French troops in Central African Republic during coup

A military coup on March 24 in the capital city of Bangui changed the government of the Central African Republic. Michel Djotodia is the leader of the Seleka Coalition, which seized power and established a new government largely composed of political figures who had been in opposition to the former regime.

Francois Bozize, who was ousted in the military coup, has fled the country and is reported to be in the West African state of Cameroon.

France, the former colonial power in the CAR, enhanced its presence inside the CAR on the eve of the seizure of power by Seleka. There are 500 French troops reportedly stationed at the airport outside the capital.

The U.S., Canada and other European states have mining interests in the CAR. The country produces diamonds, gold, copper, iron ore, manganese, uranium and graphite. CAR, located just north of the Congo, is nearly the size of Texas.

Despite the mining interests, most people earn their livelihood through small scale farming. CAR’s 5 million people largely remain poor despite increased mining activities inside the country.

One key opposition leader, Nicolas Tiangaye, is the prime minister, while Djotodia has also named himself as minister of defense in addition to president. Tiangaye was initially named prime minister in January when negotiations between Seleka and the Bozize government resulted in a peace accord that was supposed to have created a coalition regime.

However, by March, the Seleka rebels were accusing the Bozize government of not implementing the peace agreement. Rebels began to seize key towns and cities, creating panic inside of Bangui.

Djotodia immediately suspended the constitution upon taking Bangui and reappointed opposition politician Nicolas Tiangaye as the prime minister.

Djotodia is the first Muslim leader of the country since it gained independence from France in 1960. Only 15 percent of the CAR population is Muslim. About 50 percent of the country’s population is Christian.

Djotodia studied in the former Soviet Union, lived there for a decade and is fluent in Russian. Despite claims by Djotodia and the Seleka rebels that they are concerned about the welfare of the people of the CAR and the eradication of corruption, there is no way of knowing whether their presence will improve conditions inside the country. Both Bozize and Djotodia have looked to France and the European Union for assistance.

Bozize had requested the intervention of France to halt the rebel advance. Djotodia has said that he will rely on the EU for the rebuilding of the country.

The seizure of power by rebels in the CAR follows coups that have taken place in Mali and Guinea-Bissau over the last year. In Mali, a coup led by a Pentagon-trained officer resulted in further instability in the north of the country and the intervention of France and other imperialist states inside the West African state.

In neighboring Niger, the U.S. has established a drone station and is deploying hundreds of Special Forces. The dispatching of troops to Niger is part of a broader policy which will see the presence of 3,500 more U.S. troops on the African continent in an effort designed to ostensibly “fight terrorism and piracy,” but which also provides a convenient pretext for imperialist military intervention on the continent.