Friday, April 11, 2014

Two faces of CAR social relations: Openness and mistrust

I have an op-ed up at Al Jazeera America with a short account of some of the factors contributing to the violence in CAR over the past year+. Plenty of reports have detailed the political maneuvering and military entrepreneurship that have helped organize the current fighting. (Some of the best are Roland Marchal's pieces for Global Observatory and Africa Confidential's coverage.) I wanted to draw out another factor: the simultaneous openness/flexibility that I've observed in Central Africans, and how fraught people find it to trust each other. There are a whole host of reasons for the high level of mistrust, and I could only gesture toward a few in the piece. This is something that will have to be dealt with, one way or another, when the fighting stops. Post-conflict programming usually frames its tasks as "rebuilding" trust or helping the state "regain" its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. When it comes to CAR, that's the wrong way to think about it. The state never effectively had that monopoly in the first place, and for as long as CAR has existed as a polity, trust has been strained. So instead, these processes should be seen as new constructions -- building trust, building a state -- that will play out on a far-from-clean slate. That's an enormous task, of course. But maybe it can also be an opportunity.

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