The Central African Republic (CAR) is at risk of a descent into major violence and any failure to effectively contain this protracted conflict and to begin rebuilding a stable, peaceful society will have serious regional and global implications as a worsened humanitarian crisis would send refugees into neighbouring countries and enable armed groups to proliferate. While the perceived historical marginalization of the largely Muslim north is a major cause of the conflict in CAR, the spread of harmful misinformation and hate speech provide more immediate precipitating factors for violence on a day-to-day, localized basis. This is all the more dangerous in a situation where it is estimated that up to 80% of the Muslim population have been displaced, with many living in IDP camps, which has reinforced intercommunal divisions.
Current peacekeeping, humanitarian, and political efforts, while vital, have contained rather than resolved the crisis. CAR’s history of warfare and lack of development mean that civil society and government institutions, which are needed to establish trust within society, are particularly weak. CAR’s environment combines fear with inadequate public access to reliable information, which enables rumours to spread easily, thus contributing to the atmosphere of identity-based distrust and hatred which enables violence. In some cases, such rumours may even risk directly triggering insecurity and retaliatory violence. There is a high likelihood that violence could escalate further if there is not an investment in peace initiatives which seek to both prevent acute incidents of violence on a daily basis and to engender the types of behavioural change which will build trust and sustainable peace over the long term. This requires developing participatory mechanisms which engage the citizens of CAR in countering rumours while encouraging increased critical thinking.