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Central African Republic: Four Priorities for the New President
Central African Republic: Four Priorities for the New President
Twelve Points for the New African Union Commission Chairperson
Twelve Points for the New African Union Commission Chairperson
Faustin-Archange Touadera looks on at the start of a a live television debate on 12 February 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Commentary / Africa

Central African Republic: Four Priorities for the New President

An arduous three-year political transition came to an end in the Central African Republic (CAR) on 30 March with the inauguration of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, winner in the 14 February run-off presidential elections with almost 63 per cent of the vote. But the country’s crisis is far from over.

Overall voters flocked to the polls demonstrating their strong desire to turn a new page.

The new president enjoys strong support among the population but still faces many challenges on CAR’s long road to stability. While violence has abated in some cities including the capital, Bangui, nationals and outsiders alike should not forget about the deeply engrained drivers of conflict. The crisis that erupted at the end of 2012 – the country’s worst since independence – tore apart the social fabric. With the factors that led to it still unaddressed, CAR could backslide. Politicians and rebels are still able to mobilise youth in urban areas, violent crime is a daily reality for rural communities, and armed groups, especially the ex-Seleka (coalition of armed groups from northern CAR who seized power in 2013), still control swathes of territory and could cause more trouble.

At this delicate juncture, the new president has his work cut out. He will have to break with his predecessors and put an end to political patronage, which over the last 30 years has contributed to the erosion of state institutions and the economy. He will have to fight impunity for violent and economic crimes. With the support of international partners, he will also have to revive economic activity to provide unemployed youth alternatives to violence. But as a new political chapter begins, the government and international community should focus their efforts on four critical issues: advancing reconciliation, developing a strategy to help refugees return home, fighting impunity and resolving the thorny question of what to do with the armed groups.

A New Political Chapter Presents Risks and Opportunities

The presidential and legislative elections at the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 raised expectations across the country, as witnessed by Crisis Group in Bangui in March. Though the turnout dropped considerably in the second round legislative and presidential polls (and their chaotic organisation raised concerns for the credibility of the results), overall voters flocked to the polls demonstrating their strong desire to turn a new page. This new political chapter carries several risks, but also presents a long-awaited opportunity for CAR to strengthen its democratic institutions and practices. Parliament, which now comprises many members who stood as independents and who come from minor political parties, could transform from the ruling party’s rubber stamp into a genuinely democratic space. While Touadéra can rely on the parties that backed him in the run-off vote and some independent MPs seem to have rallied around him, he will have to win over more to secure the majority he needs to govern effectively.

Despite his popularity, from the outset Touadéra will have to deal with many grievances. He will have to distance himself from several unsavoury supporters – including allies of former President Bozizé some of whom who played a role in mobilising anti-balaka militias – while still retaining the support of those who had been loyal to Bozizé’s Kwa na Kwa party. The appointment as prime minister of Simplice Sarandji, former secretary general of the University of Bangui and former head of cabinet during Touadéra’s own time as PM, is an encouraging sign. Similarly, the composition of the new government avoided some pitfalls. Touadéra used appointments to thank several people for their support in the second round, including Jean-Serge Bokassa, now minister of the interior, public security and territorial administration, and Charles Amel Doubane, now foreign minister. He brought in several of Bozizé’s former ministers, appointing one his vice president, while excluding leaders of armed groups and their supporters – a move quickly criticised by ex-Seleka barons. The appointment of advisors will be his next big test. Though under considerable pressure, he should stick to his principles and, to avoid repeating his predecessors’ mistakes, refrain from co-opting rebels.

Map of the Central African Republic

National Reconciliation: CAR’s “Rubik’s Cube”

The crisis revealed strong communal tensions, some of which have deep historical roots. Today, national reconciliation and social cohesion have become much-repeated slogans. Even some armed groups have expressed a desire to be involved, albeit with some cynicism. Reconciliation, however, will take a long time. Questions of national identity and citizenship, which came violently to the fore during the crisis, are still unresolved. And intercommunal violence continues, as seen in March and April both in Bambari in the centre of the country and between herders and farmers in the north west.

Today, national reconciliation and social cohesion have become much-repeated slogans.

More than anything reconciliation needs a strong political push at the national level. In this regard, much can be learned from the Pope’s visit to Bangui in November 2015. Hundreds of citizens of all denominations followed the Pope on his walk from the central mosque to the stadium, demonstrating that it is possible to remake connections with the population by going out to meet them. In March 2016, the new president’s visits to Obo in the far south east and to north-eastern Vakaga region, places where locals have long been cut off from the rest of the country and divorced from central authority, certainly send a positive message of national cohesion.

