Central African Republic: the flawed international response
Central African Republic: the flawed international response
Fixing the army is key for CAR’s stability
Fixing the army is key for CAR’s stability
Op-Ed / Africa 7 minutes

Central African Republic: the flawed international response

The United Nations Security Council decided on 10 April to deploy a peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) which will take over the mission of the African Union (MISCA), which itself succeeded the mission of the Economic Community of Central African States (MICOPAX). Resolution 2149 authorises the deployment of the Multidimensional Integrated Mission of the United Nations for Stabilisation in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), including an initial force of approximately 12,000 men. On September 15, MINUSCA will officially replace MISCA, in terms of troops on the ground and allocated to the mission.

The resolution aims in the first place to protect the population and accelerate the political process of exit from the crisis through elections. The transfer of management of the CAR crisis to the UN—a decision in which France exercised full weight—is the solution of last resort after entrusting this task to the ECCAS and the AU. Recourse to a UN peacekeeping mission offers logistical and financial advantages and above all enables the deployment of a range of techniques and resources that are lacking in African organisations.

Succession of missions = succession of failures

The MICOPAX was created in 2008, the MISCA succeeded it in 2013 and the MINUSCA will succeed it in 2014. Between the last two, the EU has been deploying a "bridging mission" of 800 men since April (EUFOR RCA). But before MICOPAX, MISCA and EUFOR RCA, there were MISAB (1997), FOMUC (2002), MINURCAT (2007) and EUFOR Tchad-RCA (2007). This impressive series of peacekeeping missions is an admission of failure. Ministering to the CAR for many years, the international community has been unable to arrest its fall into violence. MICOPAX, which had a mandate to interpose itself between the rebels and the capital, did not do so in March 2013 and MISCA remained largely passive, faced with the violence of the Seleka and the emergence of the anti-balaka militias.

The international community plays its last card with resolution 2149, continuing its strategy of Russian dolls: each peacekeeping mission is absorbed by a larger mission, as if the answer to the CAR crisis were reducible to a problem of force numbers. Unfortunately, so far, doubling each time the number of men (3,000 to 6,000 passing from MICOPAX to MISCA, then 6,000 to 12,000 from MISCA to MINUSCA) has not been sufficient to influence the course of events. In the CAR, for too long, peacekeeping missions, rather than being the tool of the strategy, have been the strategy.

Responsibility to protect

The new mission of the UN definitely falls under the ambit of the responsibility to protect. Article 30a, which details the protection of civilians, leaves no doubt about the fact that this mission will be equipped with a chapter VII mandate, authorising the use of force to protect the civilian population. In this perspective, the resolution also emphasises the fight against impunity as a task shared by the transitional authorities and the international community. MINUSCA will contribute to the identification and arrest of the perpetrators of human-rights violations (article 30e and f), so that they are brought before national or international justice. In this capacity, the mission will be charged with working alongside institutional and non-institutional justice arrangements—the latter often particularly important to communities in Africa. It should help re-establish the CAR penal system (article 30f ii and iii) but also support local initiatives for dialogue, mediation and reconciliation, in co-operation with civil-society and religious organisations and the transitional authorities (article 30b iv).

All the investigative machinery available seems to have been envisaged by the UN. In addition to an independent expert, an international commission of inquiry has been created and deployed and the human-rights unit of the mission is also responsible for documenting crimes. Three entities of the UN are therefore assigned to the same task.

The resolution opens the door, albeit cautiously, to a police role for the mission on CAR territory. Article 40 states that, at the request of the authorities, "urgent temporary measures … limited in scope ... to maintain basic law and order and fight impunity" could be put in place by MINUSCA.

Not only does the resolution make protection of civilians a priority and envisage action on behalf of national authorities to make this protection effective, but it also brings some other good news. Though it is particularly timid in the “statebuilding” arena, it emphasises the urgency of funding the transitional authorities (article 9) and the need to clean up the public finances (article 11 recommends establishing "mechanisms to strengthen public financial management and accountability, including revenue collection, expenditure controls, public procurement and concession practices"). Finally, it envisages the possible creation of a mechanism for international support of the transition (article 10), recalling the Committee of Ambassadors in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the transition there (2003-06).

Tools without strategy

To turn the laudable goals of this resolution into action may however prove particularly difficult, for two reasons: a foreseeable shortfall of resources and recourse to largely worn-out tools.

