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Central African Republic: The Third Government in Thirteen Months Gets Under Way
Central African Republic: The Third Government in Thirteen Months Gets Under Way
Central African Republic: Getting from Talks to Peace
Central African Republic: Getting from Talks to Peace
Commentary / Africa

Central African Republic: The Third Government in Thirteen Months Gets Under Way

Why did the Economic Community of Central African States force Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia and the prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, to resign, opening the way for a new transition?

In 2013, CAR collapsed: the wages of civil servants were paid by foreign donors (notably the government of Congo Brazzaville); security disappeared, and efforts to reinstate it could only be conducted by international forces; there is no government in place and all state services have dissolved. The European Union’s decision yesterday (20 January) to send troops – pending a UN Security Council resolution expected for later this week – indicates that international involvement will only be deepening.

ECCAS sanctioned both the president and the prime minister for the failure of the political transition they were meant to oversee in response to the Seleka coup in March 2013. They were summoned to the ECCAS summit in Ndjamena, Chad, which began on 9 January. That same day, members of the National Transitional Council — CNT, which has 135 members from across the CAR political spectrum and was set up after the Seleka coup as a temporary parliament –were hastily brought to the Chadian capital in order to validate the resignations. The Central African politicians were left with no choice. The two leaders of the transition were accused of not being able to restore order. President Djotodia’s lack of control over the Seleka fighters and his frequently contradictory statements were too much for CAR’s neighbors and for France. Informal consultation among the French authorities and the presidents of the region led to Djotodia’s dismissal.

With the deployment of the French military operation Sangaris in early December, a political solution was clearly needed but the executive duo could not provide one. Tiangaye and Djotodia had not worked well together since the January 2013 peace deal resulted in Tiangaye becoming prime minister. (Djotodia, who had led the Seleka rebels, became president at the end of March after then-president Francois Bozizé was forced to flee.) Over the course of 2013 they failed to establish effective government administration; after the 5 December street battles between Seleka and “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) militias in the CAR capital, Bangui, the government effectively ceased to exist. The prime minister was threatened by Seleka commanders and accused of plotting; three ministers seen as hostile to Seleka were sacked without respect to legal procedure; and Seleka fighters started a brutal retaliation campaign in Bangui that left about 1,000 dead in a few days. Given the chaos in the capital city, the prime minister and the president lost all legitimacy with the public and the support international actors.

What has been the process to replace them?

In Ndjamena, the CAR national transitional council was given two weeks to select a new president for the transition. The CNT issued seventeen criteria that, taken together, excluded many potential candidates from the political establishment. For example, leaders of political parties and former ministers of the transitional government could not apply for the post and members of the transition council itself were excluded. Twenty-four candidates submitted their names to the transitional council but only eight candidates fulfilled all the criteria. On 20 January, after two rounds of balloting, a majority of the transitional council elected Bangui Mayor Catherine Samba-Panza the new president.

Both the forced resignation of the president and the prime minister and the process used to select the new transitional authorities show that the Central African Republic is de facto under tutelage. What is called in Bangui the G5 (United Nations, African Union, European Union, France and the United States) is monitoring the process and strongly pushed for some of the criteria. In addition, the G5 convinced the president of the transitional council not to run and followed closely the statements of the presidential candidates. The G5 did not dictate the final choice but clearly influenced the selection process.

Who is Catherine Samba-Panza, the new president?

Among the eight finalists were two sons of former presidents (Patassé and Kolingba); two mayors of Bangui (Catherine Samba-Panza and a former pro-Bozizé mayor); a prominent businessman from Berberati, Raymond Gros-Nakombo; one traditional leader, Maxime-Faustin Mbringa Takama, sultan of Bangassou, in the southeastern province of Mbomou, who claimed to have chased the Seleka away from Bangassou; and one trader.

The most serious candidates were Desire Kolingba, son of former president Kolingba, and Samba-Panza (first round: 64 votes for Samba-Panza and 58 for Kolingba; second round: 75 Samba-Panza and 53 Kolingba). All the candidates had 10 minutes to present themselves and their ideas. The most articulate speech was made by Samba-Panza. She emphasised that she was born in Chad from a Cameroonian father and a Central African mother, making her the “best example of regional integration”. She stated that she will put in place a government of technocrats, with no more than eighteen members and with equal numbers of men and women. In her first speech after being elected, she urged the anti-balaka and Seleka to disarm.

