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.
Intercommunal violence flared in capital Bangui, while in provinces armed groups continued to attack national and international forces and civilians, leaving dozens dead. In Bangui, skirmish between security forces and armed group under command of leader known as General Force 1 May triggered fighting between Muslim and Christian armed groups and attacks against civilians, leaving 24 people dead: armed men from predominantly Muslim PK5 neighbourhood 1 May attacked church in Fatima neighbourhood killing several worshippers and priest; in response, assailants lynched two suspected Muslims and burned down mosque. Next day, police dispersed thousands at Bangui cathedral protesting against govt’s failure to stem violence. Grenade attack at market in PK5 23 May killed two people; same day armed group from PK5 attacked Fatima neighbourhood, fighting left ten dead. Also in Bangui, civilians stoned vehicle of UN mission (MINUSCA) 4 May and anti-banditry police, seemingly by mistake, killed aide to Sudanese ambassador. In Bambari in centre, armed men reportedly affiliated with ex-Seleka faction Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) attacked gendarmerie, police station, UN base, NGO premises and catholic church, killing eight people 14-15 May; UN said it had regained control of town 16 May. Suspected anti-balaka fighters ambushed Mauritanian UN peacekeepers 28km south of Alindao in centre 17 May, killing one. After ex-Seleka factions assembled in Kaga Bandoro in north late April raising fears of attack on Bangui, two French fighter planes, at UN’s request, flew over Kaga Bandoro area 13 May. President Touadéra met Russian President Putin in St. Petersburg 23 May to discuss economic and military cooperation.
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.
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
Africa is experiencing the highest number of humanitarian crises since the 1990s. As the new chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, takes office, International Crisis Group suggests how he can strengthen the organisation’s response to threats to continental peace and security.