The two main armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR)—the ex-Séléka1 and the Anti-Balaka, along with their multiple factions—make millions of dollars in profits from illicit activities, which support their operations and create wealth for ruthless warlords and business owners. Killings, extortion, and other forms of violence are used to control areas with gold and diamonds throughout CAR, and the groups are deeply involved in this high-value trade in several ways. The two groups also generate income through illicit taxes and “protection money” from civilians, road travelers, businesses, local organizations, and
state institutions.

Ex-Séléka and Anti-Balaka groups profit from a large illicit minerals trade. They do this directly by the mining and theft of diamonds and gold that they then sell to middlemen. They also profit indirectly by looting, extortion, and predatory taxation of miners and traders. Research presented in this report estimates the total current value of the illicit diamond trade and taxation by armed groups in CAR to be between $3.87 and $5.8 million dollars annually, a sufficient amount in CAR to fund widespread military operations. The majority of the diamonds and the gold are smuggled out of CAR to neighboring countries—mainly Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan—and then on to international markets; a lesser amount is sold on the local market within CAR.

Some of the diamonds sold locally are purchased by three Central African diamond buying houses that currently have a total stock of diamonds worth close to $8 million. This domestic diamond trade is not prohibited by the Kimberley Process (KP) suspension of CAR’s membership and the decision by KP members to refrain from sending or receiving diamond shipments from CAR that has been in effect since May 2013 and only restricts exports of rough Central African diamonds. Deliberations are, however, underway concerning the possibility of a partial lifting of the KP restrictions. There are concerns that the combination of an inadequate diamond tracing system in CAR and control by armed groups of diamond mines could result in conflict diamonds, which have provided financing for armed groups, entering the KP-approved diamond trade. To counter this danger, any lifting of CAR’s KP diamond restrictions should be conditioned on the removal of all armed groups from mining sites, full control of diamond trading markets by U.N. peacekeepers or local gendarmes, and a credible tracing and due diligence system for diamonds bought and sold by Central African diamond companies, including those for export.

In addition to natural resource exploitation, ex-Séléka factions in particular have set up efficient tax collection practices. Conservative assessments estimate that different factions within the group collect $1.5 to $2 million annually from illicit road taxation throughout the areas they control in central and eastern CAR. They gain an additional estimated $210,000 to $420,000 in taxation of cattle traders and $200,000 to $240,000 from taxation of coffee traders.12 Meanwhile, Anti-Balaka groups that roam western CAR collect illicit road taxes, extort money from rural villages, and demand sums that range from $600 to $1,000 as a one-time payment for “protection.” Additional research is needed to estimate the total annual profits collected by Anti-Balaka groups through road taxation, looting, and other abusive activities.

Armed groups in CAR have turned into profit-making entities through illicit sale of natural resources, taxation, extortion and the strategic use of killings and violence. The majority of these illicit funds go directly to boost the personal wealth of the senior commanders and their trade partners, while most lower-level soldiers have one daily meal or receive meager payments.14 Bringing an end to the crisis in CAR requires preventive strategies that seek to disrupt the sources of finance, combined with punitive measures and sanctions that target individual commanders and the companies and other actors that facilitate the trade.