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Central African Republic: Anatomy of a Phantom State
Central African Republic: Anatomy of a Phantom State
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Central African Republic: Preventing a New Attempt at Destabilisation
Central African Republic: Preventing a New Attempt at Destabilisation
Report 136 / Africa

Central African Republic: Anatomy of a Phantom State

The Central African Republic (CAR) is if anything worse than a failed state: it has become virtually a phantom state, lacking any meaningful institutional capacity at least since the fall of Emperor Bokassa in 1979.

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Executive Summary

The Central African Republic (CAR) is if anything worse than a failed state: it has become virtually a phantom state, lacking any meaningful institutional capacity at least since the fall of Emperor Bokassa in 1979. The recently approved European Union (EU) and UN forces (EUFOR and MINURCAT), which are to complement the African Union(AU)/UN effort in Darfur, can make an important contribution to helping the CAR begin the long, slow process of getting to its feet but to do so it must find a way to make use of the strengths of the former colonial power, France, without merely serving as international cover for Paris’s continued domination.

The CAR has been formally independent for nearly a half century but its government first gained a measure of popular legitimacy through free elections only in 1993. The democratisation process soon ran aground due to newly manipulated communal divisions between the people living along the river and those of the savannah, which plunged the country into civil war. Through a succession of mutinies and rebellions which have produced a permanent crisis, the government has lost its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Foreign troops mostly contain the violence in the capital, Bangui, but the north is desperate and destitute, and in a state of permanent insecurity.

By privatising the state for their own benefit, the CAR’s leaders are able to prosper, while using repression to ensure impunity. François Bozizé was brought to power in 2003 by France and Chad and democratically elected two years later but, like his predecessor, Ange-Félix Patassé, he has provoked a state of permanent rebellion with disastrous humanitarian consequences. Since the summer of 2005, the army and particularly the Presidential Guard – essentially a tribal militia – have committed widespread acts of brutality in Patassé’s north west stronghold. Hundreds of civilians have been summarily executed and thousands of homes have been burned. At least 100,000 people have fled to forest hideouts, where they are exposed to the elements.

The EU peacekeeping force, mandated by the UN Security Council to assist in securing refugee camps at the border with Darfur, is to be deployed in early 2008 to north eastern CAR and eastern Chad. The initiative for this operation comes from France, which has persuaded its partners to prevent the conflict ravaging western Sudan from spilling over international borders by complementing the hybrid AU/UN mission to Darfur itself.

Like Darfur, the Vakaga province of CAR, is geographically remote, historically marginalised and, above all, neglected by a central administration whose only response to political unrest has been the imposition of military control. In their efforts to contain any spillover of political unrest from Darfur, the international community runs the risk of allowing President Bozizé’s regime to shirk its responsibilities and maintain the current cycle of instability in the CAR.

The EU deployment will carry a heavy post-colonial burden. Like in Chad, France, as the former colonial power, is at the same time the worst and best placed to intervene in CAR: the worst placed because of its almost continual past interference post-independence and the best placed because it has both the will and the means to act. Since Paris will continue to supply most of EUFOR’s muscle, the new arrangement is largely perceived as a change of badge and helmet to give the French military’s role greater international legitimacy. Nevertheless, EUFOR could make an important contribution if it carries forward a badly needed reform of the CAR military and if it is coordinated with an EU comprehensive strategy to take the country out of its current political, economic and security quagmire.

If the CAR’s many structural problems are to be solved, however, all actors will need to be committed: the government in Bangui, the rebel movements, African regional bodies and the Security Council, as well as the EU and France. It might be the last chance for the CAR to break out of its phantom status before any pretence of its independence and sovereignty disappears in the vicious circle of state failure, violence and growing poverty in which it has been trapped.

This broad background report is Crisis Group’s first on the CAR and lays the foundation for subsequent, more narrowly focused analysis of specific issues.

Nairobi/Brussels, 13 December 2007

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

En Centrafrique, le statu quo qui a suivi l'investiture du président Touadéra en mars 2016 est déjà remis en cause. Les tensions montent tandis que le blocage est total sur l’accord de désarmement, démobilisation et réinsertion, nœud gordien de la crise centrafricaine. Tout doit être mis en œuvre lors de la conférence des donateurs pour la Centrafrique, qui se déroule le 17 novembre à Bruxelles, pour éviter une nouvelle tentative de déstabilisation, voire un renversement du pouvoir.

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.