Note: This is not the official flag of the Anti-Balaka militias, but rather a reproduction based on the badges they wear (which contains the CAR's flag)
Introduction & Overview
Anti-Balaka militias are an alliance of militant groups which have been present in the Central African Republic since the early 2000s. These militias are said to be primarily composed of Christians, although this claim has been contested by many analysts. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation, for instance, has noted that animists have also participated in the militias’ violent acts and compose a significant proportion of Anti-Balaka groups (Mellgard 2016a). Formed in 2009, the coalition of varying militias is a grouping of loosely organised ‘village self-protection groups’ which focused to combat bandits and other sources of insecurity on a local level. However, their activities and atrocities intensified following the 2013 coup by Séléka militia groups. The Séléka militias are the religious opposites of the Anti-Balaka militants, and they are mostly made up of Muslims from the north and northeast of the CAR; where the majority of the population is Muslim, unlike the rest of the country in which 90% is Christian (PEW Research Center 2011).
History & Foundations
Initially, the Anti-Balaka groups formed as a loose coalition of groups to combat bandits and other criminal organisations at a local level. Nonetheless, the Anti-Balaka militants’ focuses have shifted post-coup. Following the March 2013 coup d’état, Séléka fighters spread across the country and installed their commander, Michel Djotodia, as president. However, he quickly lost control of his militia coalition and the Séléka began attacking civilians, looting vehicles, and stealing crops. The Anti-Balaka began concretely fighting against the Séléka in September of 2013, and the number of fighters who joined the Anti-Balaka militias increased. This was partly because of the joining up of former CAR national army soldiers, who – following the coup – had been disbanded.
Although the resignation of Djotodia in January 2014 signalled the end of the coup’s ruling regime, violence did not halt. As the Anti-Balaka militias (and the numerous groups which composed the coalition) still held grievances against the Séléka and those who orchestrated the coup d’état, the Anti-Balaka began conducting revenge attacks. The violence that Christian communities faced following the 2013 Séléka coup was used as justification by the Anti-Balaka for their revenge attacks (The New Humanitarian 2014).
History & Foundations
Due to the individualistic and autonomous nature of the Anti-Balaka militia groups, there is no overarching ideological basis for the movement beyond an anti-bandit and survival stance. Due to the composition of the groups being predominantly Christian, this stance is seen as a response by these communities to violence perpetrated by Islamic groups during the 2013 coup.
Furthermore, cultural factors play a pivotal role; the nomadic nature of the Islamic population in the north signified that they had historically been herders of cattle. Over time, herding became less viable and this generally led to Muslims in the north becoming traders and shop owners. This societal and laboral divide is a major factor in explaining the domination of financial systems by the Muslim population (following the 2013 coup). Amongst other demographics in the country, this led to the belief that Muslims ‘owned’ the Central African Republics' economy (Crisis Group 2014). Anti-Balaka fighters claim to fight for the protection of Central African Christians, and the importance of this ideological component finds its roots therein. Nevertheless, these understandings have been refuted by religious leaders who sheltered both Christian and Muslim families during the 2013-2014 violence in their respective religious buildings and communities (Bouckaert 2014).
Military & Political Abilities
The informal militia nature of the Anti-Balaka limited their equipment and military capabilities at their founding, with their equipment oftentimes being bounded to machetes and locally sourced AK-47s. However, following the well-coordinated attack on Bangui on the 5th of December, they have become more well-equipped and are now additionally armed with RPG launchers, hand grenades, and other types of offensive weaponry (Amnesty International 2014). The recruitment of former CAR army soldiers led to an improvement in their military abilities since the beginning of the violence. The training provided by these aforementioned soldiers and officers was instrumental in the militias’ growing lethality and momentum, and the eventual capture of Bangui on the 5th of December 2013 (Mellgard 2016b).
