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Central African Republic: Preventing a New Attempt at Destabilisation
Central African Republic: Preventing a New Attempt at Destabilisation
Central African Republic: Avoiding an Electoral Flare-up
Central African Republic: Avoiding an Electoral Flare-up
UN peacekeeping soldiers guard school compound used as an electoral centre at the end of the presidential and legislative elections, in the predominantly Muslim PK5 neighbourhood of Bangui, Central African Republic, 14 February 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Alert / Africa

Central African Republic: Preventing a New Attempt at Destabilisation

In the Central African Republic (CAR), the status quo that followed President Touadéra’s investiture in March 2016 is increasingly fragile. Tensions are rising as negotiations on the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of armed groups – the Gordian knot of the crisis – have reached a stalemate. International partners attending the donor conference for CAR on 17 November in Brussels must do all they can to ward off a further attempt to destabilise or even overthrow the current political leadership.

As the donor conference for the Central African Republic (CAR) takes place in Brussels on 17 November, the post-election status quo is increasingly fragile. The stalemate blocking negotiations on the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of armed groups has raised tensions which could result in renewed destabilisation. Grievances of the parties in CAR’s crisis are growing in a context of heightened vulnerability: the dry season is approaching, the French military mission Sangaris officially ended on 31 October and the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) shows continued weaknesses.

End of the Status Quo on the Ground as UN Mission Is Put to the Test

Since taking office in March 2016, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has engaged in dialogue with the ex-Seleka (a coalition of armed groups mainly from the north east) and anti-balaka self-defence militia to try to strike a new deal on DDR. But talks have stalled due to the ex-Seleka’s desire to join the army, and chances that the government and armed groups can find a compromise position are currently very slim. The decision of hard-line ex-Seleka factions not to take part in the latest DDR discussions in Bangui signalled a serious problem.

At stake in the DDR talks is the future composition of the army – the Gordian knot of the crisis. Anti-balaka and ex-Seleka armed groups have not lost their ability to cause harm and the stalemate on DDR is gradually consolidating the de facto division of the country. At the end of the rainy season, some ex-Seleka groups met in Bria and neighbouring Chad before a wave of violence shook the centre of the country (in Kaga-Bandoro mid-October and Bambari at the end of October).

The onset of the dry season has allowed armed groups to be more mobile, causing an increase in attacks against villages and banditry on main roads. Armed groups have been sighted along the highly coveted cattle herding routes in areas including around Ngaoundaye, Koui, Yelewa, Markounda and Kabo. The territorial partition has allowed ex-Seleka groups to further entrench themselves in some areas and consolidate their sources of revenue by banning all government administration. As the ex-Seleka have reactivated, some anti-balaka groups have also started to regroup.

In Bangui, the capital, despite the departure of some armed group leaders in October, the PK5 neighbourhood still poses a serious security threat. On 4 October, Captain Mombeka, previously aide de camp to transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza, was killed in the middle of the street. Several Muslim residents were killed in revenge. On 30 October, fighting between armed groups in the same neighbourhood killed two leaders, Abdul Danda and Issa Capi (aka “50/50”), and at least eight other people. Sporadic clashes resumed on 2 November.

This impasse has undermined President Touadéra and MINUSCA, both the subject of growing popular frustration.

MINUSCA’s peacekeepers have been under constant attack. Their actions have been publicly criticised by members of the government, civil society organisations and the national press to the point that petitions have circulated against UN contingents accused of collusion with armed groups. Resentment against UN troops has turned into open hostility: on 24 October the Civil Society Reflection Group organised a protest march with the slogan “MINUSCA Out” which collapsed into violence and resulted in four deaths. More recently, three Muslim UN soldiers were almost lynched in Bossangoa.

The End of the Honeymoon

Touadéra’s honeymoon after his comfortable electoral victory, thanks to the support of many politicians, was short-lived. Within Bangui’s incestuous political microcosm, the tensions apparent before the elections are now resurfacing. Relations between legislative and executive powers are tense with the prime minister barely escaping a no-confidence vote just months after taking office. Civil society organisations and religious leaders are publicly expressing their disappointment, as opposition parties like the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC) and the Union for Central African Renewal (URCA) are making clear their disapproval. At the same time, former President Bozizé’s clan is secretly pushing for his return to power (his son Francis Bozizé returned to Bangui in August) and some members of the government are double dealing by maintaining alliances with undesirable groups.

