Take a nation ravished by more than three years of protracted conflict and brutal sectarian violence between Muslim and Christian militias.
Add to the mix the fact that the country in question currently ranks as the world’s third-poorest in term of GDP per capita income.
Now, just for good measure, situate it in one of the most politically conflictive regions on Earth, conveniently nestling it between the likes of Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo.
Finally, don’t forget to stir in the fact that some 457,000 of its 4.6 million citizens are now living outside its borders as refugees.
And you have a recipe for guaranteed bedlam and political stability.
That is the case of the Central African Republic (CAR), a 623,000-square-kilometer landlocked state situated exactly where its name implies.
But to understand the chaos that is CAR today, you have to go back in history to see its conception as a nation eternally on the brink of collapse.
Officially, the former French colony of Ubangi-Shari became the Central African Republic when it theoretically gained independence from Paris in 1960.
But, as we all know, what is written on paper is not always what is reality.
In the case of the Central African Republic, France may have offered a de jure independence, but having leased out most of CAR’s territory to private companies before relinquishing sovereignty over the colony, if effectively maintained control over the new nation’s entire economy and natural resources (mainly gold, diamonds, uranium and timber), as well as its development.
In other words, CAR’s administration of both national and international affairs was and continues to be outsourced to and subcontracted by foreign private corporations and international development and humanitarian organizations.
And as long as these external players were getting their money’s worth on their investments, little to no attention was paid to what sort of internal governing was going on, at least until the early 1990s.
But after three tumultuous decades of political misrule — most by military regimes — a civilian government came to power in 1993, with the promise that the country would at last become a de facto independent state.
Sadly, in March 2003, the civilian government was deposed in yet another military coup led by Francois Bozize, who established a transitional government.
Elections held in 2005 affirmed the general as president, and he was reelected in 2011 in voting widely viewed as flawed.
It is worth noting that none of these aforementioned administrations — nor the elected and otherwise governments that would follow — ever managed to gain control over the CAR countryside, where religious feuds and lawlessness prevailed.
The militant Lord’s Resistance Army continues to destabilize CAR’s southeastern regions, and several rebel groups which joined together in December 2012 now control large swaths of the northern and central parts of the country.
In 2013, tensions between these two factions intensified, and a deadly cycle of sectarian violence in eastern parts of the Central African Republic began to spin out of control, leaving thousands of civilians dead and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes.
When fighting escalated between the mostly Muslim Séléka rebels and the Christian and animist anti-balaka militias, a bloody tit-for-tat, genocidal revenge killing spree took hold.
Foreign interventionist diplomacy managed to quell the violence partially in late 2015, and in February of this year, peaceful elections were held, with a soft-spoken former mathematician winning the vote as an independent (i.e., neither Séléka nor anti-balaka).
Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who took office on March 30, is the Central African Republic’s Great White Hope, its one chance to find stability and sustainable peace by addressing the complex array of political, economic and social woes that have plagued the country from its very inception.
Although he is not a politician (and still has very little control outside CAR’s capital Bangui), he is committed and determined to implement the law and order platform which won him the presidency.
On the plus side, Touadéra has been endorsed by many of his political opponents, and, barring a few minor skirmishes, the country has remained largely peaceful in the months following the elections.
Notwithstanding, CAR is still a long way from political stability, an unless Touadéra can address the core structural issues that led to the last three years of anarchy, the country is likely to repeat its violent past.
Armed groups and criminal gangs still have control over valuable mining areas and commercial towns, where they extort illicit taxes and trade diamonds and gold.
Over half the population suffers from malnutrition and hunger, and corruption is rife at all levels of society.
And then, of course, there are the neighbors, countries where violence is the norm and intervention in CAR is practically considered a rite of passage for consecutive despot leaders.
If Touadéra — and by implication, CAR — is to succeed, he will have to learn to balance his attention between the Muslim and Christian populations and to appease all the country’s political factions so that a real peace can take root.
Touadéra cannot do it alone.
He will also require the sustained support of and engagement by the international community, both through financial contributions and accountability through sanctions and other multilateral measures.
The current political landscape in Central African Republic is tenuous, and dangerously peppered with sectarian landmines, but Touadéra’s presidency is the one shining light that could pave the way for the first real peace in the country’s turbulent history.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]