July 3, 2016
When ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was removed from his country in March 2004 by the U.S. military, the pilots flying him abroad were given a destination they had never heard of — the Central African Republic (CAR). “Is that a real country?” they reportedly asked their superiors.Yes, it is. But its politics and governance don’t look anything like what Americans and Westerners imagine makes up a country. Instead of being run by and for its own residents, either well or badly, CAR has always been run privately, first by far-away companies and now by do-gooders. To call it a state implies a nation that could stand on its own without props; that is not CAR. Nor are its ongoing violent conflicts easily put in familiar categories, such as disputes over religion or power or resources, as we’ll discuss below.But here’s the main point: Because policymakers have chronically failed to understand CAR’s actual challenges, they have had trouble understanding and responding to the increasingly militarized politics that have dominated CAR over the past 20 years.