As the donor conference for the Central African Republic (CAR) takes place in Brussels on 17 November, the post-election status quo is increasingly fragile. The stalemate blocking negotiations on the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of armed groups has raised tensions which could result in renewed destabilisation. Grievances of the parties in CAR’s crisis are growing in a context of heightened vulnerability: the dry season is approaching, the French military mission Sangaris officially ended on 31 October and the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) shows continued weaknesses.
End of the Status Quo on the Ground as UN Mission Is Put to the Test
Since taking office in March 2016, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has engaged in dialogue with the ex-Seleka (a coalition of armed groups mainly from the north east) and anti-balaka self-defence militia to try to strike a new deal on DDR. But talks have stalled due to the ex-Seleka’s desire to join the army, and chances that the government and armed groups can find a compromise position are currently very slim. The decision of hard-line ex-Seleka factions not to take part in the latest DDR discussions in Bangui signalled a serious problem.
At stake in the DDR talks is the future composition of the army – the Gordian knot of the crisis. Anti-balaka and ex-Seleka armed groups have not lost their ability to cause harm and the stalemate on DDR is gradually consolidating the de facto division of the country. At the end of the rainy season, some ex-Seleka groups met in Bria and neighbouring Chad before a wave of violence shook the centre of the country (in Kaga-Bandoro mid-October and Bambari at the end of October).
The onset of the dry season has allowed armed groups to be more mobile, causing an increase in attacks against villages and banditry on main roads. Armed groups have been sighted along the highly coveted cattle herding routes in areas including around Ngaoundaye, Koui, Yelewa, Markounda and Kabo. The territorial partition has allowed ex-Seleka groups to further entrench themselves in some areas and consolidate their sources of revenue by banning all government administration. As the ex-Seleka have reactivated, some anti-balaka groups have also started to regroup.
In Bangui, the capital, despite the departure of some armed group leaders in October, the PK5 neighbourhood still poses a serious security threat. On 4 October, Captain Mombeka, previously aide de camp to transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza, was killed in the middle of the street. Several Muslim residents were killed in revenge. On 30 October, fighting between armed groups in the same neighbourhood killed two leaders, Abdul Danda and Issa Capi (aka “50/50”), and at least eight other people. Sporadic clashes resumed on 2 November.
This impasse has undermined President Touadéra and MINUSCA, both the subject of growing popular frustration.
MINUSCA’s peacekeepers have been under constant attack. Their actions have been publicly criticised by members of the government, civil society organisations and the national press to the point that petitions have circulated against UN contingents accused of collusion with armed groups. Resentment against UN troops has turned into open hostility: on 24 October the Civil Society Reflection Group organised a protest march with the slogan “MINUSCA Out” which collapsed into violence and resulted in four deaths. More recently, three Muslim UN soldiers were almost lynched in Bossangoa.
The End of the Honeymoon
Touadéra’s honeymoon after his comfortable electoral victory, thanks to the support of many politicians, was short-lived. Within Bangui’s incestuous political microcosm, the tensions apparent before the elections are now resurfacing. Relations between legislative and executive powers are tense with the prime minister barely escaping a no-confidence vote just months after taking office. Civil society organisations and religious leaders are publicly expressing their disappointment, as opposition parties like the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC) and the Union for Central African Renewal (URCA) are making clear their disapproval. At the same time, former President Bozizé’s clan is secretly pushing for his return to power (his son Francis Bozizé returned to Bangui in August) and some members of the government are double dealing by maintaining alliances with undesirable groups
Some players have poisoned the atmosphere further by claiming that security will be restored by the Central African Armed Forces (FACA). Such a false and demagogic promise plays on the population’s despair. Current attempts by the government to find support for military training from foreign armies known for their brutality will only complicate security sector reform
The deadlock in DDR negotiations and the UN’s inability to improve security create ideal conditions for those who wish to destabilise the new government. Tactics to do so have been tried and tested on several occasions including in October in Bangui when bad news was exploited to spark urban unrest. Renewed violence by ex-Seleka members in the PK5 neighbourhood or the countryside could be manipulated to create an uprising in the capital, particularly during one of the president’s numerous trips abroad.
To avoid a new attempt to destabilise the country or even overthrow the current leadership, and to unblock DDR talks, the following actions should be taken:
To the UN Security Council:
Confirm that MINUSCA will act immediately to prevent any attempted coup in Bangui;
Make necessary preventive operational arrangements to protect Bangui, state institutions and the president; and
Give MINUSCA the authority and means to arrest certain ex-Seleka warlords, in accordance with Security Council Resolution S/RES/2301 of 26 July 2016.
To President Touadéra:
Broaden his political base by opening the government to opposition parties and regularly consulting opposition party leaders;
Communicate to the public honestly about the current state of the FACA, and begin structural reform of the security forces including by cleaning up and renewing their personnel so that the country’s various ethnic groups and regions are represented; and
Refrain from soliciting military training from countries whose armies are known for their brutality and lack of professionalism;
To Chadian President Idriss Déby, who has well-known ties to armed group leaders in CAR:
Use his influence to convince certain ex-Seleka leaders to reduce their claims to army and government positions.
To the government of France:
Warn off potential coup plotters and underline, together with partners like the African Union, that the international community will not recognise any government installed by a coup, and that its sponsors and organisers would be held accountable for all abuses; and
Make available quickly to the UN mission the drones promised by the defence ministry in order to pre-empt any hostile moves.
To donors participating in the Brussels conference on 17 November, including the European Union:
Provide assistance for stabilisation and crisis management with a timeframe of at least five years;
Direct the non-humanitarian portion of this aid toward improving public finances and structural reform of the security forces, and prioritise these two aspects, critical for rebuilding a functioning state;
Assess realistically the CAR government’s capacity to put in place projects worth tens of millions of euros and implement them accordingly; and
Devote a considerable portion of the aid to projects directly contributing to the recovery of crisis-affected communities and improving the skills of their members.
(c) 2016 International Crisis Group