But much more will be needed to rebuild trust between the capital and the periphery. The government could make powerful symbolic gestures like holding the 1 December national celebration in the north east, from where many ex-Seleka combatants come. It could recognise Muslim celebrations as public holidays, satisfying a longstanding demand of the Muslim community, or create programs to integrate citizens from different regions into senior positions in the civil service. Changing the relationship between Bangui where power is concentrated and the provinces is crucial. Touadéra’s proposed decentralisation policy is in line with the recommendations of the May 2015 Bangui forum on national reconciliation, but the state is still too weak and too poor to implement it.

Nevertheless, the state must invest time and energy in territory outside the capital. It could increase the time members of parliament spend in their constituencies, establish resident-ministers (who live in the provinces they represent), or fund local reconstruction committees which could bring together local authorities, economic actors and civil society.

Young people in CAR are less educated than their parents, making them more vulnerable to mobilisation by armed groups and manipulation by politicians.

To avoid further violent outbreaks, Touadéra should invest in education, a sector which, as former rector of the University of Bangui, he knows well and one that could be a powerful driver of stronger cohesion in society. To ensure CAR remains stable, he should make rebuilding the education sector, including in neglected regions, a national priority. The president and prime minister’s former university positions will certainly be assets in this regard. The education sector has been in decline for a long time. Young people in CAR are less educated than their parents, making them more vulnerable to mobilisation by armed groups and manipulation by politicians. Even before the crisis, the education budget was dismal. In 2008, it accounted for only 15 per cent of expenditure (excluding debt servicing), compared to 28 per cent in 1996. Teachers were poorly qualified and badly paid and many failed to show up for work. Classes were often taught by parents on a voluntary basis. The crisis that began in 2012 dealt an additional blow to the sector, forcing many schools throughout the country to close.

As the Global Partnership for Education, a multilateral financing mechanism for primary and secondary education, prepares a review of the education sector, international partners and the education ministry should focus on long-term goals. They should develop a ten-year sector-wide plan which includes rebuilding destroyed schools, creating training centres for teachers, increasing their salaries and capacity building programs for government departments responsible for the education system. The government should also review the curriculum, and focus on post-conflict education by including courses on intercommunal tolerance and reconciliation. Psychosocial services should also be offered out of school to children who have experienced trauma. Finally, alternative education and training pathways should be developed for young people who have never been to school, including those who joined armed groups.

A Strategy to Help Refugees Return Home

During his first official visits to neighbouring countries, the new president spoke several times about CAR’s refugee problem – an essential piece of the national reconciliation puzzle. Today, there are some 466,000 refugees from CAR who have found safety in Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and some 421,000 internally displaced people – together about one fifth of the population. The permanent relocation of Muslims fleeing attacks in the west by the anti-balaka (created as self-defence groups, many of the anti-balaka attacked Muslim communities while some others turned into banditry) to cities like Bambari, Bria or Ndélé in the east where ex-Seleka hold sway has in some cases changed the demographic balance in those places. The crisis has also created ethnic or religious borders within some cities and transformed formerly mixed neighbourhoods into religiously-homogeneous ones, such as the ones on the edge of PK5 district in Bangui. The refugee situation is even more problematic. There is still no overall strategy for accompanying and supporting refugees who want to return, which could cause tensions in the future.

In some cities like Bossangoa the hostility of Christians and animists toward Muslims makes their return impossible for now.

Refugees are reluctant to return primarily because they feel it would be too dangerous – justifiably so – and because they have lost property and land. Some have started coming back: traders who fled to Chad are returning to Bangui and, more cautiously, to the west, and some Fulani herders are going back to Boali, about 100km north of Bangui. But in some cities like Bossangoa the hostility of Christians and animists toward Muslims makes their return impossible for now. In the west several houses belonging to Muslims have been occupied or destroyed. Buying houses and land in the provinces is often informal, validated only by neighbourhood chiefs and sometimes the mayor, without official documentation or registration. The partiality of some neighbourhood chiefs and communal pressures on them could make it more difficult for the original owners to reclaim their properties. In Bangui, while many Muslim traders have gone back to work in PK5, in other markets, such as those in the “combatant” neighbourhood, young residents have taken over the trading areas formerly held by Muslims and returning Muslims have had difficulty getting back their business permits.

