Centrafrique : l’intervention de la dernière chance
Centrafrique : l’intervention de la dernière chance
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Russia’s Influence in the Central African Republic
Russia’s Influence in the Central African Republic
Briefing 96 / Africa

Centrafrique : l’intervention de la dernière chance

Alors que la République centrafricaine (RCA) fait face à une crise qui pourrait prendre des proportions dramatiques, la communauté internationale doit trouver le moyen le plus rapide et le plus efficace d’assurer la sécurité de la population.

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Synthèse

Durant les neuf derniers mois, ce qui restait de l’Etat centrafricain s’est effondré avec de graves conséquences humanitaires (400 000 personnes sont déplacées et presque la moitié de la population a besoin d’aide humanitaire). Le gouvernement de transition et la force de sécurité régionale ont été incapables de freiner la chute dans l’anarchie aussi bien en zone rurale qu’en zone urbaine et notamment à Bangui. Après plusieurs mois de passivité et à la suite de tueries, la communauté internationale a pris conscience des conséquences de la faillite de la RCA. Malheureusement, la détérioration de la situation est bien plus rapide que la mobilisation internationale et Bangui est au bord de l’explosion. Dans l’immédiat, le Conseil de sécurité devrait fournir un mandat sous chapitre 7 à la Mission internationale de soutien à la Centrafrique sous conduite africaine (Misca) épaulée par les forces françaises pour rétablir l’ordre dans Bangui dans un premier temps puis se déployer dans d’autres villes. Par la suite, la réconciliation religieuse devrait être privilégiée et des mesures de stabilisation devraient être appliquées. 

En juin 2013, l’International Crisis Group mettait en avant le risque que la République centrafricaine (RCA) devienne ingouvernable. Ce risque est dorénavant réalité. La Seleka, une coalition armée très hétéroclite composée de combattants musulmans et qui a pris le pouvoir en mars 2013, s’est disloquée en une multitude de groupes armés qui commettent de nombreuses exactions et provoquent la réaction de milices d’autodéfense et un conflit confessionnel.

La Centrafrique est aujourd’hui confrontée à trois défis : à court terme, restaurer la sécurité et l’ordre public et fournir une aide humanitaire d’urgence ; à moyen terme, mener à bien la transition politique qui doit durer dix-huit mois ; à long terme, rebâtir l’Etat. La transition et la reconstruction de l’Etat ont pour préalable le retour d’une sécurité minimale. Tandis que l’instabilité a déjà atteint la frontière camerounaise, la combinaison du ressentiment religieux et de l’impuissance des autorités de la transition est la parfaite recette pour des affrontements meurtriers entre la population et les groupes de la Seleka, notamment dans la capitale. 
L’option de stabilisation choisie (le déploiement d’une mission de maintien de la paix de l’Union africaine, Misca, qui repose sur les troupes d’une mission présente depuis 2008) n’est actuellement pas efficace et, après la mission d’évaluation technique des Nations unies menée en octobre 2013 et la décision française de renforcer sa présence militaire sur place, il y a un consensus général sur la nécessité d’une réponse sécuritaire d’urgence. Le Conseil de sécurité prépare actuellement une résolution qui doit être adoptée très rapidement.

Dans l’immédiat, les mesures suivantes devraient être adoptées :

  •  Le Conseil de sécurité devrait autoriser, grâce à un mandat sous chapitre 7, la Misca, soutenue par les forces françaises, à utiliser tous les moyens nécessaires pour stabiliser le pays. La mission devrait avoir pour priorité la restauration de l’ordre public, la protection des civils, la fourniture d’aide humanitaire et la surveillance des violations des droits de l’homme. D’autres pays devraient également fournir des appuis logistiques (notamment des moyens de transports) ainsi qu’un soutien en matière de renseignement, en coordonnant leur action avec la France et l’Union africaine.
     