Samba-Panza is the first woman to be president of CAR. She has more of a civil-society than a political background. She comes from the business community and was part of the CAR female lawyers association and the National Council for Mediation. She entered politics during the national dialogue of 2003. She embodies the need for new thinking and the widespread rejection of the political establishment, who “ruined the country” (a phrase used by several of the presidential candidates). Her election was well received by foreign donors and CAR civil society but may not be appreciated by the armed groups. Some anti-balaka leaders gathered in support of another candidate, the pro-Bozizé former mayor, and in the coming days tension is expected in Bangui. French and African forces have already intensified their surveillance of the city.

What can we expect from a new transition?

This is the third transition in CAR since January 2013. The first was a coalition government made up of the Bozizé camp, the Seleka and the political opposition. The second transition started after the Seleka coup on 24 March 2013 with a government made up of the Seleka and the political opposition.

Right now everybody is wondering who will be in the third transitional government, knowing that stability and effectiveness will depend on its composition. Given that the selection process for the president faced criticism, the new government will have to incorporate the main political forces. If not, the heads of the political parties, who were excluded from the presidential race, will seek to destabilize the Samba-Panza government. Pro-Bozizé politicians, for instance, would not hesitate to mobilise the streets and use anti-balaka fighters to put pressure on the new authorities.

The new administration’s first governance test will be security in Bangui, including protecting the tens of thousands of displaced in formal and informal camps. Since Djotodia’s dismissal, the Bangui security problem has been suspended but not solved. The risk of fighting between Seleka combatants and the anti-balaka militia remains high. The Seleka are gathered into four military camps in the city, where they are under guard, but what will be done with these fighters remains unclear. An effective disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program – one that avoids such past mistakes as simply bringing ex-fighters into new police and military units — needs to be a high priority for international peacekeeping, whoever is in the lead. Anti-balaka militia representatives have stated that the militias will not disarm as long as the international forces (the AU-led mission, known as MISCA, and France’s Sangaris mission) have not disarmed the Seleka fighters. The second security problem in Bangui concerns the anti-Muslim popular sentiment that is causing violence and population displacements. Solving these two security problems will require clear and strong cooperation between the new transitional authority and the international forces.

What are the respective strengths of the Seleka and anti-balaka forces?

The main body of Seleka fighters is presently cantoned in Bangui under international supervision, its fate as yet undetermined. It is impossible to know how strong Seleka-like forces are outside Bangui.

The anti-balaka fighters come from rural areas, carry traditional weapons and home-made guns, and wear grigri (magical charms) to make themselves invisible and bullet- and rocket-proof. Most are illiterate teenagers whose families have been killed and villages burned by the Seleka fighters. They basically lost everything and came to Bangui for revenge. They want the Seleka to be disarmed and leave Bangui and the neighboring provinces. They call them “Arabs” and consider them as foreigners. Every day in Bangui one hears about Muslims being killed in the city and in the provinces. Numerous demonstrations in the city end with hunting Muslims; two were lynched this Sunday morning, 19 January, in the city center.

This is a confrontation between two very different components of the CAR population. The Muslim people of the far north have now ventured to the territories of the people of the west and south and have revived memories of enslavement by Muslim traders. This is a significant cultural trauma. The ten anti-balaka groups are organised by region but most of them come from the west and south of the country and the Gbaya people (Bozizé’s tribe) are the majority.

Politically, the anti-balaka groups have recently split into two movements: the Front de résistance (majority) and the Combattants pour la libération du peuple centrafricain (minority, pro-Bozizé). The split came after the resignation of Djotodia: while the majority wanted to negotiate with the AU, UN and France, the Bozizé people want to carry on fighting.

Out of ten anti-balaka groups, three decided to form the Combattants pour la libération du peuple centrafricain, run by a former MP in the Bozizé camp in connection with the movement created in France by Bozizé (Front pour le retour à l’ordre constitutionnel en Centrafrique, or FROCA). The fighters belong to the Gbaya people from Bossangoa, the fiefdom of Bozizé. The Combattants pour la libération du peuple centrafricain are better equipped than the other anti-balaka and are led by former military personnel related to Bozizé. There is no doubt that Bozizé wants to use the anti-balaka to come back to power. In the meantime, he will use them to put pressure on the new transitional authorities and make sure his movement is represented in the new government.

