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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
What Does Opposition Leader Tshisekedi’s Death Mean for DR Congo’s Road to Elections?
What Does Opposition Leader Tshisekedi’s Death Mean for DR Congo’s Road to Elections?
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

Op-Ed / Africa

What Does Opposition Leader Tshisekedi’s Death Mean for DR Congo’s Road to Elections?

Originally published in African Arguments

The death of the veteran politician deprives the opposition of a well-known rallying figure. Without him, uncertainty and growing popular anger are likely to lead to more instability.

The death of prominent opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has deprived the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of a unique political figure who was at the forefront of the fight for democracy for over three decades.

His loss is a major blow to the main opposition coalition, the Rassemblement, which he led alongside the relative newcomer, ex-Katanga Governor Moïse Katumbi. It also undermines the DRC’s faltering transition and may play into the hands of the ruling majority that has consistently sought to delay elections.

As popular anger mounts, the opposition will have to work hard to rebuild a credible leadership

Coming just a month after the signing of a political agreement, which would have put him at the head of an important follow-up committee, his departure robs the opposition of a leader able to combine genuine street-level popularity with an ability to squeeze out political deals. As popular anger mounts, the opposition will have to work hard to rebuild a credible leadership, capable of concluding a deal with the majority.

A fragmented opposition loses its figurehead

The 84-year-old Etienne Tshisekedi launched the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) opposition party in 1982 and built a strong following in his native Kasai region and in the capital Kinshasa. He symbolised the struggle for democracy in the waning days of the President Mobutu Sese Seko regime. He also opposed President Laurent Kabila, who overthrew Mobutu in 1997, and his son Joseph Kabila, the current president.

Unable to resist the populist option, he made a strategic error when he boycotted the relatively credible 2006 elections. In 2011, he ended up coming second in a hard-fought but less credible election, and did not accept the result, proclaiming himself president in a parallel swearing in ceremony.

In more recent years, despite living abroad, he again became the symbolic figurehead of the struggle for democracy

In more recent years, despite living abroad, he again became the symbolic figurehead of the struggle for democracy, this time over the defence of the constitution, and particularly its two-term limit for the president, and the need to organise elections on time in December 2016. They have since been delayed.

This position allowed him to improve cooperation with his fellow opposition leaders, and in June 2016 he was a driving force behind the creation of the Rassemblement, combining the forces of several parties and high-profile figures, including Moïse Katumbi and those in the “G7” (an umbrella group of opposition parties that left the ruling majority in 2016), giving the opposition renewed cohesion and strength.

When Tshisekedi returned to Kinshasa on 27 July 2016 after years of self-imposed exile, he was greeted by massive crowds, demonstrating his unique credibility and ability to get people out onto the street. These were seemingly undamaged by simultaneously being in direct and secretive talks with Kabila’s governing majority.

As president of the Rassemblement’s “governing council” (Conseil des sages), Tshisekedi provided legitimacy and political credibility to the other parties and individuals, most of whom had been part of the ruling majority or held positions in government. These actors needed Tshisekedi’s street credibility and popularity as they tried to build a more pragmatic negotiation strategy. At several moments, tension within the Rassemblement was palpable as the G7 tried to manage the unpredictability of the platform’s leader.

After the elections were pushed back by 18 months, a combination of mounting popular tension and pressure by the international community led to the signing of the 31 December 2016 global and inclusive agreement mediated by the Congolese Catholic Church. It called for a transitional government, a promise that President Kabila will not run for another term, and elections to be held in 2017. Tshisekedi no longer had the physical strength to participate in the talks, but his symbolic importance was underlined when he was appointed as the president of the critical follow-up committee, the Conseil National de suivi de l’accord et du processus électoral (CNSA).

The transition process stalls

Tshisekedi left Kinshasa on 24 January as negotiations on the implementation of the 31 December agreement stalled over several issues, including the procedure to appoint a new prime minister and the division of ministerial positions. The lack of progress, in the context of deepening economic malaise and insecurity in several provinces, including Tshisekedi’s native Kasai Central, will increase popular frustrations and tensions.

Those now taking over the mantle of political opposition will find it hard to channel the frustrations of the population

Tshisekedi had symbolic importance for the population; despite his at times vainglorious or inflammatory approach, he represented hope of a better political future. Those now taking over the mantle of political opposition will find it hard to channel the frustrations of the population, already deeply sceptical about politicians, into constructive political engagement. The only moral authority and beacon of hope at this stage remains the Catholic Church, currently attempting to resuscitate the agreement it mediated in December.

Before his demise, Tshisekedi’s party had already been struggling with the succession question. And while some have been pushing for Tshisekedi’s son Felix to take over, others refuse moves that make the party seem like a hereditary monarchy, whatever the strength of the name Tshisekedi. This struggle played out in the broader political negotiations and disputes over who should become prime minister, with some pushing for Felix to take that role in the name of the Rassemblement.

Charles Mwando Nsimba, the G7’s president and Rassemblement’s vice-president, who died in December. Moïse Katumbi would be an obvious choice to take on a more prominent leadership role. But he is still in a form of exile abroad, pending an eventual agreement on his judicial prosecution (a sensitive case, that is now, per the December agreement, managed by the National Episcopal Conference of Congo [CENCO]). Moreover, while Katumbi has a certain national popularity, he does not have the political party, political weight or legitimacy as an opposition leader that Tshisekedi could command.

Talks that had been extended for a week by CENCO after the failure to meet the 28 January deadline are likely to be halted for a while during the funeral and mourning period. After that, there is an opportunity for political leaders to work in good faith to implement the 31 December agreement and to open up political space. But renewed popular anger will be an increasing challenge as people’s faith in the political process plumbs new depths.

Read the PDF version here.

Contributors

Project Director, Central Africa
richmoncrieff
Senior Analyst, Congo