  •  Les forces disponibles sur place (Misca et troupes françaises) devraient être renforcées et engagées pour rétablir l’ordre dans la capitale en appui des forces de sécurité nationale résiduelles, en quadrillant la capitale et en contrôlant les entrées et les sorties de Bangui et en favorisant le redéploiement des forces de police et de gendarmerie nationales qui ont déjà repris possession de certains commissariats occupés auparavant par les éléments de la Seleka.
     
  • Une fois Bangui sécurisée, les forces de l’Union africaine de la Misca et les troupes françaises devraient étendre l’opération de sécurisation aux villes déjà victimes d’affrontements entre la Seleka et les groupes d’autodéfense et où les tensions entre chrétiens et musulmans sont vives ainsi qu’aux axes principaux, notamment celui qui relie la capitale à la frontière camerounaise. 
     
  • Le Conseil de sécurité, après avoir adopté la résolution sous chapitre 7, doit garantir la fourniture rapide de ressources supplémentaires, notamment en matière logistique et pour conduire des patrouilles nocturnes, afin d’assurer le déploiement rapide et complet de cette mission. Au même moment, l’UE et l’UA devraient rapidement trouver un accord pour financer les troupes de la Misca. 


A moyen terme, il est nécessaire de :

  • Mettre en œuvre, sous l’égide des Nations unies et avec l’appui financier des bailleurs, des initiatives de dialogue interreligieux et des projets de reconstruction urgents dans les zones d’affrontement et plus particulièrement dans les villes où les chrétiens et les musulmans vivent maintenant séparément.
     
  • Lancer sans tarder la première phase du programme de désarmement, démobilisation et réintégration (cantonnement et désarmement) pour les combattants de la Seleka, établir une équipe d’enquêteurs chargés de mener des investigations sur le pillage des ressources naturelles du pays, soutenir la commission mixte d’enquête et déployer rapidement des équipes de reconstruction locale.


Le Conseil de sécurité devrait continuer de suivre la situation centrafricaine et considérer sérieusement la transformation de la Misca en une force de maintien de la paix des Nations unies si cela s’avère nécessaire. Une baisse de la tension sécuritaire dans la capitale, un retour à la normale dans certaines agglomérations de province et la reprise du trafic routier et des échanges économiques entre la capitale et des provinces devraient permettre d’envisager le défi de moyen terme, c’est-à-dire mener à bien la transition. Pour ce faire, les recommandations politiques du précédent rapport de Crisis Group relatives à la conduite de cette transition parmi les-quelles l’envoi d’une mission électorale exploratoire des Nations unies, la mise en œuvre d’une réforme du secteur de la sécurité et d’une réforme des finances publiques restent pertinentes. Mais alors que la RCA est aujourd’hui au bord du gouffre, il faut en priorité mettre tout en œuvre pour restaurer la sécurité. 

Nairobi/Bruxelles, 2 décembre 2013

I. Overview

Over nine months, the weak Central African Republic (CAR) state has collapsed, triggering a serious humanitarian crisis, with 400,000 displaced and nearly half the population in need of assistance. The transitional government and the regional security force have failed to prevent a descent into chaos in urban areas, in particular Bangui, as well as in the countryside. After months of “wait-and-see” and following deadly clashes, the international community now realises it cannot afford another collapsed state in Africa. Unfortunately, the situation on the ground is deteriorating at a much faster pace than the international response is mobilising, and Bangui is vulnerable to a total breakdown in law and order. The UN Security Council should immediately provide a Chapter VII mandate to the new African-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA), supported by French troops, to launch an operation to secure Bangui that should then be extended to other cities. Subsequently, religious reconciliation should be prioritised and stabilisation measures adopted.

The risk of the CAR becoming ungovernable that Crisis Group highlighted in June 2013 is now real. The Seleka, a loose coalition of armed groups that took power in a March 2013 coup, has splintered into multiple armed factions, whose thuggery has triggered violent reactions among the population. Further, the conflict has taken on a religious undercurrent between the predominantly Muslim Seleka and Christian self-defence groups.