None of these problems will go away just because a new government is in place. Only after restoring Bangui’s security fully will the new government be able to focus on security in the provinces – including cooperation with international peacekeepers protecting the major IDP encampments in key cities — and look to the political and development roadmap made by the previous government. This roadmap was of course not implemented at all; it highlights the reconstruction of key state functions as a priority. If the new transitional authority kick-starts this reconstruction with the support of international actors, it will end the perception of a power vacuum in CAR. Otherwise, the third transition risks quickly being considered another failure.


Former Senior Consultant, Central Africa
Consulting Senior Analyst, Central Africa
Commentary / Africa

Central African Republic: Getting from Talks to Peace

The deadly threat posed by armed groups in the Central African Republic has led to severe displacement and food insecurity. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to support multi-level mediation by the African Union and to back local peace initiatives.

More than six years after the beginning of the Central African Republic’s (CAR) most important crisis since the country’s independence and three years after President Faustin Archange Touadéra’s election, the country remains in turmoil. 2018 ended with lethal clashes both between armed groups and between them and UN peacekeepers in major towns and rising tensions in the capital Bangui. Former factions of the Seleka, a coalition of rebel groups from the country’s north and east which in 2013 overthrew then President François Bozizé and held power for two years before being ousted, the anti-balaka, militias formed to fight the Seleka which then turned into bandits, and a series of other community self-defence militias hold sway across much of the country, controlling many mining sites, transport routes and pastoralists’ transmigration corridors. Neither the large UN peacekeeping force, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) nor the fledgling national army, which is slowly deploying across the country following years of EU training, can constrain these groups’ infighting and predation.

The violence is driving severe displacement, food insecurity and malnutrition. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ October 2018 figures, there are currently 642,842 internally displaced and over 573,200, many of them Muslims fleeing persecution by various militias, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Some 2.5 million people need humanitarian aid. Most of the Muslims remaining in the capital, concentrated in the PK5 district, still live in fear of cycles of revenge violence among armed gangs that use religious belonging as an identifier and pretext for abuses.

It will be important for international actors to present a united front and pressure neighbouring countries [...] to use their influence over armed groups.

As of late January (as this Watch List went to print), representatives of the different armed groups and the government were holding talks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. These talks present a welcome opportunity to refocus regional efforts on the African Union (AU)-led mediation, which have recently been in unhelpful competition with a parallel Russian-Sudanese initiative. Some form of agreement appears likely to emerge from the Khartoum meeting, though will require compromise from both sides. The challenge for 2019 will be to ensure that such an agreement makes a concrete difference on the ground. It will be important for international actors to present a united front and pressure neighbouring countries, particularly Sudan and Chad, to use their influence over armed groups – notably the largest ex-Seleka factions – to ensure they fulfil any pledges made in Khartoum. They should also support local peace initiatives, during which armed groups’ demands can be taken into account alongside the concerns of local communities in which they operate, as a complement to the national-level agreement.

The EU and its member states should:

  • Follow up its support to the AU’s mediation effort with pressure on the government to adhere to its side of the prospective deal and on Sudan and Chad to use their influence to persuade armed groups to demobilise; those governments should also open talks with the CAR government on the repatriation of Chadian and Sudanese fighters in those groups;
  • Support the proposed nomination of a high-level AU-UN envoy and encourage that person to focus not only on negotiations between armed groups and the government but on regional diplomacy aimed at encouraging Bangui and neighbouring capitals to find common ground on issues such as the repatriation of foreign fighters and access to pastoral land;
  • Alongside the UN, step up support for local peace initiatives that factor in armed groups’ local demands and the concerns of local communities, and thus both diminish levels of violence and allow for a finer-grained understanding of armed groups’ interests and strengths, and improving prospects for their disarmament.

Since June 2017, the AU, backed by African countries and the UN as well as the EU and its member states, has tried to mediate between the government and fourteen armed groups including ex-Seleka factions, anti-balaka groups and community self-defence militias, which in many cases have competing sets of interests and goals. The AU Mediation Panel of Facilitation, led by Burkina Faso’s Moussa Nébié, has met those groups’ leaders in preparation for dialogue with the government, resulting in a list of 115 different demands grouped into four thematic areas (politics, socio-economy, security and defence, justice and reconciliation). Key demands likely to be obstacles in negotiations centre around devolution (which the government fears armed groups would use to consolidate their grip on provinces they control, particularly in the case of the large ex-Seleka factions in the north and east of the country ); national-level power sharing; control over natural resources; the armed groups’ demands for immunity for crimes committed during the conflict; and the integration of some of their members into the army, including at what rank.