Approach to Resistance
The Anti-Balaka militias are extremely violent and have conducted various crimes against humanity, including the rape and torture of women and children, kidnappings, and acts of ransom. These actions have become relatively customary within the Anti-Balaka’s approach to resistance and, although they were initially targeted against Muslims who made up the Séléka, they have spread in terms of targets. Post-coup, the violence committed by the Anti-Balaka militants targeted not only suspected Séléka supporters and militants, but also the wider Muslim community and even some Christians.
Following the national elections which occurred in 2015, the Anti-Balaka militias demanded compensation for ‘liberating’ the CAR. When these demands were not answered, the Anti-Balaka set up roadblocks. This led to the extortion of residents and the widespread kidnappings of Christians as the militants were more likely to simply execute the Muslim rather than hold them for ransom (Mellgard 2016c).
International Relations & Alliances
As the Anti-Balaka are local militias simply concerned with local activities within the Central African Republic, they have limited if not negligible contacts with external groups. Instead, the Anti-Balaka has come into contact and into combat with the MINUSCA forces sent to stabilise the CAR (CGTN 2020). During the elections in 2020, former-president François Bozizé was rejected from running the major rebel groups (which were also composed of the Anti-Balaka militias). Bozizé then proceeded to create a coalition named the Coalition of Patriots for Change and began to seize towns. This larger coalition of rebel groups, in which the Anti-Balaka are included, prevented election voting from taking place in many areas (Huguet 2020).
Works Cited (MLA-Style)
Amnesty International. 2014. “CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: TIME for ACCOUNTABILITY.” Web.archive.org. https://web.archive.org/web/20150908113013mp_/https://www.amnesty.org.uk/sites/default/files/car_-_amnesty_international_report_-_time_for_accountability_july_2014.pdf.
Bouckaert, Peter. 2014. “The Unravelling - Journey through the Central African Republic Crisis by Human Rights Watch.” Features.hrw.org. 2014. https://features.hrw.org/features/Unravelling_central_african_republic/index.php.
CGTN. 2020. “UN Says Three Burundian Peacekeepers Killed in Central African Republic.” News.cgtn.com. December 26, 2020. https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-12-26/UN-says-three-Burundian-peacekeepers-killed-in-C-African-Republic--WwXtNE7Y1G/index.html.
Crisis Group. 2014. “The Central African Crisis: From Predation to Stabilisation.” https://web.archive.org/web/20160705114943mp_/http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/central-africa/central-african-republic/219-la-crise-centrafricaine-de-la-predation-a-la-stabilisation-english.
Huguet, Alexis. 2020. “Central African Republic Opposition Coalition Demands Elections Be Scrapped | ENCA.” Www.enca.com. December 30, 2020. https://www.enca.com/news/central-african-republic-opposition-coalition-demands-elections-be-scrapped.
Mellgard, Emily. 2016a. “What Is the Antibalaka? | Tony Blair Faith Foundation.” Web.archive.org. September 7, 2016. https://web.archive.org/web/20160927203334/http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/religion-geopolitics/commentaries/backgrounder/what-antibalaka.
———. 2016b. “What Is the Antibalaka? | Tony Blair Faith Foundation.” Web.archive.org. September 7, 2016. https://web.archive.org/web/20160927203334/http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/religion-geopolitics/commentaries/backgrounder/what-antibalaka.
———. 2016c. “What Is the Antibalaka? | Tony Blair Faith Foundation.” Web.archive.org. September 7, 2016. https://web.archive.org/web/20160927203334/http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/religion-geopolitics/commentaries/backgrounder/what-antibalaka.
PEW Research Center. 2011. “Table: Christian Population as Percentages of Total Population by Country.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. December 19, 2011. https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2011/12/19/table-christian-population-as-percentages-of-total-population-by-country/.
The New Humanitarian. 2014. “Who Are the Anti-Balaka of CAR?” The New Humanitarian. February 12, 2014. https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/analysis/2014/02/12/who-are-anti-balaka-car.