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Mettre en œuvre l’architecture de paix et de sécurité (I) : l’Afrique centrale
Mettre en œuvre l’architecture de paix et de sécurité (I) : l’Afrique centrale
Venezuela: An Opportunity That Should Be Seized
Venezuela: An Opportunity That Should Be Seized
Report 181 / Africa

Mettre en œuvre l’architecture de paix et de sécurité (I) : l’Afrique centrale

Plus d’une décennie après que l’Union africaine (UA) a demandé à la Communauté économique des Etats d’Afrique centrale (CEEAC) de donner naissance à une architecture de paix et de sécurité dans la région, la coopération dans ce domaine demeure largement insuffisante.

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Synthèse

Malgré plus d’une décennie d’efforts de la Communauté économique des Etats d’Afrique centrale (CEEAC) pour concrétiser l’architecture de paix et de sécurité, la coopération politique et sécuritaire en Afrique centrale est à la recherche d’un second souffle. Désignée par l’Union africaine (UA) pour traduire en actes dans la sous-région le projet continental de paix et de sécurité, la CEEAC a franchi le stade de la simple signature des traités et protocoles mais elle peine à structurer et appliquer une véritable politique régionale de paix et de sécurité. Afin d’éviter l’en­lisement de ce projet, les Etats d’Afrique centrale doivent se réinvestir dans la CEEAC, la réformer et fixer des priorités de sécurité claires et précises. De leur côté, les partenaires extérieurs doivent coordonner leur appui en fonction des besoins, de la capacité d’absorption et des objectifs de la CEEAC.

L’effet d’engrenage des conflits qui ont enflammé l’Afri­que centrale dans les années 1990 a conduit à une régionalisation de l’insécurité qui a fait prendre conscience de la nécessité d’une réponse politique et sécuritaire commune. La CEEAC s’est donc engagée dans la prévention, la gestion et la résolution des conflits en Afrique centrale avec la double bénédiction de l’UA et de l’Union européenne (UE). Malheureusement, à l’instar de l’intégration économique qui l’a précédée, la coopération politique et sécuritaire n’a pas produit les résultats escomptés.

En dépit de la signature du pacte d’assistance mutuelle, du protocole relatif au Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’Afri­que centrale (COPAX) et de la mise en place d’un Etat-major régional (EMR) qui organise des exercices multinationaux et supervise la Mission de consolidation de la paix en Centrafrique (MICOPAX), les dirigeants de la région demeurent réticents à créer et investir dans une institution régionale qui puisse les contraindre. Tout en appelant de leur vœu une architecture de paix et de sécurité, les pays d’Afrique centrale la mettent en concurrence inégale avec des partenariats bilatéraux anciens et plus effectifs, créant un véritable imbroglio.

La CEEAC souffre de sérieux problèmes de gouvernance interne. Organisation intergouvernementale très centralisée, ses décisions obéissent à la règle du consensus qui apparaît comme une limite supplémentaire : destinée à main­tenir la cohésion de l’institution, elle contribue paradoxalement à la rendre inopérante, en interdisant toute référence aux questions sensibles, sources de divergences entre les Etats membres. Alors que ses structures sont encore in­achevées dans le domaine de la paix et de la sécurité, la CE­EAC connaît des problèmes de ressources humaines et de dépendance financière à l’égard des partenaires extérieurs.

Au désintérêt et à l’immobilisme politiques dont la manifestation la plus flagrante est la succession des reports du sommet des chefs d’Etats ainsi que la non-représentation de certains pays dans les instances communautaires, s’ajou­tent l’absence d’un leadership régional et une géopolitique de la méfiance héritée d’un passé plus ou moins ancien. Résultat : les problèmes sécuritaires les plus importants demeurent à l’état de non-dits ou sont traités hors de la CEEAC et la feuille de route de l’architecture de paix et de sécurité progresse lentement en Afrique centrale.

Cette situation devrait inciter les pays de la région à accroître leur investissement politique dans la CEEAC et à rationaliser leurs priorités. Les pays membres devraient savoir s’ils veulent ou non le demeurer et clairement concrétiser leur adhésion par des actes : respect de leurs engagements financiers ; nomination de leurs représentants dans les instances communautaires ; organisation dans les plus brefs délais d’un sommet de chefs d’Etats ; mise en œuvre d’un train de réformes avec un accent particulier sur le système décisionnel, le fonctionnement du Secrétariat général et l’association de la société civile ; définition de priorités de sécurité dans une optique de mise en œuvre pratique et de résultats concrets sur le terrain.

