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The Central African Republic’s Hidden Conflict
The Central African Republic’s Hidden Conflict
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Central African Republic: Avoiding an Electoral Flare-up
Central African Republic: Avoiding an Electoral Flare-up
Briefing 105 / Africa

The Central African Republic’s Hidden Conflict

Away from the international spotlight, the Central African Republic’s rural areas are turning into fields of violence as war over territory and livestock hits a highly vulnerable population, with effects increasingly felt in neighbouring Cameroon and Chad.

I. Overview

While the international community and the transitional government focus on Bangui, the capital, most of the rural areas, in particular the west and centre of the Central African Republic (CAR), have turned into fields of violence. The fierce struggle between the ex-Seleka and anti-balaka militiamen has led to a surge of intercommunal clashes between pastoralist and farming communities since 2013. These clashes have formed a conflict-within-the-conflict that further destabilises the country, away from the international spotlight and the attention of the transitional government. Ahead of a new transhumance period that may intensify the ongoing rural warfare, the transitional government and the international community should focus closely on preventing the escalation of violence between pastoralist and farming communities by making this aspect of the CAR crisis an integral part of their stabilisation strategy.

Before the CAR crisis began at the end of 2012, pastoralism had been a source of violence in rural areas for several years, notably between pastoralist and farming communities. The crisis has further exacerbated resentment and violence between these groups because of the herdsmen’s perceived links to ex-Seleka members. Livestock is coveted both by anti-balaka and ex-Seleka militiamen, and pastoralists often respond to cattle thefts with brutal retaliations as cattle is the wealth of the poor. The enrolment of vulnerable young herdsmen in armed groups, the crumbling of traditional agro-pastoralist mediation structures and the yearly coming of pastoralists, especially Chadians, to CAR may amplify the ongoing bush warfare.

Since 2013, this rural war has forced many pastoralist communities to take refuge in Chad and Cameroon or to flee to other CAR regions, often after having walked for a long time. These displacements are exacting a heavy toll, causing the collapse of the livestock farming sector, the radicalisation of some pastoralist groups and the blockage of transhumance movements between Chad and CAR. These long-term obstacles to the stabilisation of the country must be addressed.

To contain rural violence in the short term:

  • Create an information network, coordinated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the CAR livestock ministry, in order to locate the areas at risk of violent confrontation between, on the one hand, pastoralists and, on the other, anti-balaka and local communities. This network must serve as an early warning mechanism for CAR authorities, NGOs and international forces (the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the French mission Sangaris).
     
  • Include the fight against cattle theft and trafficking into the mandate of a MINUSCA cell against diamond, gold and ivory trafficking, whose creation has been recommended by Crisis Group since June 2014.
     
  • Reduce cattle density in south-western Chad by organising a regional consultation between Chadian, CAR, Cameroonian authorities and NGOs, under the aegis of MINUSCA, in order to identify in those countries safe areas with pasturelands for pastoralists. This should be a temporary settlement that requires the agreement of the host communities and the pastoralists.

To address the causes of rural violence in the medium term:

  • Revive traditional agro-pastoralist mediation mechanisms through organisation of informal meetings between representatives of the different communities by conflict prevention NGOs. As confidence-building measures, international forces should forbid armed groups to get involved in these mechanisms.
     
  • Broadcast messages through community radios run by churches and local NGOs recalling common interests and exchanges between pastoralists and farmers. These messages should especially be circulated among women who usually play a key role in these intercommunity exchanges.
     
  • Include in livelihood activity programs led by international NGOs the pastoralists without livestock who took refuge in Chad and Cameroon and those still living in CAR.
     
  • Launch a feasibility study by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to restart livestock breeding where the security situation permits it.

Nairobi/Brussels, 12 December 2014

An African Union peacekeeping soldier takes a strategic position to quell street violence in neighbourhoods in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, on 20 December 2013. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu
Commentary / Africa

Central African Republic: Avoiding an Electoral Flare-up

The pre-electoral period in the Central African Republic (CAR) is heating up. In the capital Bangui, youth militias engage in daily criminality and intercommunal tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims are now very high. Meanwhile in the provinces, rival militia groups are gathering to march toward Bangui, deliberately seeking violent confrontation. Until now, international forces have managed to prevent some of the combatants from reaching the capital, but the latter have not abandoned their aim of destabilising the transition. While Bangui continues to experience daily murders and sporadic surges of violence, elections are scheduled to go ahead in December.

With militiamen in control of several neighbourhoods of the capital, and intercommunal tensions spreading to the west and central regions of the country, the immediate priority must be to loosen the grip of armed groups. A French military intervention in December 2013 allowed the instalment of a transitional government that is now supported by around 900 French troops and 10,000 UN stabilisation forces; their numbers should be rapidly increased.

