Category Archives: Central African Republic

Catching up on CAR, trying to avoid clichés

If you’ve been following the news on the Central African Republic (CAR) over the past 13 months, you have probably seen many references to the country’s abundant mineral wealth, chronic instability, crushing poverty, sectarian (Christian vs. Muslim) strife, and allegations of genocide. Some of the recent analysis and media reporting goes beyond these clichés, so I thought I’d highlight them and explain why these pieces present the reader with a more complex understanding of recent developments in the country. Collectively, this reading list offers four things:

  1. These readings offer background on Catherine Samba-Panza, previously the mayor of Bangui, who was elected last week as the interim president of the Central African Republic. Beyond the fact that Samba-Panza is the first female to hold this position in CAR, these pieces offer insight as to why she’s different from previous leaders and what challenges she will face as she spearheads the transition to an elected government by February 2015.
  2. These readings offer a background of the events leading to and during the transition earlier this month, such as why Michel Djotodia (former leader of the Séléka rebel coalition that toppled former president François Bozizé last March) had to go and the process that dictated the selection of candidates for interim president.
  3. These readings offer a better understanding of identity in the Central African Republic beyond the Muslim/Christian labels, and gives the reader some perspective on notions of foreign-ness in the CAR and how they have come into play throughout the country’s history.
  4. Finally, these readings offer context on the historical and contemporary role of foreign – European AND African – influence on conflicts in the Central African Republic, which is critical for understanding the geopolitics of the region. Major headliners are France (bien sûr!), Chad, Libya, and South Africa.

So without further ado, here’s some of the good coverage I’ve read over the past few weeks:

Catherine Samba-Panza being sworn in as interim president of the Central African Republic (SOURCE: http://www.tvzimbo.com/)

Catherine Samba-Panza being sworn in as interim president of the Central African Republic (SOURCE: http://www.tvzimbo.com/)

Si vous lisez français, the articles below offer background on the new interim president, and why her civil society roots and Chadian/Central African heritage may make her the right leader at the right time:

Meeting the Demand for African-led, Internationally Supported Peace Interventions

The Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings has continued its tradition of asking its experts and colleagues to identify what they consider to be the key issues for Africa in the coming year in “Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent in 2014.” The format of the report is as follows (and includes a contribution from yours truly):

In my section on Meeting the Demand for African-led, Internationally Supported Peace Interventions,  I argue call for regional and sub-regional organizations in Africa to better prepare their troops for rapid deployment in responding to escalating conflicts on the continent.

Following the release of the Foresight Africa Report, Brookings is hosting a discussion with  leading Africa experts on the most important challenges the continent will face in 2014 on January 7 (today) from 10 to 1130am EST. You can register for the live webcast and join the conversation on Twitter using #ForesightAfrica.

Why has the international response to CAR taken so long?

Stability is not a term one would use to describe the Central African Republic – particularly in light of the recent conflict which has engulfed the country. Last December, the Séléka rebel coalition challenged then-President François Bozizé’s grasp on power and eventually ousted him in March 2013. At first, the international response to the humanitarian and human rights crises that have ensued was muted. Eventually, over the summer, the African Union launched an International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), with an authorized force strength of 3,600, to help protect civilians and provide security throughout the country. MISCA, which may not be operational until 2014, replaced the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX) in August 2013, which had been in CAR since July 2008 with 400 soldiers. Former colonial power France, which abstained from preventing Bozizé’s collapse earlier this year, has 400 soldiers in the capital city of Bangui to protect their interests, and is in the process of deploying 1,000 more. Finally, the UN Security Council is also considering authorizing a peacekeeping mission for CAR, but it would not be able to deploy for at least two to three months – even with a speedy UNSC Resolution. Therefore, the French and AU forces would have to act as a stopgap measure until the UN would be able to put boots on the ground.

The question is, after this crisis has been unfolding for almost a year, why is an international response only coming together now?

  • Perhaps the international community was inundated by the response to the crises in Mali. Note that France’s Opération Serval commenced in January, accelerating the deployment timelines for the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) from September to mid-January. The Séléka rebel coalition that eventually toppled Bozizé commenced their rebellion around mid-December 2012, agreed to a ceasefire in mid-January 2013, and entered Bangui to overthrow Bozizé for failing to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire at the end of March 2013. If you think about it, the time period between the initiation of the Séléka rebellion and the current rumblings of an international response has been more or less dominated by the French intervention in Mali, the AFISMA deployment, transition to the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and Mali’s presidential and legislative elections. And now that Mali is in a better pace than it was last year at this time, the international community now has the bandwidth to turn to the next pressing crisis on the continent – the Central African Republic.
  • Perhaps the humanitarian toll has risen too high. Approximately one-tenth of the country’s population, or 460,000 people, have become internally displaced fleeing the communal violence between Christians and Muslims (15% of the population), and over 220,000 people have become refugees in neighboring countries. Recent Human Rights Watch reports have documented the destruction of over 1,000 homes between March and June 2013. (See satellite images of ‘what war crimes look like from space’).
  • People are starting to say the “T-word.” As the Central African Republic continues to spiral into anarchy, there is speculation that terrorist groups, like Nigeria’s Boko Haram, could set up shop in the country. Although such reports are unconfirmed, the mere presence of an unstable territory may make it an attractive safe haven for terrorist or criminal actors with regional or even global agendas.
  • People have started using the “G-word.” Whether genocide is – or is not – occurring in a given conflict, using the “G-word” is supposed to trigger an obligatory international response. My personal view is that the term genocide tends to be overused, and as a result, genocide has been conflated with “mass killing,” and more generally “human rights abuses” or “crimes against humanity,” thus distancing it from its true meaning. Therefore, whether or not genocide is actually occurring in the Central African Republic, any response would have to be measured against the international community’s failure to respond to allegations of genocide in places like Syria and Sudan’s Nuba Mountains.