Les partenaires extérieurs devraient établir une coordination effective et calibrer leur soutien en fonction des priorités de la politique de paix et de sécurité et de la capacité d’absorption de la CEEAC. L’enjeu principal est de renforcer les capacités du Secrétariat général afin qu’il soit à même de mettre en œuvre ses différents programmes et d’évi­­ter une dispersion inutile des ressources et une duplication des efforts.

Au-delà de ces actions, l’inévitable débat de fond qui se posera au cours des prochaines années est celui du sens politique à (re)donner à une organisation qui est l’objet du jeu de méfiance, de rivalités et d’hostilités feutrées entre ses membres. Tant que subsistera cette géopolitique à somme nulle, il est à craindre que l’intégration politique et sécuritaire ne suive, en Afrique centrale, le même long et sinueux chemin que la coopération économique.

Nairobi/Bruxelles, 7 novembre 2011

 

The president of the National Assembly, Jorge Rodriguez (C-top) swears in the new authorities of the National Electoral Council (CNE), during a special session at the National Assembly, in Caracas. 4 May 2021. Federico PARRA / AFP

Venezuela: An Opportunity That Should Be Seized

A series of gestures from Caracas suggests that President Nicolás Maduro’s government might be more willing to negotiate with rivals and enact partial reforms. Washington should respond in kind with phased sanctions relief and diplomatic gestures that can be reversed if Venezuela backslides.

On 4 May, Venezuela’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National Assembly, swore in a new electoral authority, two of whose five principal members are from the opposition. It was perhaps the most significant of a series of gestures by President Nicolás Maduro’s government over the past two weeks. While nothing suggests that Maduro is ready to make concessions that might threaten his grip on power, his recent moves do signal a willingness to negotiate and might provide a rare opportunity to temper a crisis that has brought the Venezuelan economy to its knees and caused Latin America’s worst humanitarian emergency. Reciprocal moves from foreign powers opposed to Maduro are necessary to ensure that this chance, however slim, is not missed. Washington is best placed to make comparably conciliatory moves by offering modest relief from the sanctions it has imposed and initiating low-profile diplomatic contacts to assess the odds of further progress.

These moves represent partial responses to demands laid down by the U.S.

Several other developments preceded the new election rectors’ appointment. The first came on 19 April, when Caracas finally signed a long-awaited agreement with the World Food Program, granting the agency access to the country to attend to the dire and growing child malnutrition crisis. The second occurred on 30 April, when the chavista government released six imprisoned oil executives from Venezuela’s Houston-based Citgo corporation – five of whom hold U.S. citizenship – into house arrest. A day later, the country’s chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab took a third step, announcing charges against low-ranking officials in three high-profile political killings for which the government had hitherto denied any responsibility. These moves represent partial responses to demands laid down by the U.S. and other external allies of the opposition movement led by former National Assembly chair Juan Guaidó, who since 2019 has asserted a claim to the “interim presidency” of the country.

The changes to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, or CNE, by its Spanish acronym, were the most significant concession yet. Chavista domination of the CNE has been crucial to the government’s campaign to shut down any and all electoral threats. It ultimately led to the standoff with Guaidó and pushed many other opposition figures into exile. Opposition parties mostly boycotted parliamentary elections in early December 2020 – as they had the presidential contest in 2018 – and the small number that took part in the poll, some of them mere appendages of the government, obtained only twenty seats in a 277-seat Assembly. Even today, conditions for the opposition remain forbidding. Despite the new rectors, the electoral playing field remains deeply skewed in Maduro’s favour. Still, permitting a more balanced electoral authority marks a tentative step toward restoration of political competition.

For Maduro, greater opposition representation on the CNE could have benefits. First, this year’s elections, due in December, are local and regional, so there is less at stake for the president in any case. Moreover, he can sell the CNE deal to his own supporters as opposition recognition of government institutions and a strategy for reducing Venezuela’s international isolation. 

News of the reformed electoral board has divided opposition ranks. Even before Maduro announced the new CNE line-up, the alliance headed by Guaidó had rejected it as illegitimate. Its stance has not changed since, despite the two new opposition rectors’ strong credentials. (One is an experienced politician and former deputy chair of the Assembly; the other is a systems engineer whose role as an opposition elections expert was so important that the government jailed him for six months in 2017.) The opposition alliance maintains that the Guaidó-led parliament, a rump of which continues to meet, is the only body with the power to approve a new CNE. Guaidó himself, whom Washington recognises as the country’s legitimate president, blasted the appointment via Twitter, saying it would “drag the country toward a greater disaster”. 

