Central African Republic has been in turmoil since a violent takeover of power in 2013. The aftermath saw widespread violence as armed militia fought each other and took revenge on the population. The March 2016 election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra brought an initial lull, but was followed by more fighting in late 2016 and early 2017 between armed groups including ex-Seleka factions and anti-balaka militias – both controlling vast areas of the country. Lasting peace is still some way off as neither the new government nor the large UN force have the means to force armed groups to negotiate and disarm. Crisis Group works to reduce the risk of large flare-ups and help defuse the country’s many conflicts, encouraging international actors to work to weaken armed groups and improve the chances of effective negotiation.
In 2018, the African Union (AU) and its new Assembly Chairperson President Paul Kagame of Rwanda have the chance to push ahead with much-needed institutional reforms. But the AU must not lose focus on dire conflicts and defusing potential electoral violence.
Fighting between armed groups and attacks on civilians and peacekeepers surged, especially in north and centre. In Batangafo in north, anti-balaka community defence groups and ex-Seleka militants fought each other, attacked civilians, UN peacekeepers and humanitarian workers and pillaged humanitarian facilities end Oct-early Nov, leaving several people dead; fire started during fighting destroyed three camps for displaced people leaving over 30,000 people without shelter. UN deployed more peacekeepers. In Bambari in centre, militants of ex-Seleka faction Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) 13 Nov forced people out of their homes and occupied them. In Alindao in centre, fighting between UPC militants and anti-balaka 15 Nov left at least 60 people dead including two priests; Catholic church used as shelter for displaced people burned down. In Gbabia, near Berberati in west, Siriri armed group 16 Nov attacked UN base killing peacekeeper. Two parallel mediation processes – one led by African Union (AU), another by Russia and Sudan – continued to compete for buy-in. French FM Le Drian visited capital Bangui 1-2 Nov, encouraged President Touadéra to engage with AU-led mediation rather than process led by Russia and Sudan; he pledged 1,400 rifles for army and €24mn to help pay civil servant salaries and pensions and build infrastructure. Coalition of political parties and civil society groups 12 Nov signed memorandum asking for inclusive AU-led dialogue. UN Security Council 15 Nov extended mandate of UN mission (MINUSCA) for one month to allow more time for negotiations over new twelve-month mandate; U.S. expressed reservations over France’s proposed expansion of mandate due to resource implications and Russia objected to proposed language on primacy of AU-led mediation. International Criminal Court 11 Nov issued arrest warrant for MP and former anti-balaka leader Alfred Yekatom Rombhot, known as Rambo, for war crimes and crimes against humanity; Rombhot arrested late Oct after he fired shots in national assembly, taken to Netherlands 17 Nov and 23 Nov made his first appearance at court in The Hague.
Resurgent armed groups in Central African Republic are killing many civilians and causing widespread displacement. Government forces and the UN are in a weak position, and there are no quick solutions. To contain the violence, the government and international actors must agree on a roadmap for peace with armed groups that combines both incentives and coercive measures.
In Central African Republic, the conflict between armed groups is now compounded by a conflict between armed communities. The roadmap to end the crisis including elections late 2015 presents only a short-term answer and risks exacerbating existing tensions. The transitional authorities and their international partners must address crucial issues by implementing a comprehensive disarmament policy and reaffirming that Muslims belong within the nation.
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.
To stabilise the Central African Republic (CAR), the transitional government and its international partners need to prioritise, alongside security, action to fight corruption and trafficking of natural resources, as well as revive the economy.
Sensible, inclusive regulation of pastoralism that has mitigated tension in parts of the Sahel should be extended to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR), where conflicts have worsened with the southward expansion of pastoralism.
As the Central African Republic (CAR) stares into an abyss of potentially appalling proportions, the international community must focus on the quickest, most decisive means of restoring security to its population.
Russia is intensifying its relationships in Africa and [the Central African Republic] is one of their entry points. The government is weak so it’s an easy target.
International mobilization [in the Central African Republic] is much, much slower than the deterioration of the situation on the ground.
The main risk [of the escalating violence in Central African Republic] is really to come back to a conflict like it was in 2013, very close to a kind of civil war.
There is a risk that the process of negotiation [in the Central African Republic] around disarmament becomes bogged down and justice, including through the Special Criminal Court, accelerates.
Against the supposed Christian versus Muslim logic of this conflict [in the Central African Republic], we now see Muslim groups fighting Muslim groups, divided on ethnic lines and fighting for territory.
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.
Originally published in World Politics Review
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