The CAR faces a number of major challenges: in the short term, restoring law and order and providing immediate humanitarian aid; in the medium term, ensuring that the eighteen-month transition agreed to by the Seleka leaders and other political actors is managed in an effective and sustainable manner; and in the long term, rebuilding the state. Successful transition and reconstruction can only be achieved if minimum security conditions are met. Instability has already spilled over the Cameroon border, and the combination of religious tensions and powerless transitional authorities is the perfect recipe for further deadly clashes between local populations and the various Seleka factions, especially in Bangui.

The current stabilisation effort (deployment of an African Union peacekeeping mission, made up of troops from a 2008 mission) is not working. Following the UN’s technical assessment mission in October 2013 and France’s recent decision to increase its troops in Bangui, there is a growing consensus that a more robust, better-resourced emergency response is needed. The UN Security Council is preparing a resolution that needs to be adopted promptly.

Concurrently, the following short-term measures are required:

  • The Security Council should authorise, under a UN Chapter VII (obligatory on all member states) resolution, MISCA, supported by French forces, to take all necessary means to help stabilise the situation. Its immediate and primary focus should be on restoring law and order, protecting civilians, providing humanitarian relief and documenting human rights abuses. Other countries should also provide logistical (including transportation) and intelligence support in coordination with France and the African Union.
     
  • The AU-led forces under MISCA and French forces already on the ground should be reinforced immediately, and together with the very few effective national security forces, should restore law and order in Bangui, including by establishing control of all roads into and out of the city; and helping elements of the national police that have already returned to some police stations previously occupied by Seleka fighters.
     
  • Once Bangui is secured, the AU-led forces under MISCA and the French should deploy to where fighting between Seleka and self-defence groups is occurring and where tension between Christians and Muslims is high. They should also secure the major routes, such as that connecting Bangui with the Cameroon border.
     
  • The Security Council, after adopting the Chapter VII resolution, should work to ensure the rapid provision of additional resources – including logistics and the requisite capabilities to conduct night patrols – to ensure MISCA has full operational capacity. Simultaneously, the AU and EU should quickly agree on funding for the salaries of MISCA troops.

The following mid-term measures are then required:

  • The UN and donors should support inter-religious dialogue and implement urgent reconstruction projects, particularly in cities where fighting has occurred and where Christians and Muslims are living separately. 
     
  • Other priorities are to launch the first phase – gathering and disarming – of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) program for Seleka combatants; to establish a team to investigate the plundering of natural resources; to support the mixed commission of inquiry set up by the transitional authorities; and to quickly deploy local reconstruction teams.

The Security Council should continue to follow the CAR situation closely, and give serious consideration to transition MISCA into an enhanced UN-led multi-dimensional peacekeeping operation when necessary and appropriate. Improving security in the capital and in the worst-affected provinces, returning to normalcy in the main cities and resuming road traffic and trade between Bangui and the provinces could pave the way for a successful transition in the medium term. For this to happen, as Crisis Group’s June report recommended, a number of other steps remain relevant, among them the dispatch of a UN electoral assessment mission, security sector reform and public finance reform. But this is not today’s concern: as CAR stares into an abyss of potentially appalling proportions, the focus must remain squarely on the quickest, most decisive means of restoring security.

Nairobi/Brussels, 2 December 2013

Russian and Rwandan security forces take measures around the site during election meeting in Bangui, Central African Republic on December 25, 2020. Nacer Talel / ANADOLU AGENCY / Anadolu Agency via AFP
Commentary / Africa

Russia’s Influence in the Central African Republic

Russia has become the Central African Republic’s preferred ally in its battle with insurgents. But the government’s use of Russian mercenaries as it goes on the offensive is causing domestic divisions and alienating other external partners. Concerns about rights abuses and misinformation campaigns are mounting.  

Russia has rapidly expanded its influence in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the last few years, using military support to become President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s closest ally. Prone to coups, rebellions and communal strife, CAR has been engulfed in conflict for over twenty years. While the government wields authority in the capital Bangui, it is largely absent from the provinces, where an array of rebels and other armed groups exercise their own form of predatory rule. Disappointed by the inability of UN peacekeepers to extend the state’s writ, Touadéra turned to Russia in 2017, securing weapons and military instructors to bolster CAR’s shambolic army after the UN Security Council approved an exemption to the arms embargo on the country. Today, Russian advisers have the government’s ear in not just military but also political and economic matters.