A new consensus around the electoral process is also needed, based on a realistic assessment of the security situation. A constitutional referendum is now slated for 6 December and a two-stage presidential election due in late December and in January. Despite numerous warnings from the electoral commission and civil society actors, the international community prefers an election at any cost to turn the page of the transition. Yet a rushed organisation of elections advocated by the international community will only further fuel instability. The elections should be delayed until 2016 in order for them to be held in a climate of peace.

The latest cycle of violent intercommunal clashes began at the end of September, when a Muslim motorcycle-taxi driver was killed in Bangui. The call for protests by some civil society leaders and widespread looting generated an atmosphere of insecurity exploited by leaders of rival militias. The September events killed about 70 people, injured hundreds and displaced over 40,000. They also stoked up anger toward the transitional government and the international presence in the country.

The crisis in CAR is characterised by sporadic surges of violence against a backdrop of state disintegration and deep inter-ethnic cleavages. Armed groups, including rival factions known as anti-balaka and ex-Seleka, are fragmenting and becoming criminalised. This is compounded by growing conflict between armed communities. In areas with frequent intercommunal clashes, ex-Seleka combatants are seen as the protectors of Muslims and anti-balaka fighters as the defenders of Christian communities. By contrast, communities in other parts of the country are keeping their distance from armed groups.

The roadmap for the transition – which planned for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of militiamen after the May 2015 Bangui Forum and before the elections – is now completely off track. The Bangui Forum’s recommendations have not yet been implemented, primarily due to a lack of means, political will, and consensus among armed groups and within CAR’s political elites. The DDR process has been pushed back until after the elections, and the elections themselves are plagued by technical and financial issues as well as security and political concerns.

The violence that engulfed Bangui in late September and the ensuing demonstrations all occurred while CAR transitional President Catherine Samba Panza was in New York to participate in a side meeting on the crisis in CAR during the UN General Assembly. The timing of the unrest reveals the destabilisation strategy and opportunism of certain politicians and civil society actors – including anti-balaka supporters of former President Francois Bozizé and affiliates of the ex-Seleka close to Nourredine Adam. Even so, the civil disturbances must be taken seriously as they reflect strong dissatisfaction among the wider public. The international forces in CAR are criticised for not managing to secure the capital or the country’s main road, while ordinary people are dissatisfied with transitional government leaders, who promised a lot at the Bangui Forum but delivered little.

The political and communal impasse risks triggering a new flare-up. In fact, groups of ex-Seleka combatants close to Adam and his Popular Front for the Rebirth of the Central African Republic, FPRC, have been assembling since June 2015 near Kaga-Bandoro, more than 300km north-east of Bangui. They tried in early October to reach the capital, using alternative routes to avoid cities under the control of international forces. International forces clashed with the ex-Seleka combatants on 10 and 11 October, halting the fighters’ advance a few kilometres from Sibut, located 150km north-east of Bangui.

While these clashes caused several casualties within the rebel ranks, the destabilising capacity of these armed groups remains relatively intact and preparations for new attacks are likely underway. Several groups of anti-balaka militiamen, in turn, are assembling in several cities in the west of the country, including Bossangoa, 250km north-east of Bangui, and Berberati, in the south west. Their objective is to reach the capital to provide support to the young anti-balaka militants and chase Muslims out of Bangui. Some of them in fact took part in the violence in Bangui at the end of September.

The spread of intercommunal clashes is the principal risk in CAR, not a coup. The international community’s focus on organising elections as soon as possible is thus the wrong objective. Rushing into elections in December 2015 was opposed by CAR’s National Electoral Authority president, who resigned. This election calendar is neither safe nor feasible. Before any polls, international actors and the Samba Panza government should form a genuine partnership to create the technical, political and security conditions necessary to make them transparent, free and inclusive.

To avoid an intensification of tensions and violence between armed groups, and to ensure a peaceful climate conducive to elections, Crisis Group recommends that the following measures be rapidly implemented by CAR authorities and international partners:

• Strengthen the international forces by increasing the number of French troops (the most effective force on the ground) and UN forces, and by increasing their crowd-control capacity;

• Initiate the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration program with willing armed groups;

• Arrest militia leaders who refuse to disarm and try leaders of the anti-balaka and ex-Seleka suspected of involvement in the recent upsurge in violence;

• Delay elections to the first half of 2016;

• Finalise the electoral budget, clearly formulate the eligibility criteria and appeals process for candidates in legislative and presidential elections, and publicly uphold the right to vote for CAR’s Muslim population; and

• Promote reconciliation efforts between communities, specifically through the revitalisation of economic exchanges at the local level, the announcement of development plans for peripheral regions of the country, and the preparation of a massive investment plan in the education sector, which should include teaching about tolerance.

This article was updated on 4 November 2015. It is an English version of the article originally published in French as “Centrafrique: éviter la surchauffe électorale” on 19 October 2015.

Contributors

Senior Consultant, Central Africa
Consulting Senior Analyst, Central Africa