With the help of NGOs and UN agencies, the authorities should propose a pilot program to protect Muslim properties in select cities in the west, security permitting. They should also find out where refugees in Cameroon or Chad wish to return to and then engage with local authorities to determine where and under what conditions this would be possible. On this basis, the government, with donor support, should propose a plan to provide socio-economic support to returning refugees wishing to resettle and pick up their lives. Mending the communal rift requires reactivating the economic exchanges that existed before the crisis, which were the foundation of social relations between communities.

Fighting Impunity

In his inaugural speech the president underlined that the fight against impunity was a central concern. Citizens demand justice, as numerous testimonies collected in consultations before the Bangui forum made clear. While essential, it will be hard to achieve. In twenty years of successive crises, deadly rebellions and violent uprisings by the presidential guard, only a handful of individuals have been brought to justice and armed groups remain strong. This near-total impunity is the result of a longstanding political practice that has rewarded violence and favoured political over judicial processes, and of a judicial system now in ruins.

Before the crisis, CAR, a country of almost five million people, had only 129 magistrates and the judiciary’s budget was meagre. The situation has further deteriorated as many courts and police stations were destroyed during the violence. Prisons, police stations and detention centres are severely underequipped and the entire penal system needs rebuilding. Donors (including the European Union and the UN Development Programme) have helped repair the justice sector and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has arrested some criminals in temporary emergency measures. As further evidence of the challenges ahead, however, arrested militia members have sometimes been released for lack of evidence. Today, out of the three appeals courts in CAR empowered to try serious crimes (in Bangui, Bambari and Bouar), two have almost stopped functioning. In Bambari part of the justice system is still run by armed groups, whose members loiter just outside the court. In Bouar, as in most of the 24 provincial courts, magistrates are rarely present: “magistrates prefer to stay in Bangui either out of comfort or fear of retaliation”, an expert explained.

Countering impunity must go beyond violent crime and address economic and financial crimes and state predation.

Some attempts have been made to put right the judicial system’s flaws. In September 2014, the office of the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into crimes committed since 2012, but has so far issued no arrest warrant. After almost one year since former interim President Catherine Samba Panza signed into law a bill to create a special criminal court comprising national and international judges, the court is still not operational, partly due to insufficient funding.

Countering impunity must go beyond violent crime and address economic and financial crimes and state predation, which played a major role in precipitating the crisis (see Crisis Group’s report, The Central African Crisis: From Predation to Stabilisation). In the past few years, only three or four high-level civil servants have been sanctioned for embezzling state funds, mostly money from international partners. Some of them have been given positions in other departments. To break with this system that contributed to the gradual collapse of the state, the new authorities should sanction harshly the architects of corruption and the judiciary should take responsibility for future cases.

The Thorny Question of Armed Groups

Touadéra took the reins of the country in a security context undoubtedly less explosive than when Samba Panza took control in 2014, but the situation remains worrying. The problem of armed groups is far from resolved. While their capacity is diminished, many have now branched out into rural banditry, multiplying criminal rackets in local markets. Ex-Seleka factions maintain a hold on large areas and disarmament is lagging; only a small minority of rebels have handed in their weapons in a pre-disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) program. Given this situation, the withdrawal of French Sangaris forces in 2016 (a smaller military force of 300 soldiers should remain) is concerning for several reasons. Of all the peacekeeping operations deployed in the country in recent years, the Sangaris mission, seen as a safety net for the capital, has undoubtedly been the best deterrent against violence. MINUSCA is unlikely to be able to compensate for the Sangaris’ absence and may find it harder to exert vital military pressure on armed groups.

The new authorities should break with the recent practice of legitimising armed groups. Although these groups never transformed into political parties, they are undeniably influential actors on the political scene. During the transition, international partners and the authorities opted for the usual compromise: negotiate and give armed groups political space. Several anti-balaka and Seleka leaders were included in the political process; Djono, Hissene, Wenezaoui, Leopold Bara and others were ministers even under the presidency of Samba Panza. At the July 2014 Brazzaville summit, the international community even demanded that these groups be more rigorously structured so that they become reliable interlocutors (though they never were). And international partners, including the UN, promised armed group leaders in 2013 that their combatants would be integrated into the army. These measures accentuated the very problems they sought to resolve by raising armed groups’ legitimacy and expectations.

The solutions must come from within the country and have strong national ownership.

Today, many militia leaders see DDR as a large-scale army recruitment operation, rather than an economic reintegration scheme for combatants. “DDR is a medical visit”, a well-known anti-balaka leader told us in Bangui, “those who are able-bodied join the army, and the minority left behind are offered another job”. One former Seleka leader who left the armed movement said “armed groups fantasise about DDR; many will be disappointed”. While Touadéra has already begun talks with these groups, he should tell them honestly that it is impossible to integrate their troops into the army. The international community should support this approach. Otherwise there is a risk of turning the army, which already includes some former rebels, into a medley of militia forces.

