Central African Republic has been in turmoil since a violent takeover of power in 2013. The aftermath saw widespread violence as armed militia fought each other and took revenge on the population. The March 2016 election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra brought an initial lull, but was followed by more fighting in late 2016 and early 2017 between armed groups including ex-Seleka factions and anti-balaka militias – both controlling vast areas of the country. Lasting peace is still some way off as neither the new government nor the large UN force have the means to force armed groups to negotiate and disarm. Crisis Group works to reduce the risk of large flare-ups and help defuse the country’s many conflicts, encouraging international actors to work to weaken armed groups and improve the chances of effective negotiation.
In 2018, the African Union (AU) and its new Assembly Chairperson President Paul Kagame of Rwanda have the chance to push ahead with much-needed institutional reforms. But the AU must not lose focus on dire conflicts and defusing potential electoral violence.
MPs’ vote to sack national assembly president, a Muslim, stirred sectarian tensions, as armed groups repositioned themselves vis-à-vis parallel mediation processes. After 95 of 140 MPs 17 Oct signed petition demanding removal of National Assembly President Karim Meckassoua, several hundred people 23 Oct demonstrated in support of Meckassoua in PK5, mainly Muslim neighbourhood where he was elected MP. Meckassoua stepped down 26 Oct after 98 of 140 MPs voted in favour of his dismissal; Meckassoua 28 Oct said he would challenge decision in courts. During parliamentary session to elect new speaker 29 Oct, former anti-balaka militia leader and MP Alfred Yekatom fired shots in parliament following altercation. After pause in proceedings, MPs elected Laurent Ngon-Baba as new assembly president. Leaders of three ex-Seleka armed groups who signed provisional agreement in Sudanese capital Khartoum 28 Aug said they were only willing to take part in African Union-led mediation process: Abdoulaye Hissene of Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) and Ali Darassa of Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) made statement 19 Oct and Mahamat al-Khatim of Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC) took same position 22 Oct. In north west, five armed groups – 3R, anti-balaka faction, Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) and two rival factions of Justice and Revolution Movement – signed ceasefire agreement at Koui 22 Oct; contents remained undisclosed. Russia 19 Oct said it would send more military equipment and 60 additional civilian instructors to CAR. Special Criminal Court to try suspected crimes against humanity since 2003 held inaugural session 22 Oct.
Resurgent armed groups in Central African Republic are killing many civilians and causing widespread displacement. Government forces and the UN are in a weak position, and there are no quick solutions. To contain the violence, the government and international actors must agree on a roadmap for peace with armed groups that combines both incentives and coercive measures.
In Central African Republic, the conflict between armed groups is now compounded by a conflict between armed communities. The roadmap to end the crisis including elections late 2015 presents only a short-term answer and risks exacerbating existing tensions. The transitional authorities and their international partners must address crucial issues by implementing a comprehensive disarmament policy and reaffirming that Muslims belong within the nation.
Away from the international spotlight, the Central African Republic’s rural areas are turning into fields of violence as war over territory and livestock hits a highly vulnerable population, with effects increasingly felt in neighbouring Cameroon and Chad.
To stabilise the Central African Republic (CAR), the transitional government and its international partners need to prioritise, alongside security, action to fight corruption and trafficking of natural resources, as well as revive the economy.
Sensible, inclusive regulation of pastoralism that has mitigated tension in parts of the Sahel should be extended to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR), where conflicts have worsened with the southward expansion of pastoralism.
As the Central African Republic (CAR) stares into an abyss of potentially appalling proportions, the international community must focus on the quickest, most decisive means of restoring security to its population.
Russia is intensifying its relationships in Africa and [the Central African Republic] is one of their entry points. The government is weak so it’s an easy target.
International mobilization [in the Central African Republic] is much, much slower than the deterioration of the situation on the ground.
The main risk [of the escalating violence in Central African Republic] is really to come back to a conflict like it was in 2013, very close to a kind of civil war.
There is a risk that the process of negotiation [in the Central African Republic] around disarmament becomes bogged down and justice, including through the Special Criminal Court, accelerates.
Against the supposed Christian versus Muslim logic of this conflict [in the Central African Republic], we now see Muslim groups fighting Muslim groups, divided on ethnic lines and fighting for territory.
The U.N. Security Coucil approved a resolution to extend the mandate of the U.N. Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) until 15 November 2018, also increasing the mission’s troop ceiling by 900. Richard Moncrieff, Project Director for Central Africa, states that the Central African Republic needs more than just troops to meet the country's security challenges.
Originally published in World Politics Review
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