The great war for Central Africa
I follow the missionaries' news service Fides News, so I was aware of this "rebellion" months ago. The point is that it has completely changed character, and that in a very dangerous and disturbing way, and that if you look at the map it is only a part of a regional group of wars that we should particularly dread.
What happens is this. Months ago, the usual chaos of disaffected tribal and political factions started a desultory revolt against the President. As is often the case, a truce was arranged and the complaints of the various factions were given an airing at a peace conference in Gabon, IIRC. Only, while the majority of the incoherent rebel coalition "Seleka" showed signs of wanting to abide by the deal and go home, it became clear that a supposed minority group regarded it as so much hot air and was resuming the fighting. Now who were these people?
I'll tell you who were and are these people, the people whom the citizens of Bangui call "barbares". They are foreigners who speak Arabic. When they enter a place, they loot and burn all the missionary stations, kill the priests, destroy the missionary hospitals and turn out the sick and dying in the streets. The interesting fact is that Central Africa has practically no Muslim native presence. These people all come from outside.
Now consider this. France's most effective ally, both over the long term and in the recent war in Mali, has been the state of Chad, whose army was hardened by years of conflict with Libyan invaders. (I have spoken with a former French Legionnaire who was there in the seventies and eighties.) Tchadian soldiers accounted for the top jihadist in the area, Abu Zaid, and generally performed very creditably.
But Chad is Central Africa's northern neighbour. If Bangui falls, Chad's capital N'Djamena, which is not far from the border, will be outflanked; and of course, borders on a map matter as little to these jihadis as treaties with infidels. And I don't think it's a coincidence that, after weeks of quiescence, the jihadis in Mali have suddenly made themselves heard with an attack on the biggest and juiciest target within their reach, the great northern city Gao. They are keeping French and Chadian attention focused West, while the menace comes creeping closer south.
As if that was not enough, trouble is being brutally stoked in Nigeria, whose north-eastern border looks towards Chad (and contains the country's Muslim heartland). Finally, you have to remember that the fall of Central Africa would isolate the French-speaking states from the two most effective military powers in the English-speaking east, Uganda and Rwanda, just in case that these determined and active governments, who don't particularly love jihadists, should want to become involved.
This is not a complex of random tribal outbursts and mutinies. It is one single large-scale war, directed from some central planning group. They took advantage of the Seleka revolt to sneak their own men into Central Africa, just as they had previously taken advantage of the Tuareg revolt to gain control of northern Mali; and now they are at the gates of Bangui and Central Africa is more threatened than ever Mali was. If you are a journalist or know one, point all this out to them and try and get them to write it up. It is incredibly important that these things should be known and understood.