As highlighted in Crisis Group’s September 2015 report Central African Republic: The Roots of Violence, a strategy centred on DDR programs should be left behind in favour of a disarmament policy formulated around the wider fight against trafficking and major development projects to reduce the appeal of the war economy. As the latest clashes in April near Bouar demonstrated, control over resources, specifically precious minerals, is at the heart of the problem. MINUSCA should deploy international forces in the main diamond and gold mining sites to allow CAR’s public servants to take up positions in the provinces and eventually help to revive the Kimberly process certification mechanisms, even in the east.

Ending the crisis in CAR will likely be long and challenging. The solutions must come from within the country and have strong national ownership. While the government needs to set out the roadmap, the international community – avoiding the mistake of confusing elections with the end of the crisis – should commit to providing constant and long-term support.

Moussa Faki, former Chadian Foreign Minister and the new African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson, speaks during an interview at the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 31 January 2017. AFP/ Zacharias Abubeker.
Statement / Africa

Twelve Points for the New African Union Commission Chairperson

Africa is experiencing the highest number of humanitarian crises since the 1990s. As the new chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, takes office, International Crisis Group suggests how he can strengthen the organisation’s response to threats to continental peace and security.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the new chair of the African Union Commission (AUC), takes office in mid-March as the continent faces its worst spate of humanitarian crises since the 1990s. The most alarming is in the Lake Chad basin where more than eleven million people need emergency aid. In Somalia, 6.2 million (almost half the population) face acute food shortages and in South Sudan, where the UN recently declared a famine, nearly 5 million are severely food insecure. The suffering is largely man-made: the effects of drought have been exacerbated by prolonged wars and mass displacement.

More promisingly, Gambia’s peaceful transition, negotiated by the Economic Community of West African States with AU support, is one of the steps toward democracy and rule of law being taken in much of the continent. Whether these gains can be multiplied across Africa depends on how well Mr Faki, Chad’s former foreign minister, will use the tools at his disposal to persuade member states to address the triggers and longer-term drivers of conflict: fraught electoral processes; leaders who refuse to leave office as scheduled; corrupt, authoritarian or repressive governments; population growth; joblessness and climate change. These same forces precipitate two other major continental challenges, migration and the threat from religious extremists and other violent non-state groups.

Mr Faki arrives at a time of upheaval for the AU. At January’s summit, heads of state agreed to proposals from Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame that the organisation should focus only on a limited number of key priorities with continental scope, such as political affairs, peace and security and continental integration, and that institutional structures should be redesigned to reflect this. He will have to carefully manage this radical reform, as well as Morocco’s recent re-admission, to avoid aggravating existing tensions and divisions and maintain morale in a beleaguered secretariat.

The geopolitical context for multilateral diplomacy is also changing rapidly. The influence of China, the Gulf states and Turkey (especially in the Horn, the Sahel and North Africa) cannot be ignored. Growing nationalism in Europe and the uncertainty of U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies have created new concerns. There are opportunities here for the AU along with challenges, but to take advantage of them, Mr Faki will have to push it and its member states to take greater responsibility, both politically and financially, for conflict prevention and resolution. Crisis Group offers below ideas on how the new chair of the AUC can drive change and revitalise key relationships so as to strengthen the AU’s response to threats to continental peace and security, as well as suggestions for how the organisation can help prevent conflict escalating and move peace processes forward.

Strategic Direction

1. Build support for a stronger, more self-sufficient union

In a deeply unstable global environment, with old power centres in disarray and Middle East rivalries infecting the continent, African multilateral diplomacy is more necessary than ever. The new chair’s challenge is to convince member states of the AU’s worth, in particular the value of its peace and security architecture. That leaders signed on to a bold reform agenda would seem to suggest they want a more effective AU. But for the process to be truly transformative, they must make tough choices on sovereignty, and the tensions between popular aspirations for more open government and the authoritarian tendencies of many of those governments.

There are opportunities here for the AU along with challenges, but to take advantage of them, Mr Faki will have to push it and its member states to take greater responsibility.