Some players have poisoned the atmosphere further by claiming that security will be restored by the Central African Armed Forces (FACA). Such a false and demagogic promise plays on the population’s despair. Current attempts by the government to find support for military training from foreign armies known for their brutality will only complicate security sector reform.

The deadlock in DDR negotiations and the UN’s inability to improve security create ideal conditions for those who wish to destabilise the new government. Tactics to do so have been tried and tested on several occasions including in October in Bangui when bad news was exploited to spark urban unrest. Renewed violence by ex-Seleka members in the PK5 neighbourhood or the countryside could be manipulated to create an uprising in the capital, particularly during one of the president’s numerous trips abroad.

Recommendations

To avoid a new attempt to destabilise the country or even overthrow the current leadership, and to unblock DDR talks, the following actions should be taken:

To the UN Security Council:

  • Confirm that MINUSCA will act immediately to prevent any attempted coup in Bangui;
     
  • Make necessary preventive operational arrangements to protect Bangui, state institutions and the president; and
     
  • Give MINUSCA the authority and means to arrest certain ex-Seleka warlords, in accordance with Security Council Resolution S/RES/2301 of 26 July 2016.

To President Touadéra:

  • Broaden his political base by opening the government to opposition parties and regularly consulting opposition party leaders;
     
  • Communicate to the public honestly about the current state of the FACA, and begin structural reform of the security forces including by cleaning up and renewing their personnel so that the country’s various ethnic groups and regions are represented; and
     
  • Refrain from soliciting military training from countries whose armies are known for their brutality and lack of professionalism;

To Chadian President Idriss Déby, who has well-known ties to armed group leaders in CAR:

  • Use his influence to convince certain ex-Seleka leaders to reduce their claims to army and government positions.

To the government of France:

  • Warn off potential coup plotters and underline, together with partners like the African Union, that the international community will not recognise any government installed by a coup, and that its sponsors and organisers would be held accountable for all abuses; and
     
  • Make available quickly to the UN mission the drones promised by the defence ministry in order to pre-empt any hostile moves.

To donors participating in the Brussels conference on 17 November, including the European Union:

  • Provide assistance for stabilisation and crisis management with a timeframe of at least five years;
     
  • Direct the non-humanitarian portion of this aid toward improving public finances and structural reform of the security forces, and prioritise these two aspects, critical for rebuilding a functioning state;
     
  • Assess realistically the CAR government’s capacity to put in place projects worth tens of millions of euros and implement them accordingly; and
     
  • Devote a considerable portion of the aid to projects directly contributing to the recovery of crisis-affected communities and improving the skills of their members.
An African Union peacekeeping soldier takes a strategic position to quell street violence in neighbourhoods in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, on 20 December 2013. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu
Commentary / Africa

Central African Republic: Avoiding an Electoral Flare-up

The pre-electoral period in the Central African Republic (CAR) is heating up. In the capital Bangui, youth militias engage in daily criminality and intercommunal tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims are now very high. Meanwhile in the provinces, rival militia groups are gathering to march toward Bangui, deliberately seeking violent confrontation. Until now, international forces have managed to prevent some of the combatants from reaching the capital, but the latter have not abandoned their aim of destabilising the transition. While Bangui continues to experience daily murders and sporadic surges of violence, elections are scheduled to go ahead in December.

With militiamen in control of several neighbourhoods of the capital, and intercommunal tensions spreading to the west and central regions of the country, the immediate priority must be to loosen the grip of armed groups. A French military intervention in December 2013 allowed the instalment of a transitional government that is now supported by around 900 French troops and 10,000 UN stabilisation forces; their numbers should be rapidly increased.

A new consensus around the electoral process is also needed, based on a realistic assessment of the security situation. A constitutional referendum is now slated for 6 December and a two-stage presidential election due in late December and in January. Despite numerous warnings from the electoral commission and civil society actors, the international community prefers an election at any cost to turn the page of the transition. Yet a rushed organisation of elections advocated by the international community will only further fuel instability. The elections should be delayed until 2016 in order for them to be held in a climate of peace.

The latest cycle of violent intercommunal clashes began at the end of September, when a Muslim motorcycle-taxi driver was killed in Bangui. The call for protests by some civil society leaders and widespread looting generated an atmosphere of insecurity exploited by leaders of rival militias. The September events killed about 70 people, injured hundreds and displaced over 40,000. They also stoked up anger toward the transitional government and the international presence in the country.