In any event, the true reason for the recent focus on the conflict in the Central African Republic, albeit belated, may be a combination of two or more of the aforementioned factors. Now, as with regional and international attempts to respond to previous crises in Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we shall see if the international community can put its money and military might where its mouth is.

South Africa inspires a “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” in the CAR

South Africa has found itself in a situation where it looks more like an Executive Outcomes B-team than a regional power seeking to contribute to peace and stability on the continent. Over the weekend, approximately 200 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops were involved in a nine-hour battle with Séléka rebels in the Central African Republic. Séléka, an alliance of anti-government armed groups, had launched a rebellion against President François Bozizé in December 2012, only halting their offensive to negotiate the terms of the Libreville agreement in January.

In early January 2013, South African President Jacob Zuma authorized the deployment of 400 SANDF to help train the Central African Republic Armed Forces (FACA), as well as assist in the planning and implementation of the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process. (Apparently, only 200 troops had been deployed thus far). Potential reasons for the SANDF deployment to the Central African Republic vary. On one hand, it may be a natural progression of South Africa’s pursuit of regional influence on the continent, and perhaps a way to counter French influence. On the other, South Africa may have commercial interests in the Central African Republic.

The deployment was in accordance with the provisions of section 201 (2) (c) of the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which states that “Only the President, as head of the national executive, may authorize the employment of the defence force in fulfillment of an international obligation.” The international obligation to which the constitution referred was, in this case, a five-year military cooperation agreement initially signed between South Africa and the Central African Republic in 2007, and renewed in December 2012.

In early January, a SANDF spokesperson stated that the purpose of the SANDF deployment was not to engage rebel fighters, but to train the FACA. Accordingly, they were not combat-equipped, making them vulnerable to attack and likely to suffer heavy casualties if Séléka engaged them in battle – which they did when Séléka broke the ceasefire as a result of Bozizé’s unwillingness to implement the terms of the peace agreement. During the course of Séléka’s push towards Bangui, 13 SANDF were killed, seven were wounded, and one is missing in action. The South African National Defence Force Union (SANDU) subsequently released a statement condemning the involvement of the SANDF and asserting that the deployment should have been curtailed the moment Bozizé showed signs of not honoring the January 2013 Libreville agreements. In a press conference on Monday, Zuma stated that troop casualties were suffered whilst SANDF was defending a South African military base outside Bangui, stating “Wherever our troops are deployed they have the duty to defend themselves if their positions fall under attack.”

The events of this past weekend cast a shadow upon the previously constructive role South Africa has played with regard to conflict resolution in Africa, and taints its image as a neutral broker for future peace agreements on the continent. South Africa’s experience transitioning from apartheid to democracy provides a prime example of a peaceful transition that occurred on the heels of a deeply divisive period of history. Yet, Zuma’s decision to deploy the SANDF in support of the Bozizé regime has negated South Africa’s ability to present itself as a nonpartisan broker between Séléka and remnants of the ancien régime.

Flawed peace process leads to greater unrest in the Central African Republic

(Originally published in World Politics Review on March 26, 2013)

Over the weekend, the Séléka rebel alliance seized Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). This most recent offensive was the latest development in a rebellion that commenced in December 2012 over President François Bozizé’s failure to implement the 2007 Birao Peace Agreement and the 2008 Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement. In those deals, Bozizé’s government had agreed to provide amnesty for former combatants; to pursue the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the rebel forces; to provide compensation for those demobilized and the integration of some former rebels into the official armed forces of the Central African Republic; and to share political power. But with little if any progress made since the signing of these agreements, it was only a matter of time before the conflict reignited.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 Séléka fighters swept across the country in December, coming within 40 miles of Bangui before Bozizé and Séléka agreed to peace negotiations mediated by the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC). Entering the talks in January 2013, Séléka’s demands included the release of political prisoners, the withdrawal of foreign troops sent to assist the Bozizé regime and Bozizé’s immediate resignation. A new set of agreements — a cease-firea declaration of principles, and a peace agreement– were hastily negotiated and signed in Libreville, Gabon, on Jan. 11, stipulating that Bozizé would remain in power until the end of his term in 2016 and putting in place a unity government for a renewable period of 12 months. This government would include members of the political and military opposition, and among its tasks would be to restore peace and security, organize new legislative elections in anticipation of the dissolution of the National Assembly and conduct DDR and security sector reform with assistance from the international community. Unsurprisingly to most observers, the Libreville agreement was never implemented.

(Read the rest of the article on the World Politics Review website)

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