Touadéra’s government also brought in the Wagner Group, a Russia-based military contractor that is active in Libya and Sudan, and which Mali’s transitional government has signalled an interest in hiring to fight jihadists. Moscow claims that it has no ties to Wagner, saying it is a private company that is free to sell its services to other sovereign governments as it sees fit. But Wagner is widely believed to be managed and financed by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is close to the Kremlin and under U.S. sanctions for attempted meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. In 2020, the U.S. Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on companies and people working on Prigozhin’s behalf “to advance Russia’s influence in the Central African Republic”. Prigozhin has denied any links to Wagner. For his part, Touadéra has repeatedly said he has not signed a contract with the group. Wagner has no office or spokesperson in CAR. Yet its presence – estimated at between 1,200 and 2,000 personnel – is barely a secret in Bangui, where men in camouflage gear can be seen riding around in unmarked military-style vehicles. Rather than eradicating armed groups, the contractors are perpetrating abuses that increasingly drive violence in the provinces and fuel guerrilla warfare against government troops by rebels scattered in the bush.

At first, Central Africans greeted Moscow’s support warmly, … [now] their enthusiasm seems to be dimming.

At first, Central Africans greeted Moscow’s support warmly, hopeful that Russia would succeed in tamping down the country’s conflict where other foreign powers had successively failed (Libya under former leader Muammar Qadhafi, South Africa and France have all been involved in CAR in the past). Their enthusiasm seems to be dimming, however, due to Touadéra’s outsized reliance on Russian advisers, his government’s growing tendency to stifle dissent and allegations of human rights abuses in the counter-insurgent campaign. Moreover, the government’s opaque dealings with Russia and the lack of transparency surrounding Wagner’s involvement have driven a wedge between it and its traditional donors, in particular France, which sees Moscow as encroaching on its interests in the region. CAR is now in the tricky position of having to balance the benefits of Russia’s military and political support with the prerogative of securing the Western financial support on which it will continue to depend. Touadéra’s determination to achieve military victory is understandable, given the repeated failure of peace deals, but his close alliance with Wagner has antagonised Western partners to the point where CAR’s financial lifeline may be at risk.  

Poster praising the former close military relationship between the Central African Republic and France. Bangui, October 2021. CRISIS GROUP / Pauline Bax

A Country Plagued by Insurgency and Hardship

Russia’s role has drawn more attention amid the political crisis that has gripped CAR since shortly before December 2020 presidential and legislative elections. In the run-up to those polls, the country’s top court rejected the candidacy of former President Francois Bozizé, who had been ousted by the Seleka rebel coalition in 2013 after a decade in power. His successor, Michel Djotodia, ruled for barely a year before other Central African leaders forced him to resign amid mounting clashes between Seleka loyalists and so-called anti-balaka groups that had formed to fight them. The appointment of a transitional leader and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, then paved the way for 2016 elections, which Touadéra won. In 2019, with Moscow’s encouragement, the government signed the African Union-sponsored Khartoum agreement with fourteen armed groups controlling most of the provinces, a deal that still serves as the country’s roadmap to peace today. Following Bozizé’s exclusion from the 2020 polls, however, a loose alliance of armed groups known as the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), made up of six signatories to the Khartoum agreement, declared its intention to disrupt the elections. Bozizé later confirmed in a statement that he headed the CPC. Rwanda swiftly sent 300 “force protection troops” to help safeguard the elections. After Touadéra won a second five-year term, the insurgents advanced on Bangui in January aiming to topple the government. A combination of UN peacekeepers, Wagner personnel and Rwandan soldiers repelled the attack.