Working closely with presidents Kagame, Idriss Déby (Chad) and Alpha Condé (Guinea), the troika appointed to supervise implementation of the reforms, Mr Faki should build a coalition of leaders representing each region, who are committed to reform. But, building political support for a stronger AU will not be enough. Member states also need to provide adequate funding. Aside from the loss of credibility and ownership that reliance on external donors brings, the AU can no longer count on the same levels of external financing from the U.S. and Europe. The AUC’s ability to work effectively depends on member states willingness to implement the July 2016 summit decision for a 0.2 per cent levy on imports, with proceeds going to the AU. Only a handful of states have begun to enact the tax into law. Mr Faki should provide full support to the AU’s High Representative for the Peace Fund, Dr Donald Kaberuka, and encourage member states to fulfil their financial commitments. Those who pay only lip service to the idea of a stronger AU must recognise that without significant additional African financing, AU peace support operations will likely remain blocked from sustainable funding from UN assessed contributions as well.

2. Make effective use of the existing conflict prevention architecture

The AU has the tools necessary for conflict prevention but finds it difficult to use them effectively because of resource constraints and the great influence member states willing to play the sovereignty card to avoid scrutiny wield. Changing leaders’ thinking is hard, and Mr Faki should focus on building political support for conflict prevention among like-minded members. Even without such a coalition, there are ways to improve existing mechanisms. Translating data and analysis of the AU’s early warning system into early action has been hampered, in part, by the way information flows within the AUC and between it and the regional economic communities (RECs). The chair should break down AUC barriers, especially between the Political Affairs and Peace and Security departments.

Mediation mechanisms are fragmented, with little oversight and direction from the chair or the Peace and Security Council (PSC). Creation of the mediation support unit (MSU) has been a good first step, but Mr Faki must ensure it is well-staffed by skilled, experienced specialists. For it to be truly effective, all mediation activities, including those of the Panel of the Wise, special envoys and representatives, liaison offices and special political missions, should be under its purview. There is little transparency in how special envoys and representatives are selected. Mr Faki should work to change this as well as examine their performance and mandates, making changes where needed. He should also use the reform process either to reinvigorate or dispense with the Panel of the Wise. Likewise, he should engage more personally in preventative diplomacy, especially to unblock stalemated processes in Burundi, Central Africa Republic (CAR) and Mali, and work to build consensus at the local, regional, continental and wider international level so as to bring coherence to the efforts of all those involved in peacemaking. Mr Faki should understand the limitations of his office and bring respected former heads of state into the mediation process.

Many crises are predictable, especially those linked to poor governance and disputed political transitions. The effects of generational and demographic changes, the slow pace of economic growth in many countries and the persistence of repressive or authoritarian regimes mean we can expect increasing discontent and violent protest. Mr Faki must ensure that AUC fulfils its responsibility to alert the PSC to impending conflicts, engaging with affected member states and encouraging the PSC to put them on its agenda at the first signs of crisis. This will be uncomfortable and provoke backlash, but it cannot be avoided if the AU is serious about conflict prevention.

3. Strengthen the institution

The January summit adopted Kagame’s bold reform outline, which aims to streamline the AU, making it more efficient, focused and results oriented. The new chair is charged with realising these ambitions. This is not the first reform attempt; ten years ago an independent panel drew up a comprehensive program on which Kagame’s team drew heavily. Mr Faki must learn from previous failures by not rushing the process and building broad support by consulting widely within the AUC and with member states. He should push forward on the reforms linked to the most urgent needs (eg, implementing the PSC protocols and strengthening sanctions mechanisms) and which have the greatest consensus.

The AU’s relationship with the RECs, vital for effective conflict prevention and resolution, is often strained and competitive. The principles, rights and obligations governing this relationship are clearly set out in PSC Protocol (Article 16) and the 2007 memorandum of understanding. The chair should ensure these instruments are implemented. Some tension could be eased by more effective communication. Mr Faki should seek opportunities to work collaboratively with RECs and encourage direct, frequent exchanges at all levels during the lifecycle of a crisis. RECs should be consulted before major decisions, such as the selection of a special envoy or deployment of observers. Uncertainty regarding the principle of subsidiarity limits the AU’s its ability to intervene when regional peace processes stall, as in Burundi and South Sudan. He should use the reform process to establish comparative advantage, not subsidiarity, as the basis for the AU-RECs relationship.

4. Revitalise security partnerships

During the past decade, the AU has taken on a greater role in preventing and resolving conflicts. At the same time, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has increasingly delegated to it a central role in political management of Africa’s conflicts, in part due to a growing recognition that it cannot manage these crises alone. The AU’s confidence and capacity have increased, but it still relies on partners and donors to fund its peace and security activities and fill capacity gaps. As a result, relationships are often strained, sometimes blighted by mistrust and misunderstanding.

