The Central African Republic has been in turmoil since a violent takeover of power in 2013. The aftermath saw armed groups conclude a multitude of peace agreements even as they continued to fight each other and launch attacks on the civilian population. The latest agreement, sponsored by the African Union and signed in February 2019 by the government and fourteen armed groups, raised hopes of peace. The violence has not stopped, however, and political tensions are again on the rise. Through on-the-ground reporting and advocacy, Crisis Group provides concrete advice on how to navigate both the critical electoral period in late 2020 and the long term, focusing on how to persuade armed groups to lay down their weapons.
The Central African Republic is beset with fresh violence days before voting slated for 27 December. If the election is to go forward, and the country to avoid further turmoil, neighbouring heads of state will need to help rival politicians strike a deal.
Coalition of armed groups allied to former President Bozizé launched attacks in push to encircle capital Bangui, while incumbent President Touadéra won 27 Dec presidential election. Newly-formed Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), alliance of country’s six most powerful rebel groups, escalated attacks against govt and UN peacekeeping force (MINUSCA); by month’s end, over 200,000 civilians had been forced to flee their homes since conflict started in early Dec. Notably, CPC 3 Jan seized Bangassou city in Mbomou prefecture (south east); MINUSCA 15-16 Jan regained control of town. Army and MINUSCA troops, with support from Rwandan and Russian troops, repelled CPC attacks on Damara city (Ombella-M’Poko prefecture in west) 2 Jan, Bouar city (Nana-Mambéré prefecture in west) 9 and 17 Jan, Grimari city (Ouaka prefecture in centre) 9 Jan and on outskirts of Bangui 13 Jan; death toll unknown. Suspected CPC combatants 15 and 18 Jan ambushed MINUSCA convoys near Grimari and Bangassou, killing three peacekeepers. Military and allied forces mid- to late-Jan launched counter-offensives in bid to break rebel stranglehold on Bangui. Army 24-25 reportedly regained control of Boda city, Lobaye prefecture (west) and govt 25 Jan said military and allied forces had killed 44 rebels in Boyali village, Ombella-M’Poko prefecture. Security forces 11 Jan killed one civilian in Bangui for allegedly breaking night curfew, which was imposed 7 Jan; hours later killed another three who had gathered in protest. Authorities early Jan opened investigation into Bozizé’s alleged role in ongoing “rebellion”, 16-19 Jan arrested two generals and several soldiers and civilians in crackdown on perceived Bozizé sympathisers, and late Jan issued arrest warrant against CPC spokesman Abakar Sabone. Meanwhile, electoral commission 4 Jan declared Touadéra re-elected in first round of presidential election with 53% of votes despite reports of widespread irregularities and low turnout at 35%. Ten of 17 presidential candidates 5 Jan called for annulment of results and new election. Constitutional court 18 Jan confirmed Touadéra’s re-election, which main opposition coalition COD-2020 rejected next day.
En République centrafricaine, le bon déroulement des élections de décembre 2020 sera essentiel au maintien de la stabilité du pays. Le gouvernement et l’opposition devraient apaiser les tensions, les partenaires internationaux soutenir un vote crédible et les acteurs régionaux inciter les groupes armés à cesser les violences pendant la période électorale.
A deal to end six years of war in the Central African Republic could come unglued if not strengthened. The government should hold signatory armed groups accountable to criteria for improved behaviour and back local peace initiatives. Neighbours should push armed groups to cease provocations.
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.
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.
In 2019, the African Union faces many challenges, with conflicts old and new simmering across the continent. To help resolve these crises – our annual survey lists seven particularly pressing ones – the regional organisation should also push ahead with institutional reforms.
The deadly threat posed by armed groups in the Central African Republic has led to severe displacement and food insecurity. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to support multi-level mediation by the African Union and to back local peace initiatives.
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