Central African Republic: Keeping the Dialogue Alive
Africa Briefing N°69
12 Jan 2010
The failure of President François Bozizé and his close circle to follow through with many of the concessions agreed on during the Inclusive Political Dialogue risks exacerbating the many conflicts in the Central African Republic (CAR) and stalling national reconciliation. Those December 2008 talks made a valuable contribution to both reducing levels of violence and shaping the long-term reform agenda. The promised integration of rebel leaders into civilian political life, the precedent of decision-making by consensus and a concrete set of agreements that included rebel disarmament and security sector reform were welcome steps towards greater stability. To ensure these gains are not undone by another political crisis, however, the president must abandon the uncompromising attitude he displayed through much of 2009 and the government must quickly resolve new conflicts in the north east and prepare credible elections. Otherwise, donors should suspend financial support to a regime that is largely dependent on foreign aid.
Since Bozizé’s coup in March 2003, the CAR has been unable to break the cycle of conflict and poverty in which it has laboured for so long. Elections in 2005, judged relatively free and fair, did not prevent rebellions breaking out in the north directly afterwards. It took two years of difficult negotiations interspersed with more violence to prepare the Inclusive Political Dialogue, but the event itself went relatively well. The participation of the presidential camp, opposition politicians, most rebel groups, civil society and ex-President Ange-Félix Patassé fulfilled a necessary condition for reconciling former adversaries. The main participants all sought to retain or acquire state power, but they arrived at a common plan for political and economic reconstruction.
Opposition parties let go their hopes for regime change and settled for governance reforms, including a new consensus government. Rebel groups affirmed their readiness to disarm in return for roles in state institutions. The regime agreed to open up management of state affairs and allow others a say in organising legislative and presidential elections. For the first time, Patassé, who is keen to rejoin the political scene, acknowledged his former chief of staff, Bozizé, as the legitimate president.
Bozizé’s show of political openness, however, came to an abrupt end in early 2009. He apparently judged that holding the talks gave him the legitimacy, especially with donors, to choose a new government as loyal as its predecessor and make unilateral changes to the electoral law that favour his re-election. The opposition fought hard during the year to keep the foothold it gained at the dialogue and secure some influence in the Independent Electoral Commission. However, stubbornness on both sides postponed that body’s creation and risked making credible elections in early 2010 a technical impossibility.
The dialogue endorsed a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) program for ending the rebellions in the north, but the self-interested demands of rebel leaders have delayed implementation and raised frustration among fighters on the ground. In the north west, clashes are rare but the people still suffer, unable to rebuild their lives. In the north east, the government’s authorisation of Zacharia Damane’s Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement, UFDR) to maintain security has awakened old tribal rivalries and provoked the formation of two new armed groups. Violence is on the rise, as rebels try to bolster their negotiating positions and the government remains set on pursuing a military solution.
All parties to the talks agreed extensive security sector reform (SSR) is needed to give the state the means to protect rather than endanger the population. The re-entry of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – originally a Ugandan insurgency – into the CAR in May 2009 and its almost free range in the south east exposed again the army’s inadequacy. The Bozizé regime appears to care too much about winning elections and too little about what happens outside Bangui, the capital, to invest the necessary time and effort in the long-term stabilisation of the whole national territory. Until the government respects the spirit and method of consensus in which the dialogue was held and makes genuine changes in governance, SSR in particular will drag, and insecurity will hamper any efforts to establish state authority in the provinces or hold credible nationwide elections.
To make the most of what the Inclusive Political Dialogue achieved, the government and its foreign partners should thus concentrate on the following priorities:
The priority over the first months of 2010 should be the consensual organisation of credible elections. The Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), government and donors should, therefore, work hard to hold elections in April as planned, but if by March insufficient progress has been made in technical preparations or in improving the security situation, national actors should be prepared to postpone. The government should urgently engage rebels, opposition politicians and civil society to agree by consensus in advance on how to avoid a constitutional and political crisis if a postponement is necessary.
To entrench the practice of political dialogue and decision-making by consensus, Paulin Pomodimo, the former archbishop of Bangui who now heads the National Council for Mediation, should lead efforts to set up a permanent framework for dialogue with the country’s political and social actors that aims to achieve consensus governance before and beyond the elections.
To reduce violence in the north east and create favourable conditions for DDR and elections, the government should quickly open negotiations with the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix, CPJP) rebel group with a view to obtaining its commitment to the peace process. With the support of the UN mission in the CAR and Chad (MINURCAT), the government should also facilitate dialogue between the Gula-dominated UFDR and Ahamat Mustapha’s armed Kara group.
The government and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) should rework plans for reintegrating rebels into civilian life or the armed forces, so that ex-combatants have the opportunity immediately after disarmament to participate in development projects alongside local community members. Rebel leaders, UNDP and the SSR permanent secretariat should agree on the number of ex-combatants to be accepted into the security services.
The government should prepare a second roundtable on SSR, but donors should fund medium-term reforms only if it demonstrates commitment to implementing the already agreed schedule. The CAR will only be able to counter the threat of domestic and foreign armed groups, including the LRA, by deploying a fully professionalised army and extending state institutions across the national territory.
Because accelerated rural development is crucial for alleviating the humanitarian crisis and creating favourable conditions for DDR and elections, the UN Peacebuilding Commission should mobilise donors to put their full support behind the European Commission’s “development poles” program, which aims to stimulate income-generating activities and restore basic infrastructure around provincial towns.
The regular payment of civil servant salaries is one of Bozizé’s strongest sources of popularity in Bangui. Donors should make it clear that they will stop providing the necessary funds for this, unless the government displays clear commitment to creating a security environment conducive to credible elections, including by negotiating with the last remaining rebel group.
Nairobi/Brussels, 12 January 2010