Collaboration with the UN, arguably the AU’s most important security partner, has increased, but room for improvement remains. Together with the UN Secretary-General, Mr Faki should ensure that UNSC and AU PSC agendas are more closely aligned and reflect the continent’s priorities. By preparing PSC positions ahead of major UNSC decisions, there is a greater chance Africa will speak with one voice and so increase its influence on decisions. Closer AU-UN cooperation, including collective assessments and joint field visits, would foster more understanding and help build common positions and a shared analysis. Mr Faki should take the lead in this area, setting the tone and direction for the rest of the commission.

The European Union (EU) is identifying its strategic interests in Africa, and Mr Faki should ensure the AU defines its interests so common security challenges can be determined. The EU is a vital partner, but the relationship was tested in 2016 by its decision to reallocate 20 per cent of its funding for the AU’s Somalia mission, AMISOM, and stop directly paying Burundian troops serving in it. The EU-Africa November summit in Côte d’Ivoire is an opportunity to renew the partnership, discuss priorities and confirm areas of cooperation. The migrant crisis and terrorism threat will likely reshape EU-AU relations and feature prominently there. The chair must try to counter EU desire to focus narrowly on unpromising short-term curbs of migration to Europe by emphasising the need to address the drivers of the exodus: war, poverty, repression and the youth bulge.

5. Beyond a military response to “violent extremism”

The past decade has shown the costs and limits of a military response to jihadist groups and other violent non-state actors, especially in the absence of a political strategy. Military action is sometimes a necessary part of a strategy – the efforts against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin and jihadists in Mali are cases in point – but recent history in Africa and elsewhere suggests governments cannot rely on coercion alone.

Military action is sometimes a necessary part of a strategy ... but recent history in Africa and elsewhere suggests governments cannot rely on coercion alone.

The AU and its member states must not overlook the conditions that enable jihadist groups and other violent non-state actors to thrive: distrust of the state, especially in the peripheries; declining state authority; underdevelopment and social deprivation; readily available weapons; and heavy-handed, ineffective security forces. Mr Faki should articulate a stronger focus on developing coherent plans for returning effective government to affected areas. The possibility of a U.S. return to heavier-handed counter-terrorism policies could encourage others to adopt similar approaches. This is especially dangerous in Africa, where rule of law is often weak or absent. The chair should remind leaders that in dealing with these groups they must not forget human rights obligations, and he should dissuade them from labelling all opponents as “terrorists” or “violent extremists”.

Major Crises

6. Burundi

Contrary to government claims, the crisis is far from over. Intimidation, disappearances and killings continue and could quickly escalate, infecting a volatile region. Exact causes and motivations are hard to judge, as authorities have made no serious attempt to investigate and have frustrated the efforts of others, including the AU. The government and ruling party are intent on unilaterally dismantling the gains of the Arusha process that ended the last civil war, of which the AU is guarantor, including all vestiges of genuine power sharing and the critical presidential term limit. Internal debate on the direction is not permitted. The stability and relative peace Burundi recently enjoyed was premised on political pluralism and respect for Arusha’s main tenants, notably power sharing. The current path is highly likely to increase violence if left unchecked; the government’s drive to change the constitution to allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to run again would undoubtedly be a major spark.

In December, Benjamin Mkapa, the East African Community-appointed mediator, spoke out against the opposition’s maximalist demand that the 2015 election result be revisited but did not balance this with criticism of the regime’s crackdown. The ruling party made no concessions and continues to refuse dialogue with exiled opposition.

The AU’s path is difficult, especially following its retreat from active engagement after the failed January 2016 attempt to send an AU peacekeeping mission. Mr Faki should personally re-engage the government, but he should hold to principled positions. The absence of PSC discussion makes it difficult for the AU to intervene, and the chairperson must encourage the PSC to put Burundi back on its agenda. The AU can support future mediation by clearly stating the current dangers, underlining that violence and intimidation is unacceptable, abuses must be investigated, and free, democratic debate is vital for stability. The AU should also emphasise that opposition violence is unacceptable and dangerous. Burundi’s future direction, including continued application of Arusha Agreement, should be freely debated by all parties.

7. Central African Republic

2016’s peaceful elections raised hopes of a longer-term resolution of the crisis that began in 2012. Yet, barely twelve months after President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s victory, little has changed. A fifth of the population is internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries, intercommunal tensions are high, and armed groups de facto control most of the country.