The crisis in CAR is characterised by sporadic surges of violence against a backdrop of state disintegration and deep inter-ethnic cleavages. Armed groups, including rival factions known as anti-balaka and ex-Seleka, are fragmenting and becoming criminalised. This is compounded by growing conflict between armed communities. In areas with frequent intercommunal clashes, ex-Seleka combatants are seen as the protectors of Muslims and anti-balaka fighters as the defenders of Christian communities. By contrast, communities in other parts of the country are keeping their distance from armed groups.

The roadmap for the transition – which planned for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of militiamen after the May 2015 Bangui Forum and before the elections – is now completely off track. The Bangui Forum’s recommendations have not yet been implemented, primarily due to a lack of means, political will, and consensus among armed groups and within CAR’s political elites. The DDR process has been pushed back until after the elections, and the elections themselves are plagued by technical and financial issues as well as security and political concerns.

The violence that engulfed Bangui in late September and the ensuing demonstrations all occurred while CAR transitional President Catherine Samba Panza was in New York to participate in a side meeting on the crisis in CAR during the UN General Assembly. The timing of the unrest reveals the destabilisation strategy and opportunism of certain politicians and civil society actors – including anti-balaka supporters of former President Francois Bozizé and affiliates of the ex-Seleka close to Nourredine Adam. Even so, the civil disturbances must be taken seriously as they reflect strong dissatisfaction among the wider public. The international forces in CAR are criticised for not managing to secure the capital or the country’s main road, while ordinary people are dissatisfied with transitional government leaders, who promised a lot at the Bangui Forum but delivered little.

The political and communal impasse risks triggering a new flare-up. In fact, groups of ex-Seleka combatants close to Adam and his Popular Front for the Rebirth of the Central African Republic, FPRC, have been assembling since June 2015 near Kaga-Bandoro, more than 300km north-east of Bangui. They tried in early October to reach the capital, using alternative routes to avoid cities under the control of international forces. International forces clashed with the ex-Seleka combatants on 10 and 11 October, halting the fighters’ advance a few kilometres from Sibut, located 150km north-east of Bangui.

While these clashes caused several casualties within the rebel ranks, the destabilising capacity of these armed groups remains relatively intact and preparations for new attacks are likely underway. Several groups of anti-balaka militiamen, in turn, are assembling in several cities in the west of the country, including Bossangoa, 250km north-east of Bangui, and Berberati, in the south west. Their objective is to reach the capital to provide support to the young anti-balaka militants and chase Muslims out of Bangui. Some of them in fact took part in the violence in Bangui at the end of September.

The spread of intercommunal clashes is the principal risk in CAR, not a coup. The international community’s focus on organising elections as soon as possible is thus the wrong objective. Rushing into elections in December 2015 was opposed by CAR’s National Electoral Authority president, who resigned. This election calendar is neither safe nor feasible. Before any polls, international actors and the Samba Panza government should form a genuine partnership to create the technical, political and security conditions necessary to make them transparent, free and inclusive.

To avoid an intensification of tensions and violence between armed groups, and to ensure a peaceful climate conducive to elections, Crisis Group recommends that the following measures be rapidly implemented by CAR authorities and international partners:

• Strengthen the international forces by increasing the number of French troops (the most effective force on the ground) and UN forces, and by increasing their crowd-control capacity;

• Initiate the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration program with willing armed groups;

• Arrest militia leaders who refuse to disarm and try leaders of the anti-balaka and ex-Seleka suspected of involvement in the recent upsurge in violence;

• Delay elections to the first half of 2016;

• Finalise the electoral budget, clearly formulate the eligibility criteria and appeals process for candidates in legislative and presidential elections, and publicly uphold the right to vote for CAR’s Muslim population; and

• Promote reconciliation efforts between communities, specifically through the revitalisation of economic exchanges at the local level, the announcement of development plans for peripheral regions of the country, and the preparation of a massive investment plan in the education sector, which should include teaching about tolerance.

This article was updated on 4 November 2015. It is an English version of the article originally published in French as “Centrafrique: éviter la surchauffe électorale” on 19 October 2015.

Contributors

Senior Consultant, Central Africa
Consulting Senior Analyst, Central Africa