prendergast5_ ALEXIS HUGUETAFP via Getty Images_central african republic Alexis Huguet/AFP via Getty Images

Justice in a Hijacked State

The international community has long favored trying to cajole the Central African Republic’s warring parties into doing less harm. But gaining leverage over the warlords and criminals who continue to profit from the country's violent dismemberment will require replacing carrots with sticks.

WASHINGTON, DC – The Central African Republic (CAR), a former French colony based on an exploitative divide-and-rule system, is a textbook example of how a state can be captured, repurposed, and organized for looting, largely to the benefit of outsiders. In a country that has known only impunity, where the state is a murderous machine of plunder, is justice possible?

The CAR boasts bountiful natural resources, including oil, uranium, precious timber, diamonds, and gold. But they are controlled by violent criminal networks, which are linked to local politicians, external governments, and commercial interests, and rely on desperate, heavily armed young people. This fuels territorial conflict and arms- and natural-resource trafficking.

Beyond their ties to such criminal networks, the CAR’s leaders enrich themselves directly through government structures, which they have fashioned solely to advance their own interests. They use the country’s military – as well as militia groups – to protect their own power, even if it means using extreme violence.