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Central African Republic: Small Wars to Bigger Problems

“The north of the Central African Republic is now a war zone, with rival armed bands burning villages, kidnapping children, robbing travellers and killing people with impunity.” – Nicholas Kristof

“The abominable atrocities committed against children by armed groups and in the context of the ongoing violence must stop and perpetrators must be held accountable. I am deeply concerned about the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the continued climate of lawlessness and impunity.” – Ban Ki-moon

The Central African Republic (CAR) which was ruled by the French, became independent after the movement of Social Evolution of Black Africa (MESAN) in 1957. Barthelemy Boganda became the first Prime Minister of an independent CAR and ruled until his death in 1959. After the death of Boganda, David Dacko, his cousin took control over MESAN and became president in 1960. The next few decades brought severe hardship, power struggles, coup d’états, and French involvement, until CAR’s first real democratic elections in 1993, which brought Ange-Felix Patassé to power.

Patassé’s governance was morally corrupt; his officials were easily bribed, there was less involvement of the people and dissatisfaction among his military generals. Unsatisfied with his performance, the inter-African military mission took control over the government, which was later replaced by MINURCA, to little effect. Another coup occurred and Francois Bozizé came to power in 2003. This military general faced numerous rebel uprisings and hence he approached the French for help. With a history of unstable governance and insurgency, the war torn Central African Republic has significant mineral deposits and natural resources, like uranium reserves, gold, diamonds, and crude oil. However, the Central African Republic has the lowest per capita income of the top ten poorest countries in the world, with a per capita GDP of less than $600.

United Nations Involvement

After winning the re-election of 2011 (what many claimed to be fraudulent), in spite of widespread anger, rebel violence and public unrest, Bozizé continued to lead the Central African Republic. In November 2011, Islamic rebel groups named Séléka gained control over the northern and central regions of the country. To resolve the issue peacefully, a peace treaty was signed between Bozizé and Séléka in January 2013, which called for shared power between the two. The United Nations Security Council established its first United Nations Integrated Peace building Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) as per the resolution 2088 in January 2013. They were tasked to assist the transitional government in governance and provide humanitarian aid.

After a few struggling months, the agreements came to an end, and by March 2013, President Francois Bozizé faced a coup. Séléka seized the capital, making Michael Djotodia, their leader, the nation’s first Muslim President of a primarily Christian country.

The then Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye requested UN peacekeepers presence; ousted President Bozizé was indicted for crimes against humanity. As the days passed fighting and violence between the Séléka groups and the Bozizé supporters grew intense, leaving President Michel Djotodia no option but to dissolve the Séléka coalition.

Thus the coalition came to an end in September of 2013, as the Prime Minister was unable to control the violent factions. The Séléka militants refused to disarm and would not engage in any more peace agreements, however a close source of mine confirmed that a ceasefire agreement was signed between the two which lasted around 4 hours. Anti-Balakas along with Christian militias, started killing the Muslim population, a mass genocide was inevitable. Hundreds and thousands of innocent lives were lost during the intense battle between the two sections. Amid chaos France intervened and 1,600 troops were deployed in an effort to disarm the groups and militias. The United Nations Security Council was convened, and a threat to regional stability was foreseen. The United Nations implemented the BINUCA mission and deployed MISCA in October 2013, a peacekeeping force designed to support both the African Union troops along with French soldiers on the ground.

European Union military operation EUFOR RCA was later approved by the United Nations Security Council. EUFOR RCA was a comprised of French and Estonian soldiers, who were tasked to maintain security at the Bangui Airport on April 30, 2014. The EUFOR RCA was designed to support the United Nations Security Council peacekeeping operations. Many military experts considered EUFOR RCA as an effective mechanism and an extended arm of peacekeeping. The objectives of EUFOR RCA were outlined in S/RES/2149 in April 2014. The peace keeping operation turned the MISCA operation into MINUSCA, arming itself with 10,000 military personnel’s, advisors, and other staff soldiers to protect civilians and provide humanitarian assistance and support the transition process.

Current Scenario

In the early months of 2014, Djotodia and Tiangaye resigned as part of a peace deal since they failed to control Séléka violence. On January 23, 2014 Catherine Samba-Panza was elected as an interim President of the CAR. Following Congolese peacemaking efforts, Séléka rebels and the anti-Balaka militia forces agreed for a ceasefire agreement and by July 2014, talks began at Brazzaville.

Mahamat Kamoun was appointed by Samba Panza as the Prime Minister of CAR in August 2014. Kamoun, a Muslim politician, was a former member of Djotodia’s cabinet. Kamoun was tasked to lead the transitional government till the next year elections and guide the country through development along with steps to end the sectarian violence. Séléka rebels, however did not agree with his appointment and blamed the government for an authoritarian regime, rejected his authority, and blamed the transitional government for not discussing his appointment with other groups. On the contrary the anti-Balaka groups, were satisfied with Kamoun, and agreed to participate in a unity government.

Years of unstable and ineffective governance, have compromised the state, causing mob violence, humans rights abuses, and a loss of resources and innocent lives. Prisons and detention centres are filled with political prisoners who are victims of unlawful arrests. Corruption within the government is deep seeded, although CAR’s constitution addresses freedom of speech and liberty, the media is routinely targeted by the government. Women and children are prone to forced labour, human trafficking, and female genital mutilation. A UNHCR report estimated that over 68% of women under the age of 18 are married. Another report stated that women at the age of 20 bear their first child.

Government infrastructure is one of most hardest hit, although the government of Central African Republic ensures compulsory education to children ages 6 to 14, over half of the population are illiterate. With tension in the society and frequent clashes in the state, the CAR is on the verge of sectarian violence, and shows signs of producing terrorist organizations, Islamic radicalisation and future possible insurgencies.