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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
In the Central African Republic, Peace Requires More Than a Bigger U.N. Force
In the Central African Republic, Peace Requires More Than a Bigger U.N. Force
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

Op-Ed / Africa

In the Central African Republic, Peace Requires More Than a Bigger U.N. Force

Originally published in World Politics Review

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.

On Nov. 15, the United Nations Security Council will meet to decide on the fate of the U.N. mission in Central African Republic, known by its acronym MINUSCA. In stark contrast to the debate over the U.N. mission in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, which the U.S. pushed to reduce last April after citing its ineffectiveness and cost, few in New York expect cuts to the Central African Republic (CAR) mission. 

To the contrary, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited CAR at the end of October and called for increasing the mission’s authorized troop ceiling, currently just over 12,000, by an additional 900 troops. Adama Dieng, his adviser on genocide prevention, and Stephen O’Brien, the undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, both also visited the country in recent months and warned of the escalating violence and a distressing humanitarian catastrophe there. The troubling situation and the pockets of success the U.N. force has achieved so far have left the U.S. relatively favorably disposed to increasing troop numbers, despite serious concerns over allegations of sexual abuse by some contingents. 

The U.N. mission is in an increasingly complicated position on the ground. Having made some gains in late 2016 and early 2017 by pushing armed groups out of some towns and deterring some attacks, the U.N. force has since appeared overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis as well as by its own rigidity. Poor mobility—the mission has two operational helicopters in a country larger than France—a lack of intelligence, and an unwillingness to react quickly when such intelligence is available have rendered it ineffective in the face of rising violence among competing militias. 

This has put the U.N. under intense pressure in the capital, Bangui. When Guterres spoke to CAR’s parliament on Oct. 27, government and opposition politicians managed a rare moment of unity, criticizing the U.N. for its passivity and, according to some, even complicity in the face of the violence. Aside from wanting a far more proactive posture from the U.N., the parliamentarians want to see CAR’s national army up and running, despite slow progress on training and its history of incompetence and abuse. Guterres, sensing the mood, acknowledged that the army would start deploying soon. Unless his U.N. force can up its game, calls for ever greater—and ever riskier—deployment of the national army will increase.

The U.N. force certainly needs more troops, and the Security Council should increase the ceiling. It also needs greater mobility and a stronger willingness to react quickly and decisively. But these measures alone would still limit the U.N. mission to merely putting out fires. The U.N., and other international actors, also need to address the incentive structure that is driving the violence.

Read the full article at: World Politics Review