Others take a different view. Notable among them is two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who, prior to the December elections, made fruitless efforts, with EU backing, to negotiate conditions that would allow his party to take part. Together with other opposition politicians, some of whom prefer for now to remain anonymous, Capriles rejects the “all-or-nothing” approach of Guaidó and his party, Voluntad Popular, which is led by the exiled Leopoldo López and has campaigned without success for Maduro’s immediate overthrow. Support for the new electoral board is also strong among regional and municipal politicians and party activists, especially those in opposition-held states and municipalities, who fear oblivion if the policy of boycotting elections is maintained. The issue threatens to fracture several parties, and could even lead to a formal split in the opposition coalition as a whole, which would also favour the government.

Venezuelan civil society is increasingly emerging as a significant, autonomous force.

Another important element in this complex equation is Venezuelan civil society, which is increasingly emerging as a significant, autonomous force, committed to a negotiated resolution of the country’s protracted political crisis. Four of the fifteen CNE members (the five principal rectors plus ten reserve members) appointed on 4 May were proposed by groups linked to the recently launched Foro Cívico, which brings together NGOs, trade unions, the main employers’ federation, professional syndicates, faith-based organisations and others. The Foro has played a role not only in the CNE negotiations but also in pushing for agreement between the government and opposition on importing COVID-19 vaccines, seeking economic reforms and setting up mechanisms for attending to the humanitarian emergency. Broadly speaking, the Foro leaders support a more conciliatory approach, along the lines of that promoted by Capriles, seeking areas where they can engage the government to alleviate ordinary Venezuelans’ suffering. 

Yet it is Washington’s response that is most keenly awaited. Under President Donald Trump the U.S. pursued a “maximum pressure” policy toward Venezuela, on the assumption that external action, particularly in the form of severe economic and financial sanctions and diplomatic isolation, would force the Maduro government to step down and accede to free elections. That approach failed. President Joe Biden came to office committed to a more pragmatic stance, but for various reasons related largely to the attention given to other pressing concerns – notably the pandemic and migrants at the southern U.S. border – little beyond the rhetoric has changed to date. Washington has demanded “concrete measures” from Maduro if it is to relax sanctions. It must now decide whether the gestures by Caracas merit a response in kind.

All the Venezuelan government’s steps thus far are political gambits; they are tentative and reversible; and, again, in themselves they do not create conditions for credible polls or in any way jeopardise Maduro’s hold on power. On the key question of election conditions, the opposition presence on the new CNE is only a start, albeit a promising one. Much more is needed. The government must legalise opposition parties, for example, most of which are barred from electoral participation and some of which have seen their names and assets transferred to minority, pro-government factions. The electoral authorities need to thoroughly audit voter lists. Most importantly, the Maduro government will also have to scale down its apparatus of state repression if it wishes to convince the U.S., the EU and its neighbours of its good faith.

Still, given the gridlock in Venezuela’s political standoff and the country’s appalling humanitarian suffering, outside powers should respond to and seek to encourage any signs of movement. Crisis Group has argued for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of sanctions that inflict humanitarian harm alongside a phased lifting of other punitive measures in response to the gradual restoration of civil and political rights. The most obvious and pressing humanitarian need is for a restoration of permits to allow Venezuela to swap crude oil for diesel, of which there is a critical shortage. Diesel is vital, among other things, for food production and distribution. The U.S. could also consider steps like renewing licences and lifting sanctions that prohibit certain activities by U.S. and other foreign oil companies, with the understanding that these steps could be reversed if Caracas backtracks or fails to make further progress.

Also important is that Washington and Caracas set up channels of communication, either direct or through third parties, so that each can correctly interpret the other’s moves. Biden will pay a political cost for any easing of pressure on Maduro, with no likely immediate return. U.S. politicians are naturally – and perhaps increasingly – reluctant to incur the hostility of the Venezuela lobby in their country. The Maduro government will have to factor in that reality, just as Washington will need to take into account the difficulty the Venezuelan president may have in selling any rapprochement to his own coalition. Contact would allow each side to feel its way with more confidence.

The worst thing the U.S. could do now is to sit on its hands and await further concessions without any corresponding move on its part.

The worst thing the U.S. could do now is to sit on its hands and await further concessions without any corresponding move on its part. Such a course would strengthen the hand of those in the Venezuelan government who argue that however much they concede, Washington is interested only in getting rid of Maduro. It may well be that the Venezuelan president has no intention of going further, but the only way to find out is to engage in a process of gradual, reciprocal change. The ball is in Washington’s court.