As Touadéra ordered a counteroffensive in the countryside, his government began closing political space in the capital. It barred several opposition politicians from leaving the country and arrested civilians and military officers seen as close to Bozizé. In the following weeks, troops led by Wagner contractors ended a rebel blockade on CAR’s supply channel from Cameroon and wrenched control of more than twenty towns and villages away from various rebel groups. A day before Touadéra’s swearing-in ceremony on 30 March, Russian Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko warned that Bozizé and other rebel leaders would be “absolutely eliminated in military operations” if they continued to wage war against the government. By April, government troops had reached most rebel strongholds. In a country that has been plagued by insurgency for the past twenty years, it was a momentous achievement that boosted Touadéra’s popular support. Many Central Africans hailed the Russian mercenaries as liberators.   

But the intense fighting took a heavy toll. In March, the UN Working Group on mercenaries first sounded the alarm over Wagner’s activities, saying it had received reports of serious rights abuses, including summary executions, torture and forced disappearances. In June, a UN expert panel accused Russian instructors and CAR soldiers of large-scale looting, use of excessive force and indiscriminate killing. It also stated that Syrian and Libyan mercenaries were engaged in combat alongside Russian instructors. Russia angrily denied the charges. Two months later, MINUSCA and the UN human rights office voiced concern about mounting abuses by all belligerents, holding the army and Russian paramilitaries responsible for nearly half the documented incidents. There are reports in domestic and international media – corroborated by UN and humanitarian agency workers – that Wagner mercenaries and soldiers carried out summary executions of members of Bozizé’s ethnic Gbaya group. There are also reports of massacres committed by both the government and rebel sides.

Wagner mercenaries in the provinces tend to conflate all Muslims ... with insurgents.

Also worrying is that observers say Wagner mercenaries in the provinces tend to conflate all Muslims, particularly the ethnic Fulani, with insurgents, putting Fulani youth at risk of abuse. (The two most active rebel groups – Retour, reclamation et réhabilitation and Unité pour la paix en Centrafrique – are mainly Fulani, but others are not.) The targeting of Fulani could spur support for rebel groups and eventually trigger another dangerous cycle of violence. An independent investigative commission named by Touadéra confirmed in October that Russian instructors had committed abuses, but the full report has not been made public. 

Most of the combat in recent months has occurred in the central Ouaka prefecture and in the west, where Fulani rebels control significant parts of the Nana-Mambéré and Ouham-Pendé prefectures. Despite the military’s unprecedented push into the provinces, its hold on recaptured territory is proving tenuous. Having retreated to the bush, insurgents have stepped up attacks with improvised explosive devices and staged ambushes on army outposts that are left exposed when Wagner mercenaries draw back to their bases. Security sources told Crisis Group that the army, which largely collapsed during the 2013 war that drove Bozizé from power, lacks vehicles and ammunition and is poorly trained. Defections to the rebels are common. Because the army has not really secured the towns it has retaken from rebels, state services remain absent, while the proliferation of combatants hinders delivery of humanitarian aid. On 15 October, Touadéra declared a unilateral ceasefire to allow civilians access to aid, yet military operations continue.        

Central Africans have suffered severe hardship for decades and things may well get worse. CAR has a handful of tarmac roads, few basic services and the lowest life expectancy in the world. Although the army has stabilised Bangui with Wagner’s help, the resurgent violence has aggravated an already dire humanitarian situation in the provinces. The number of internally displaced people has risen to a record 722,000, while an additional 733,000 live abroad as refugees. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that over 60 per cent of the population, or 3.1 million of 5 million people, the highest proportion in five years, needs urgent relief. In parts of the north west, people face famine-like conditions. Chances that aid workers can quickly reach those most in need appear slim, given that troops often block humanitarian convoys from heading into war zones, citing security reasons.

View of Bangui, Central African Republic. October 2021. CRISIS GROUP / Pauline Bax

“Caught in a Battle of Giants”

Russia’s influence in CAR has meanwhile poisoned relations between the government and its main donors, notably the European Union, the U.S. and France. Among diplomats and aid workers, frustrations run high with what they perceive as duplicitous messaging by the president and his allies, who continue to refer to Wagner mercenaries as “instructors”, despite overwhelming evidence that many contractors are shooting at rebels. Indeed, some Touadéra allies reportedly have close ties to Wagner. One is Alexander Ivanov, a Russian who heads the Officers Union for International Security, which purports to be an independent “peace advocacy” group. Russia told a UN expert panel that its defence ministry had recruited all the instructors serving in CAR through the Union. Ivanov runs a Twitter account from Bangui under the Union’s banner.  