Though security in Bangui is improved, violence against civilians and fighting between armed groups have intensified in the provinces. In the east, ex-Seleka factions compete for territory and resources, triggering massive new displacement and strong anti-Fulani sentiment. In the west, the exclusionary “centrafricanité” concept that emerged in circles close to François Bozizé in 2013 and stigmatises Muslim as “foreigners”, prevents return of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The government, though legitimate, is not in full control and cannot respond to all the challenges. Little has been done at national level to advance reconciliation, and talks between the government and armed groups over disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration are blocked. Regional powers have organised several parallel initiatives to kick-start talks between armed groups, including meetings in 2016 in Chad and Angola. A proliferation of processes with unclear agendas could undermine attempts to persuade groups to disarm. All initiatives should support Touadera, who must develop a clear strategy for the negotiations, so that his government leads the process. The AU could be important in this, coordinating the initiatives and pushing armed groups to join the talks. A major challenge will be dealing with armed-group leaders – much of the population views their exclusion from government as a prerequisite for a sustainable solution.

8. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

The 31 December agreement brokered by the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO) calmed tensions resulting from the failure to hold elections the previous month. The deal was more inclusive than what the AU mediated in October and shortened the new date for the delayed polls from April 2018 to December 2017. But implementation is stalled over three issues: its timelines; appointment of the prime minister and composition of the interim government; and functioning of the oversight mechanism.

The death in February of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has suspended the talks, aiding the ruling majority, which consistently seeks to postpone elections. His loss deprives the Rassemblement, the main opposition coalition, of a genuinely popular leader able to cut deals, at a time when its inability to mobilise large protests undercut its legitimacy. The competition to replace Tshisekedi threatens the Rassemblement’s cohesion and could push the opposition to more hard-line positions.

The AU, in close cooperation with the region and the UN, should call on all parties to implement the 31 December agreement.

Armed conflict has displaced more than 2.2 million persons and is increasing in many provinces. In addition to the recurrent fighting in North Kivu, instability is spreading. In Kasai-Central, the August 2016 killing of a traditional chief by security forces has pitted militias against government forces and displaced some 200,000. In Tanganyika, fighting between the Twa (Pygmy) and Luba (Bantu) communities is taking an increasing toll and also affecting Haut-Katanga and Haut-Lomami provinces. Increased tension in Kongo-Central province directly affects the capital, Kinshasa. Rising insecurity is linked to a crisis of state legitimacy, combined with deepening economic crisis. All this makes the organisation of elections increasingly unlikely and creates real risk of an implosion.

The challenge is to ensure credible elections are held on schedule, and the constitution is respected. The AU, in close cooperation with the region and the UN, should call on all parties to implement the 31 December agreement and prioritise organising polls as soon as realistic. It should give full support as CENCO tries to keep the signatories on track. Mass violence remains a distinct possibility, the outcome of which could be state collapse and the entire region’s destabilisation. The PSC has taken a backseat on the DRC but needs to fully engage in attempts to broker a political transition.

9. Libya

The immediate priority remains preventing an escalation of violence. The country’s de-facto partition into eastern and western areas dominated by loose, fractious military coalitions has been reinforced by failure of the Libyan Political (Skhirat) Agreement. Escalation would most likely come from an advance on Tripoli by General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army, buoyed by their takeover of oil facilities in the Gulf of Sirte and the dwindling international consensus behind the Skhirat deal. This would provoke fierce fighting, particularly with Islamist militias in the capital and from Misrata. Preventing this probably requires Egypt and Russia to dissuade Haftar; even with foreign backing, he cannot conquer the entire country. Resetting Skhirat is essential. Direct talks are needed between the Tripoli-based Presidency Council and politicians from the east, leading toward a new, broader-based unity government. A parallel security track should include Haftar and major western armed groups.

But the diplomatic process is in limbo: the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, barely functions, and there is a lack of direction from major outside powers. Only Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia appear to be proposing new solutions, but Algeria and Tunisia support the GNA, while Egypt is close to Haftar. The three share security concerns but differ on how inclusive a negotiated solution should be, especially toward Islamists.

Time is not with the GNA. Electricity and water shortages, looming collapse of the health sector, shortages of local and foreign currency all have made life much tougher for ordinary Libyans. This gives GNA foes, especially Haftar, an opportunity. Signs of wider confrontation in the absence of a viable peace process abound, and local conflicts (for instance between Arabs, Tebus and Touaregs in the south and among Tripoli-based militias) are gaining importance.

The AU should support Algeria’s and Tunisia’s more inclusive approach and urge more pressure on Haftar from Egypt, whose legitimate interests must be accommodated. AU support might help impose a solution proposed by neighbours (ultimately bringing in Chad, Niger and Sudan) and help it gain wider support. At a time when the peace process lacks clear direction, encouraging consensus among neighbours could show the way for the UN and non-African powers.

