Image Source: United States Institute of Peace
February 2020
REGION: Sub-Saharan Africa

In USIP’s Special Report “The ‘Green Diamond’: Coffee and Conflict in the Central African Republic,” authors Fiona Mangan, Igor Acko, and Manal Taha develop a case study of the coffee trade from Bambari, Central African Republic (CAR) to Sudan, controlled by armed groups that instigate violence in the region. Highlighting the economic dependence between coffee producers, tradesmen, and armed militias, the report explores violent organized crime in CAR and provides recommendations for further peacekeeping efforts.

The coffee industry, while a small part of CAR’s economy, closely follows trade trends, economic cycles, and patterns of armed conflict; conducting a case study on the coffee industry provides an microcosmic representation of CAR’s overall condition. The report focuses on Bambari, a city in southeastern CAR known for coffee-trading and controlled by various armed groups since 2013. The authors first detail the timeline of armed struggle in Bambari:

  • Séléka Rebellion (2012-2014): After the Central African Bush War (2004-2007), Muslim rebels groups were dissatisfied with government implementation of the peace accords and the exclusion of Muslims from positions in government institutions. Referred to as the Séléka, the rebels hired mercenaries from Chad and Sudan who marched through CAR and committed atrocities against the majority Christian and animist population. The Séléka captured Bambari and the capital in March 2013. While the international community did intervene in January 2014, the conflict had already decimated CAR’s economy and disrupted peace.
  • Union for Peace Control of Bambari (2014-2016): The Union for Peace Control (UPC) is a faction of ex-Séléka militants who facilitate the coffee market in Bambari. UPC and other armed groups provide “security” along coffee trade routes to Sudan, fining tradesmen for passage. According to the report, armed groups posed the greatest threat to the safety of trading and living in Bambari.
  • Anti-UPC Offensive (February 2017-2018): A coalition of ex-Séléka factions and anti-Balaka groups joined forces to launch an armed assault on Bambari in an attempt to dislodge UPC control; the offensive occurred during the beginning of coffee-buying season. The coalition did not gain control of Bambari but the violence further destabilized the region and weakened UPC’s control on trade.

Through their timeline of conflict in CAR, the authors demonstrate how militants use the violence they create to take advantage of local resources for profit. For example, it can cost a Sudanese tradesman $15,000+ in taxes to armed groups along the coffee trade routes between Bambari and Sudan, according to the report. Despite the high costs, CAR coffee is essential to the Sudanese market while Sudanese finished goods are essential to CAR, creating a system of economic dependence exclusively facilitated by armed groups rather than government or legitimate private business.

The large profits disincentivize armed groups like UPC from participating in peace efforts, including disarmament and demobilization. The report provides recommendations for peacekeeping practitioners in CAR to aid stability and reduce armed, organized crime:

  • Recognize the economic potential of the coffee industry: According to the authors, access to the global coffee market could aid CAR’s economic recovery. If regional trade routes can be removed from armed groups’ control, there is an opportunity for CAR coffee to use licit international trade routes.
  • Use the coffee industry to bolster peace programs and processes: The report demonstrates that the coffee industry is tied to many aspects of CAR conflict, society, and economy. The authors recommend instituting pre-conflict agricultural programs and emphasizing the cross-cultural relationships of farmers and traders. According to the report, such connections can ease sectarian divides that fuel violence in CAR.
  • Use the coffee trade to gain insight into conflict actors’ funding and motivations: The seasonal patterns of coffee growing can allow practitioners to estimate the resource flows and subsequent actions of armed groups. The report states that building a natural understanding of the timeline of the conflict economy will aid practitioners as they craft peace responses.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

The “Green Diamond”: Coffee and Conflict in the Central African Republic

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