Another reason for donors’ annoyance is that they are left guessing who is in charge. “The government has an invisible partner whose face we cannot see”, says one diplomat. While most diplomats contend that relations with their Russian counterparts remain cordial, they have no interlocutors among the Russian advisers who manage two military and economic units that are separate from the embassy and run outside its premises, reportedly by retired Russian officials. CAR relies primarily on Western donors to provide more than half its $496 million state budget. Some donors, worried that funds or equipment could end up in the hands of unaccountable private military actors, have put stringent conditions on future disbursements. MINUSCA stopped supplying the army with fuel after finding evidence that mercenaries had used it for their own vehicles. It is unclear how CAR recompenses Wagner; the state budget does not reflect any payments. 

Vitriolic media campaigns have created further divisions. Ahead of the 2020 elections, Russia and France hurled accusations at each other in a trolling battle related to their role in CAR, prompting Facebook to suspend hundreds of fake accounts linked to Russian and French authorities. In recent months, small street protests targeting the regional bloc Economic Community of Central African States, France and MINUSCA coincided with a swell of online content maligning CAR’s neighbours and other foreign partners, while celebrating Russia’s role in the “liberation” of the country. For example, local broadcaster Radio Lengo Songo has adopted a staunch pro-Russia stance, blaming the UN and France for the country’s crisis. To be sure, much of that content reflects Central Africans’ support for Russia’s political and military involvement. But dissident voices are increasingly suppressed, leading some to ask for UN protection. For its part, France has suspended budget support to the government, citing misinformation as a reason. “We are caught in a battle of giants”, says one senior Central African official. “We need our partners to have a common vision”.

Concerns are growing that Touadéra seeks to rig CAR’s broken economy in favour of Russian business interests.

Furthermore, concerns are growing that Touadéra seeks to rig CAR’s broken economy in favour of Russian business interests. Many observers say the offensive is concentrated in mineral-rich areas, fuelling suspicion that the government is more interested in securing the country’s diamond and gold wealth than protecting civilians. “There is a nefarious backdoor influence that tries to influence public opinion and buy access to natural resources”, says a senior diplomat. In May, the finance ministry unofficially handed responsibility for customs revenue collection to the Russian economic mission that operates outside the embassy’s purview, resulting in what an eyewitness described as inspections of vehicles, including UN trucks, by foreign paramilitaries at CAR’s main border crossing with Cameroon. The ministry cancelled the contract in October after months of intense donor pressure and an outcry from Central African importers. The latter may have been feeling the pinch of more vigorous duty collection, as CAR officials told Crisis Group that the Russian mission had boosted customs income.

Conflict over CAR’s mineral resources could also intensify amid fears that the government may compensate Wagner or associated companies by handing them control of mining zones. Wagner arrived in 2018, around the same time that the government granted gold and diamond mining licences to the Russian-owned company Lobaye Invest SARLU. The UN says the two companies are “interconnected”. Russian media have linked Lobaye directly to Prigozhin.  In 2019, the government cancelled a Canadian company’s licences for the Ndassima gold mine in order to hand them to a Malagasy company that reportedly has links to Russian interests. The International Arbitration Chamber of Paris is mediating the case.

The government is drafting a new mining code, proposing the establishment of a state-owned company that would serve as the country’s principal buyer and exporter of minerals, thereby limiting the number of diamond-buying offices and pushing out the mainly Muslim middlemen, known as “collectors”, who purchase gemstones from artisanal miners on site. The mining ministry says the proposal will make the sector compliant with international standards. Donors have, however, voiced strong objections to the present draft, which they say would deter new foreign investment in the sector. Meanwhile, many Central Africans – including some officials, speaking behind closed doors fear that such policies could eventually backfire on the government. They believe that Touadéra will lose domestic support if he is perceived as handing CAR’s main sources of income to Russian interests. They demand greater transparency in the government’s commercial contracts and foreign relations.

