The Seleka rebels marched into Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic on Sunday, 24th March and effectively ended the rule of President Francois Bozize. The president is reported to have fled his palace and the country as the rebels advanced.
The swift capture of Bangui and the flight of Bozize occurred as four African presidents were in neighbouring Congo Brazzaville discussing peace and security issues in another neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Presidents Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joseph Kabila of the DRC were meeting in the northern Congolese town of Oyo.
The talks were about the situation in the east of DRC resulting from the rebellion of M23 against the Kinshasa government. For most of the 52 years of independence of the DRC, the east of the country has been in a state of armed rebellion of one sort or another.
There are interesting similarities between the two rebel movements (Seleka and M23) as well as glaring differences especially in the way the international community has responded to them.
The Seleka rebels say they marched on the capital because President Bozize had broken a peace agreement reached between them on January 11 this year by which rebel forces were to be integrated into the national army.
The rebellion had been going on for a while – in two phases. The first started in 2004 shortly after Bozize seized power and ended in 2007 when the rebels led by their present leader, Michel Djotodia, signed a power-sharing agreement with Bozize’s government. The second was launched in December 2012 when the rebels accused the government of going back on the terms of the peace agreement.
The rebels made swift advances across the country in fighting that broke out in December. Regional leaders then brokered a peace deal in January this year in which power would be shared between the government, the opposition and rebels.
A week ago, the rebels moved on the capital, alleging that the Bozize government had once again reneged on the deal it had struck with them.
The rest as we now know is that the rebels have taken over power and Bozize is in full flight.
The story of M23 is similar up to a point. Nearly a year ago, the M23 was formed by soldiers in the Congolese army who accused the government of not honouring an agreement reached with a previous rebel group, the CNDP, on March 23 2009 after many years of fighting.
Like Seleka, M23 moved swiftly across the east of DRC and captured the provincial capital, Goma, in November 2012. They were soon pressured to leave the town.
That is where the similarities end. The rest of the story is about inexplicable differences, hypocrisy, double standards, falsification and utter disregard of evidence on the ground.
The M23 rebels were roundly condemned in the western media and in foreign capitals. They were accused of all manner of crimes against humanity even when such accusations flew in the face of the logic of rebellion. Rebels usually do not harm the people among whom they operate, especially if they are the ones they have vowed to protect. In fact, evidence showed that people enjoyed greater security in the areas the rebels controlled.
No such condemnation has been heard of the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic. The French, with a military presence in the country, stood by as the rebels marched into town, only saying they would send in troops to protect their citizens.
There has been no word from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or the other members of the rights’ brigade.
The foreign media only reports the towns that have fallen and, inevitably, the looting in Bangui because it suits their constructed image of Africa.
True, there has been some protest from the UN Secretary General. But that has been feeble and more formality than heartfelt concern.
When in November the M23 took over Goma, it was like that single event would bring the world crumbling down. The international community mobilised massively to push the rebels back. Immense pressure was brought to bear on M23 and their alleged supporters to pull out of the town immediately.
The Seleka rebels marched into Bangui without as much as a finger being raised to stop them. Instead of warnings about dire consequences if they stepped into the capital, they have only been asked to be good boys, behave themselves and it will be business as usual.
From the moment M23 was born, fingers began pointing at foreign sponsors. The argument was that they could not have such weaponry, organisation and tactics, and skilled fighters without external backing. Allegation of foreign involvement were loudest when Goma fell. The chorus was: the rebels could not do it because they did not have the capacity in equipment, men and expertise.
Seleka have made more spectacular gains. But we have not heard mention of a foreign backer. No effort has been made to identify and punish them.
So, what are we to make of these glaringly different reactions to similar situations? Is it perhaps because in the Seleka case the sponsors are the ones who usually make the accusations? Or is it because the Central Africans have not earned the ire of some powerful people with talk about the right to make their own choices in matters affecting them, or about agaciro?