10. Mali

With implementation stalling there is a real possibility the June 2015 Bamako peace agreement could dissolve. The Malian parties have little faith in the significantly flawed deal they were pressured to sign. Insecurity could increase with the fracturing of the main rebel coalition, the Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad, into new community-based armed groups. Jihadist organisations, like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Eddine, are still operating – striking provincial and district centres from rural bases. Insecurity is also rising in long neglected areas like central Mali, which is not covered by the northern peace process. The emergence of new groups, such as the Islamic State in the Great Sahara, and the possible incursion of defeated IS fighters from Libya further complicate the fraught security landscape.

The crisis is now spilling over borders. The G5 countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) thus announced the creation in February of a regional force to combat terrorism and transnational crime. The AU is well placed to give political and logistical support, as it does for the Multi-National Joint Task Force fighting Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin. But Mr Faki should push the G5 to take a realistic approach and work primarily on border security and improved intelligence sharing and to develop economic cooperation, not focus solely on military action.

A recent high-level Follow-up Committee meeting convened by the international mediation, was a last-ditch try to revive the peace process. It must not be squandered. Through Pierre Buyoya, the AU Special Representative, the chair should work with other partners to maintain momentum, focussing on relaunching the Mécanisme Opérationnel de Coordination (MOC) in northern Mali, including Kidal, and continuing to push for the newly-appointed interim authorities to start working effectively.

11. Somalia

Despite a fractious, fraudulent and corrupt electoral process beset by divisions and delays, Somalia elected a new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, with unprecedented cross-clan support. This is a chance for progress toward peace, economic prosperity and political stability. Expectations are inordinately high, however, and to avoid a backlash he must move swiftly on pledges to rebuild the security forces and state institutions, tackle corruption, improve justice and unify the country. His nationalist rhetoric, supported by Islamist factions in his government, threatens to antagonise powerful neighbours capable of undermining his administration. It is critical for Mr Faki to encourage discreet diplomacy and foster dialogue between Somalia and its neighbours, especially Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen.

Farmajo’s credibility and popular support improves the odds of progress in the government’s stalled national reconciliation process. A bottom-up approach has the greatest chance to produce lasting political settlements with and between federal member states. Mr Faki must seize this opportunity and encourage the new government to revive the process and help it mobilise technical and financial resources. Failure to reduce clan tensions and build sub-national administrations would create openings for Al-Shabaab and an emerging, albeit small, IS branch.

Failure to reduce clan tensions and build sub-national administrations would create openings for Al-Shabaab.

Despite significant successes against Al-Shabaab, AMISOM is struggling to win a guerrilla war it is ill-suited and inadequately resourced to fight. Internal challenges, national rivalries and frictions among troop contributing countries compound this problem, hampering military effectiveness. The AU should help to repair cohesion and encourage more realistic, strategic thinking in preparation for a well-managed drawdown framed around Somalia’s security sector needs. Hasty withdrawal would be disastrous for Somalia and the region.

12. South Sudan

Famine, driven by a deadly combination of conflict, economic crisis and drought, has left 100,000 on the verge of starvation with a million more at serious risk. Almost eighteen months since a peace agreement was signed, fighting, accompanied by atrocities, shows little sign of stopping in Equatorias, Upper Nile and Unity states. Fierce combat in Juba last July between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) forced ex-First Vice President Riek Machar to flee. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development and other major international actors have acquiesced in his exile and replacement by First Vice President Taban Deng Gai. Without Machar, the SPLM/A-IO is less cohesive, and new armed groups are emerging, while President Salva Kiir strengthens his position in the capital and the region.

Kiir’s December 2016 call for a renewed ceasefire and national dialogue presents an opportunity to promote negotiations between the government and parts of the armed opposition (including groups outside the transitional government) and to address the grievances of disaffected communities at the grassroots level. This will only succeed if the government is willing to negotiate fairly. Mr Faki should ensure that the AU High Representative Alpha Oumar Konaré receives the support needed to fulfil the mandate given him at the IGAD-UN-AU meeting in January 2017 to encourage all stakeholders to begin genuinely inclusive discussion on the scope and format of a national dialogue. He should also look for ways in which the AU and its partners can support local communities in this process, in particular by helping them formulate and articulate their complaints.

Under the August 2015 peace agreement, the AU is responsible for establishing the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, mandated to investigate and prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the recent civil war. Insecurity and severe restrictions on freedom of speech make it currently unfeasible to set up the court, but Mr Faki should ensure that preliminary work defining operation, funding and composition goes ahead and that the collection of evidence begins.