Central African Republic: a “forgotten” crisis returns to the fore
One of the world’s “forgotten” crises has forced its way back into the headlines now that rebels have swept across the Central African Republic, overthrowing the Government, forcing the president into exile and sending alarm throughout the international community.
Sadly, the recent rebellion is just the latest in a long history of upheavals that has sown misery for the people of one of Africa’s poorest countries – a place, says UN envoy Margaret Vogt, where “the elites fight, they launch coup d’états, they launch rebellions, but the people get trapped.”
Vogt, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the CAR, spoke to DPA E-News just as a recently-signed peace agreement was showing signs of unravelling into the recent rebel offensive.
UN efforts, along with those of partners in the region, are now focused on the restoration of constitutional order in the country and a return to the peace framework that was formerly in place.
But even if the current crisis is resolved, says Vogt, more sustained investments in peace and development will be needed to prevent the CAR from falling back down the “slippery slope” into conflict.
In the past it has been difficult to keep international attention on the country. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred recently to the situation in the Central African Republic as one of those crises that unfold far from the spotlight – “an occasional blip” on the world’s radar screen.
In a speech early in March, Mr. Ban expressed frustration that months after the launch of a $129 million funding appeal to relieve suffering in the CAR, “not one penny” had been received.
UN efforts on the ground are led by its peacebuilding office, known as BINUCA, whose mandate was recently extended for another year while the world body looks afresh at how best to assist the embattled nation against the backdrop of fast-evolving dynamics.
The most recent wave of violence erupted last December, when four rebel factions merged and overran large parts of the country. Séléka, composed of the Convention Patriotique pour le Salut du Kodro, the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix Centrafrique, the Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement and the Front Démocratique du Peuple Centrafricain, accused President François Bozizé of breaking past peace pacts under which fighters were promised reintegration assistance in exchange for laying down their arms.
The rebel insurgency swept to within striking distance of the capital Bangui within only three weeks, meeting with little resistance from the Central African Armed Forces, many of whom dropped their weapons and melted into the bush.
Amid international pressure and the deployment of regional troops, Séléka agreed to seek a political solution through negotiations with the Government. Meeting in Libreville, Gabon, for talks facilitated by the Economic Community of Central African States, parties signed a cease-fire and agreed that President Bozizé would remain in power and that a Prime Minister would be appointed from the opposition.
The UN contributed to the Libreville talks by providing logistical and technical support. United Nations efforts were led by Vogt and encompassed DPA staff and experts from the UN mediation standby team, as well as the United Nations’ Libreville-based envoy for Central Africa, Mr. Abou Moussa. The UN team worked behind the scenes to facilitate the mediation process and the drafting of agreements.
These efforts are part of BINUCA’s broader commitment to peacebuilding and national reconciliation, strengthening democratic institutions, and mobilizing international support for reconstruction and recovery. Operating under a mandate from the Security Council, the office also monitors human rights and promotes public awareness and civil society capacity in this regard.
Hopes that the Libreville agreements signed on 11 January 2011 would end the stalemate were quickly dashed, however. Séléka resumed hostilities in March, accusing President Bozizé of breaking commitments within the January peace deal to withdraw foreign troops, integrate rebel fighters into the army, and free political prisoners.
As rebels captured the riverside capital Bangui, home to more than 600,000 people, President Bozizé, a former rebel leader himself, fled and has reportedly sought refuge abroad. United Nations premises were looted, and its non-essential staff temporarily relocated.
But it is civilians who bear the brunt of the latest months of conflict. Thousands are still said to be hiding in the bush. Development gains have been lost and food prospects are dashed. Meanwhile, disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating rebels has become yet more pressing and daunting.
Four of the CAR’s five Presidents since independence in 1960 have been removed from power through unconstitutional means. Illegal weapons are awash in what many describe as a failed state where weak Government authority, pervasive impunity, ethnic tensions, and rebel activity have driven instability and displacement for decades. Combined, these factors breed a cycle of instability which has left Central Africans among the poorest in the world – in spite of rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium.
The international community swiftly condemned the 24 March overthrow of the Government. The Secretary-General condemned “the unconstitutional seizure of power” and urged “the swift restoration of constitutional order”, a call echoed widely by States and international players.
Likewise, the Security Council, after gathering in emergency consultations, called for the restoration of the rule of law and constitutional order and called on all parties to refrain from any acts of violence against civilians. The African Union suspended the CAR and imposed sanctions, travel restrictions, and an asset freeze on Séléka leaders.
Cracks quickly appeared among the leadership of Séléka, which means “alliance” in the local language Sango, as one of its leaders proclaimed himself President – an announcement swiftly rejected by members of his own loose rebel coalition.
Self-proclaimed President Michel Djotodjia, who was appointed Defence Minister under the January peace deal, announced he was suspending the constitution, dissolving Parliament and the Government, and intends to lead the country during a three-year transition period.
This is in stark contrast to the widely shared view in the international community, and expressed by the Security Council, that it is for the Government of National Unity oversee legislative elections.
The Libreville agreements remain “the most viable framework to ensure durable peace and stability in the country”, said the Secretary-General.
It is clear that the success of any political route forward hinges on the support of the Economic Community of the Central African States and the African Union, as well as the United Nations.
Central African actors need to find common ground and live up to their commitments. And the international community has no small role to play: “We need to ensure that when political agreements are reached, we invest heavily in the implementation,” says Vogt.
Political steps should be complemented by boosting security and the rule of law. There is no shortage of priorities in this field, starting with strengthening a national army in decay and disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating thousands of rebels.
One of the most important challenges on the horizon is to make sure that the CAR does not slip back into obscurity at a time when continued international support will be crucial. “Without a strong response from the international community there is no future”, warns the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Central African Republic, Margaret Vogt.
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