What Should Be Done

Touadéra faces a difficult choice with Wagner. Its fighters have shielded him from an attempted coup and reset the balance of forces on the ground in the government’s favour for the first time in decades. Touadéra appears understandably sceptical of pursuing talks with rebels who tried to oust him despite the 2019 peace agreement. His decision to use mercenaries is justifiable, from a military point of view, and so far, Wagner has served him well. In the long term, however, the government will have to muster the political will to extend its extremely limited services beyond Bangui if it is to maintain control over the areas its troops have recaptured from rebels. The military intervention force is far too small to push out all the armed groups and keep them out, and its relations with MINUSCA are far too fraught to accomplish much beyond securing mining zones. Despite Wagner’s unprecedented battlefield gains, there is no easy way out for CAR’s government. The offensive may have halted fighting in some areas, but the serious abuses committed by mercenaries and security forces risk leading to more war. Complicated as it may be, Touadéra will have to engage with rebel leaders to ease the suffering of rural dwellers and end the hostilities.  

Touadéra’s first priority should be to ensure that the army and associated foreign troops adhere to the unilateral ceasefire he declared on 15 October. Civilians have borne the brunt of the offensive, as men under arms from all sides roam the provinces, severely limiting freedom of movement and hindering economic activity. The government should enforce the ceasefire, even if temporarily, to facilitate the delivery of much-needed humanitarian relief. It is particularly urgent that aid reach areas where people face famine-like conditions.

The president’s administration ... should expedite preparations for the inclusive national dialogue it has repeatedly pledged to organise

The president’s administration, meanwhile, should expedite preparations for the inclusive national dialogue it has repeatedly pledged to organise. Touadéra remains opposed to including the CPC in these discussions, despite calls from the opposition and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region that he invite the rebels. Touadéra’s antipathy for the CPC is understandable – with the coup attempt, the coalition breached the 2019 peace agreement. But the crisis is sufficiently grave that he should reconsider. On 12 November, Bangui began judicial proceedings against all the main armed group leaders who signed the agreement – even those who did not join the CPC – casting doubt upon not only the proposed dialogue’s inclusiveness but also Touadéra’s sincerity in pursuing it. A backlash is possible.

At the same time, the government should take steps to curb inflammatory content in both social media and local newspapers in order to lighten the tense political atmosphere. Online misinformation about what the UN and France are doing in CAR (they face constant allegations of undermining the government) and street protests have led to serious physical threats against Central African politicians and foreign personnel in the country, in particular MINUSCA staff, restricting their ability to perform their duties. The government should urgently call for moderation among CAR’s social media users to prevent further threats and press local media to refrain from publishing false allegations against regional and foreign partners. While there is no hard evidence that the misinformation campaigns and street protests are orchestrated, their relentless anti-UN and anti-France tone indicates some level of concertation. Given Russia’s experience with online influencing, many suspect that the spread of misinformation is somehow linked to its presence in CAR.

Finally, there is a clear need for a unified policy among all external partners in CAR. It may be hard to fashion one given the acrimony between France and Russia over CAR and Moscow’s refusal to acknowledge links to Wagner. Still, some steps could enhance relations. Russia should strengthen its official representation in the country, first and foremost by filling the ambassador’s post, which has been vacant for months. It should also provide clarity on the role of Russian advisers who operate outside the embassy’s purview. Most partner states and international institutions perceive the government’s use of unaccountable foreign mercenaries as an obstacle to ending the conflict. This perception seems accurate, given the mounting abuses of civilians in the provinces and the widespread fear of foreign mercenaries they have generated. While their departure in the near future is unlikely, given Touadéra’s determination to quash the rebellion, CAR and its partners should urgently find a way to coordinate efforts to stabilise the country. For better or worse, there is no doubt that Touadéra’s political fate increasingly depends on Russia (and Wagner), and there is little prospect of him changing the course he has chosen. Yet his Western partners should continue to press for more transparency in his policies and try to bring Russia on board while doing so.

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