The Central African Republic, a country of 5 million, has suffered in its 52 years of independence some of the worst government on the planet. Now it has experienced another military coup d'etat, which included the sacking and looting of its capital.
In the process, South Africa, which had sent some 400 troops to try to prop up the C.A.R. government, saw its forces swept aside Sunday and 13 of them killed in the rebel sweep into the capital, Bangui, a humiliating setback for what is ostensibly Africa's strongest nation. The overthrown president, Francois Bozize, himself installed in a military coup in 2003, fled to neighboring Cameroon, where he has settled into a Hilton hotel.
France, the former colonial power, had 200 troops in the C.A.R. and has added another 250 to provide security to French citizens still there. France used to have bases in the country but abandoned them in 1997 in favor of a small residual presence.
The new government, in the form of an alliance called Seleka of seven or so rebel movements, appears to be headed by declared President Michel Djotodia. "Seleka" means "alliance" in the C.A.R. lingua franca, Sangho. Seleka has promised elections in two or three years. In the meantime, the African Union has suspended C.A.R. membership on the basis of the military coup and the rebels' summary treatment of the South African force, placed there under an AU mandate.
What does this mean? First, it is interesting that France chose to intervene militarily in Mali, also an ex-colony, but not in the C.A.R., to try to restore order. That was probably due to a large extent to French and U.S. alarm at the Islamist character of some of the rebel forces in Mali, in comparison to the C.A.R. Both countries are landlocked. Neither has mineral or other resources of particular interest to the outside world. Even though the C.A.R. borders on six other countries, the United States has never been particularly involved in its affairs, except to push democratic elections in the early 1990s.
Even though Mr. Bozize's government was scarcely worth saving, it was elected in 2011, and other African countries had made an effort at peacemaking between the government and the rebels in January. That effort failed, with both sides claiming bad faith. In any case, the coup in the C.A.R. must be seen as a setback for Africans' efforts to find solutions to African problems, even when led by South Africa.