Although the Middle East is most known for religious conflict, sectarian violence is spreading ominously across Africa. The only good news is that so far the conflicts appear to be national rather than regional.
Sudan long has suffered from a complicated religious-ethnic conflict. In Mali France was drawn into a religious-infused civil war. Nigeria is a divided nation where long-standing sectarian antagonisms increasingly have been amplified by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram.
Thankfully, fighting in the first two has ebbed. Nigeria’s battle remains intense, but contained within its national boundaries.
As I warn in the New York Times: “However, rising violence within the Central African Republic (CAR) threatens to swamp the other conflicts in regional impact. Attacks on Christians following a takeover by the rebel Islamic Seleka coalition triggered retaliation by Christian militias. Not only is the violence creating a host of angry victims, but the outward flow of refugees is planting seeds of conflict in surrounding nations.”
Of course, addressing even largely distinct national conflicts is not easy, as we have seen in Sudan and Nigeria. Unfortunately, religion is one force capable of transcending normal political and ethnic differences. The exodus from CAR creates an increased possibility of cooperation among various militants acting as friends if not quite allies.
All of CAR’s neighbors share an interest in ending the sectarian killing. Not just for humanitarian reasons, but also as a matter of basic self-interest.