Africa Renewal: What was the main challenge you faced when you first arrived in Bangui in July 2013? How was the country you encountered a year ago?
Babacar Gaye: When I arrived in Bangui in 2013, I was in charge of a political mission in a very different environment. First, it was an environment with no real threats against UN staff, but it faced a lot of pressure from the lootings the country had gone through before my arrival. Second, it was a country without law and order. Law and order were then in the hands of an informal group called the Seleka. Human rights were at that time at the core of my concerns. I had a political mandate. But since my career had been in the military, this was my first political assignment. I realized the difference the day I issued my first press communiqué denouncing human rights violations and putting the UN on the high moral ground. But since then, the country has changed. Since the 15 December 2013 attack, the political situation has stabilized. We now have an elected president who is doing her best with limited resources.
The mission will have up to 12,000 uniformed personnel. Why such a big contingent for a country of less than five million people?
Usually, people question the size of peacekeeping missions, viewing them as too big. It’s quite the opposite here. Most observers feel that 12,000 forces are not enough. I try to do my best with the resources we have been granted by the Security Council. For the time being, 12,000 is a good figure if we compare with other UN peacekeeping operations. But this country is the size of France with one-third of the population of Paris. If you take into account the current situation, the lack of national forces, notably police and gendarmerie, and all the gaps within the justice system, you will see that this mission will have a lot to do to implement all its mandated tasks. It will therefore be a matter of prioritizing tasks and a matter of innovation. We will have to take some urgent temporary measures to help the government restore the criminal justice system. Whether we like it or not, we will have to assume some responsibilities on behalf of the government. Therefore, the key to me is not the size of the force, but the mindset of the uniformed peacekeepers and my civilian colleagues who will be working in this mission.
In September, troops here under the African Union (AU)’s International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) will become blue helmets. Are all these troops ready to be re-hatted?
I would like to highlight the excellent relationship that exists between the AU and the UN. The AU peace support concept is to react very quickly to any crisis on the continent, and when the situation is suitable to deploy a UN peace operation, to hand over the mission to the UN. This has been designed by the Security Council and is what is going to happen. When you have to intervene, I would say, within a short period of time, you immediately do so, without waiting to have all your capacities ready on the ground. Most of the time African troops are faced with gaps in their capacities, but these are often made up by their commitment and their understanding of the regional dynamics. Their motivation is also to avoid a spillover of the crisis to their own countries. The UN will therefore be very happy to welcome within MINUSCA most of the MISCA contingents with the understanding that they will progressively beef up their capacity to align them with UN standards, rules and procedures.
Which other countries will be part of MINUSCA? Is there a selection criterion to accept troop-contributing countries?
Yes, indeed. The UN has very strict criteria. The first is the profile of the troops. The secretary-general has established a policy — the zero tolerance policy — not only on sexual exploitation and abuse but also on human rights. It is therefore very important that we have troops with good profiles that have been trained for peacekeeping operations. The second criterion is that the office of the military adviser for UN peace operations has designed a document on standards for UN peacekeepers. This document is distributed to all the member states. We also pay particular attention to the capacities of African contingents.
How easy will it be and how important is it to deploy in all regions of the country?
Our plan is to deploy MINUSCA throughout the country, including having offices opened in all localities countrywide. The purpose is first to deliver on our mandate to protect the population. It is also to help the government extend its administration countrywide. We expect to be present in localities such as Berberati, Bouar or Ndélé as part of decentralization. And we also plan to help in attracting donors, designing projects and addressing the root causes of insecurity, which is poverty and underdevelopment.
What will be the role of the UN in the political dialogue that many stakeholders are demanding?
Our mandate is to support all the efforts that are being made to stabilize the country. We will provide good offices that will start a political process. We are working on taking over from where BINUCA left off. The authorities have just agreed to our concept of operations for a new political process. We also shared the concept with the other international stakeholders. It is a three-step approach: first, there will be a cessation of hostilities, followed by disarmament; second, there will be consultations that will give all communities throughout the country the opportunity to express themselves; and last but not least, there will be assistance in laying the foundation for economic development and good governance in this country. We designed this three-step approach and shared it with all the stakeholders for comments. Today, we are committed to help in its implementation using our good offices and expertise and if possible with financial support, notably through labour-intensive activities that we will offer to former combatants. We are therefore participating actively in the political process. Other stakeholders consider the UN as important interlocutors who will listen to them and give voice to the international community as they expect and need to resolve their differences.
What will be the role of the African Union and other regional actors when MISCA’s mandate ends?
I think that today, one of the main achievements of the UN and the international community in the Central African Republic is that we are speaking with one voice as expressed in the cooperation between the African Union, the UN and the European Union. This is a welcome achievement because we have established mechanisms on the ground that allow us to exchange views, coordinate actions and respond jointly to the challenges facing the international community in handling this complicated crisis. Our work complements each other. There is no reason for any change after the re-hatting of AU peacekeepers. There is very close coordination between the AU, the UN and the European Union and bilateral cooperation with countries such as France and the US. Every organization has its comparative advantage, and I feel that it is our duty to try and complement our competencies in order to present a common position to other stakeholders.
What is your dream for the Central African Republic in September 2015, one year from now?
My dream is to see children returning to school. My dream is to see Muslims and Christians, non-Muslims and non-Christians preparing to celebrate their national day together. My dream is to see this country regaining its confidence for the future, to see that its people want to continue existing as a united country, that they are in a position to play their part in the development of a stable, prosperous Central African Republic.