To contain the crisis, the resolution borrows from many others a sadly familiar panoply, namely: the introduction of an embargo on arms, a sanctions regime, a DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration) programme and a threat of prosecution of perpetrators of human-rights violations. The limitations of these devices are well known.

Supposed to permit the disarmament of combatants, the pacification of certain areas and their reintegration into civilian life, DDR is in reality more humanitarian assistance for veterans than a real strategy for restoration of order: above all, it distributes food to them and a few goods for their relocation. The announcement of its establishment produces a counter-productive effect: it generates an inflation of combatants and a proliferation of armed groups. If it were a deal of the type "arms for food", DDR would be acceptable but very often armed groups manage not to hand over their weapons while obtaining the food. Moreover, the R (reinsertion) of the programme is generally neglected and reduced to short training and has a very poor return. For all these reasons, demonstrated by some unfortunate experiences in the CAR and elsewhere, donors are reluctant to fund a new DDR.

The problem of the non-application of sanctions is also well known but for all that the resolution recommends recourse to the usual targeted measures. In effect, individual sanctions against the leader of Seleka, Michel Djotodia, and the former president, François Bozizé—the latter having been deposed by the former—were imposed by the AU in 2013 but they have not been respected, as shown by the many trips the two have made to several African countries. As for the arms embargo, it is difficult to imagine how the transitional authorities and MINUSCA could enforce it in a region where weapons have circulated for many years, borders are porous and controls are non-existent.

If there is no doubt that the UN is able to investigate human-rights violations and to identify their perpetrators, prosecuting them seems more unpredictable. The decision to prosecute belongs to the current national authorities and/or the International Criminal Court, which in both cases introduces considerations that are not only legal.

To address the causes of the crisis, MINUSCA intends to contribute to dialogue and restart the political process, limited in the resolution to the organisation of future elections. The electoral process planned for February 2015 also appears as wishful thinking. Given the security situation and the onset of the rainy season, it is very unlikely that elections can be held on that date. But above all, once again, the Security Council has opted for the inconsistent approach of "elections before institutions".

Indeed, although the Security Council is conscious of the collapse of the CAR state ("Expressing concern at the collapse of the already fragile administration which limits the ability of the new Transitional Authorities to govern", according to the preamble to the resolution), it wishes to accelerate the electoral process without a national administration and without giving MINUSCA a mandate for administrative reconstruction. In the matter of statebuilding, the role of MINUSCA is only to "promote and support the rapid extension of State authority" (article 30b vi). But this expression is meaningless in what was a ghost state before the crisis and is now the debris of a ruin. In as much as its coffers are empty and the problems of the CAR administration—such as the competence deficit, corruption and bad governance—have not been resolved, talk of extension of the authority of the state is a dangerous fiction. Elections look more like an exit strategy for the international actors involved in this crisis than a real political solution, in a context where the election is supposed to take place in a near-total institutional vacuum.

Moreover, if the need for reconstruction of the CAR state is recognised, but carefully avoided, the necessity of the reconstruction of the economy is completely ignored. Economic recovery is however a sine qua non of a return to stability. The young militiamen quickly need a socio-economic alternative, while the population of the CAR needs to feed itself, whether by cultivating (revival of the agricultural sector) or by having a job. Stimulating job creation, especially in agricultural production, is essential to stabilise the country.

To these shortcomings and omissions should be added a serious problem of mobilisation of resources for the bringing of MINUSCA into force. It has the advantage of not having to be created ex nihilo as it will inherit the 6,000 men of MISCA. Nevertheless, the doubling of staff will require a certain financial effort, in a context where UN missions are increasing more rapidly than the budget of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is growing.


The international community has recognised the severity of the crisis shaking the CAR and this is positive. Unfortunately, it is trying to respond in a Pavlovian manner, in reusing techniques that have proved their ineffectiveness and in thinking that the tool can replace the strategy.

It is particularly worrying that one year after the beginning of the crisis the international contact group (the UN, the EU, the AU, France and the United States) has not yet produced a clear and coherent vision to stabilise this country in free fall. Yet as long as there is not a consensual stabilisation strategy, peacekeeping missions in the CAR will only represent sticking plaster on the wound.


Former Senior Consultant, Central Africa
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Charlotte Arnaud
Former Central Africa Intern

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