Central African Republic: Fighting the Legacy of Conflict and Oblivion
Visiting one of Africa’s most forlorn nations after yet another coup toppled its government, the UN’s top political official directed strong messages not only at those who had illegally seized power, but also toward the international community.
“The Central African Republic cannot continue to be the ‘forgotten crisis’ that emerges briefly on the international radar screen and then slips back into oblivion until the next tragic flare-up,” Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary- General for Political Affairs, told a press conference in the capital, Bangui in April.
Nonetheless, after briefly making front-page news for its latest cycle of upheavals earlier this year, the Central African Republic (CAR) risks once again slipping into obscurity at a time when it direly needs international support to establish security and constitutional order.
At this writing, months after the government was brushed aside by an armed insurgency in March, CAR is experiencing some of the worst suffering the country has seen since gaining independence in 1960.
“The country is plunging into a state of general anarchy marked by a complete breakdown of law and order,” Mr. Ban reported with alarm to the Security Council in a May report.
His report noted that in the capital, looting and robberies reached “levels higher than anything the city has ever experienced”, while sporadic fighting and assaults against civilians continue in the rest of the country.
The crisis erupted when a loose rebel alliance captured large parts of the country in December, accusing President Bozizé of breaching earlier peace deals. Hopes for a peaceful settlement of hostilities were quickly dashed as a regionally brokered agreement faltered shortly after it was signed, with thousands of rebels flooding the riverside capital Bangui and sending President Bozizé into exile.
The UN’s political mission in the CAR has also been affected by the crisis, as offices, stocks and residences have been plundered. Throughout the crisis, Margaret Vogt, who finished her term as Special Representative of the Secretary-General in July, spearheaded the UN’s political efforts while humanitarian agencies have been providing life-saving assistance.
Now BINUCA is operating under a new leadership to help consolidate peace and national reconciliation in the CAR, as well as to strengthen democratic institutions and mobilize international support. Babacar Gaye, a former army general from Senegal and top UN peacekeeping official, took up the post of mission chief and Special Representative of the Secretary- General in July.
Turning the situation around will not be easy.
Michel Djotodia, who has proclaimed himself to be the head of state of the transition, has suspended the constitution and dissolved Parliament and the government.
The Libreville agreements — still the “linchpin” for re-establishing stability, according to the Secretary-General — have been repeatedly undermined. There has been pressure for legal provisions allowing the removal of the legitimate Prime Minister and enabling transitional government officials to stand in post-transition polls.
And many opposition and civil society leaders say the National Transitional Council and its enlarged successor, which is intended to guide the country through the three-year transition, have been established through an opaque process.
Politically, tensions are high and mistrust runs deep. The spirit of compromise leading to the Libreville peace agreements has faded. Rifts are becoming increasingly apparent among the Séléka leadership.
On the security front, transitional authorities have been unable or unwilling to control, disarm and canton the rebels, many of whom continue to roam the country. Coupled with fresh recruitments and fighting among Séléka factions, this feeds into a spiral of instability which creates a formidable challenge for overstretched regional MICOPAX troops and CAR forces.
During USG Feltman’s post-coup visit to Bangui, the city of three quarters of a million people was eerily quiet. A small number of French soldiers nervously guarded the international airport whose broiling tarmac was empty except for the UN plane. Normally bustling streets were largely deserted with the exception of pickup trucks carrying gun-toting rebels, and a smattering of residents standing apprehensively in doorways, street corners and market stalls.
How to establish security is the key question.
Central African officials have expressed interest in a UN peacekeeping force, but the deployment of “blue helmets” can only be authorized by the Security Council.
Meanwhile, the African Union has decided to establish an African-led International Support Mission, beefing up MICOPAX to 3,600 personnel and equipping it with a robust mandate which includes the protection of civilians. The UN was looking at how best it could support this force.
As time goes by, it becomes increasingly clear that the CAR will need years to recover from the latest crisis. More than 54,000 people have crossed the borders in search of peace and shelter, while over 200,000 others remained displaced within the country in March this year.
Tens of thousands are estimated to be food-insecure. The justice system, including prisons, will need to be rebuilt entirely, and elections will be complicated by a loss of citizen data. Meanwhile, human rights violations continue unchecked in large parts of the country, and disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating rebels is becoming an ever bigger challenge.
As one of the least developed nations in the world, the CAR cannot be left to fend for itself. To get back on its feet, the country needs the focused and sustained attention of the international community.