian clashes since March 2013.
French soldiers and a 10,000-strong U.N. mission have helped restore order in the country and militias have discussed a preliminary disarmament deal, but now CAR has been rocked by a separate scandal earlier this month over report the U.N. had opened a probe into possible cases of sexual abuse by its peacekeepers against local women.
Currently, there are sanctions in place against specific leaders, but The Enough Project report recommends that these sanctions must be expanded to include the network of individuals and businesses that trade with and finance the armed groups.
The report also recommends deploying U.N. troops at major border crossings to combat smuggling and highway taxation shakedowns.
• Andrew Nachemson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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