Over the past few months, Nébié’s AU-led efforts had been undercut by a parallel Russian-Sudanese initiative. At the end of 2017, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, frustrated by the perceived inefficiency or slowness of his partners to help deploy the national army and bring armed groups to the negotiating table, had sought Russian help. Moscow provided the national army with training and equipment following that already delivered by the EU Training Mission active in CAR since 2016. Russia also started to provide the president with security advice and personal protection. In mid-2018, it encouraged Sudan, with which Moscow has increasingly close relations, to initiate its own talks in Khartoum with armed groups and government representatives. Until recently, this parallel track had sucked oxygen from the AU’s efforts and allowed both armed groups and government representatives to forum-shop. It also provoked tensions between on the one hand the AU, the UN and the EU, which supported the AU track, and on the other Sudan, Russia and President Touadéra.

The main risk is less that the Khartoum talks fail to reach an accord along these lines than that its provisions are not enforced.

Recent AU and UN diplomacy has helped unite these parallel tracks. On 9 January, following a visit to Bangui by AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui and UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Pierre Lacroix, President Touadéra announced that the government would meet with armed groups in Khartoum on 24 January under the aegis of the AU. Giving Sudan the opportunity to host is a neat solution to bridge the gap between the two initiatives and mend international divisions.

Talks may still be tricky, however. The government has agreed to integrate some armed group members into the armed forces, while adhering to the age and education requirements already in place. But government negotiators are likely to resist ceding more ground on power sharing and immunity, given popular anger at the armed groups’ predation and violence and the fact that the concessions those groups have won in the past have not led them to change their behaviour. Unless they face pressure from their allies, armed groups’ leaders may camp on their maximalist demands. Probably the best that can reasonably be expected from Khartoum is a broad agreement on the ranks at which a limited number of armed group members could enter the army and for some rebels who disarm to be granted mid-level public offices, in exchange for a ceasefire and an agreement from armed groups that they will demobilise.

The main risk is less that the Khartoum talks fail to reach an accord along these lines than that its provisions are not enforced. Many previous deals between government and armed groups have not brought concrete changes on the ground. Throughout 2018, some smaller armed groups expressed a willingness to disarm, but stalled doing so in anticipation of better terms emerging from an agreement in Khartoum. Following this round of talks, President Touadéra’s government and international partners, especially the UN, need to seize the opportunity of whatever is agreed to advance efforts to demobilise armed groups as much as possible.

Also important is that local mediation efforts [in CAR] complement those at national level.

CAR’s neighbours ought to lend their support to ensure that armed groups fulfil any commitments made in Khartoum. Some ex-Seleka factions in particular have close links to neighbouring governments, notably those of Chad and Sudan; indeed many combatants and armed herders that seek pastoral land hail from those countries. N’Djamena and Khartoum have an interest in their southern neighbour’s stability. But they balance that against the interests of their pastoralist and trading communities or allied armed groups in border areas. Talks are needed between Bangui and both Khartoum and N’Djamena aimed at reaching agreement on security guarantees for all sides and on modalities for repatriating Chadians and Sudanese currently fighting with armed groups in CAR. African and EU governments, as well as Russia, should offer support to such talks.

Also important is that local mediation efforts complement those at national level. The armed groups in CAR vary significantly in strength, geographical reach, motivations and relations with their communities. Of the fourteen represented in Khartoum only three, all ex-Seleka groups, have significant national and cross-border reach. The anti-balaka groups in particular are fragmented and some have ties to the government with which they are in principle negotiating. Most groups’ main concerns are local, often revolving around control of resources in areas they control. Moreover, a patchwork of other groups were not represented in Khartoum, but still need to be demobilised.

Local mediation efforts initiated by religious organisations, civil society leaders and CAR politicians already have had some success, allowing temporary truces between armed groups fighting each other and calming intercommunal tensions. Unlike the broader negotiations of which Khartoum is the latest iteration, these initiatives address local disputes among armed groups rather than their grievances toward the government or national-level demands. Resulting local agreements are precarious, however, and can scale up from small local gains to become part of a more durable and country-wide solution with sustained support, including from international actors and alongside a national-level agreement that enjoys regional backing. UN backing for such initiatives could be supplemented by the AU panel in-country, building on contacts it already has with armed groups.