Over 240,000 people have been displaced in the Central African Republic since December, according to a new report.
This comes after a recent spike in violence in the ongoing civil war. Since the nation achieved independence from France in 1960, its history has been filled by military rule and violence. In fact, since 1960 it has only seen around a decade of civilian government (between 1993 and 2003.) Since 2012 the country has been embroiled in a civil war started with the removal of former president Francois Bozizé
During Bozizé’s reign resentment grew amongst the country’s Muslim ethnic minority, who believed the government was neglecting them on ethno-religious grounds. Central African Republic politician Michel Djotdia capitalized upon this resentment to form the Séléka alliance, a rebel group of a majority Muslim origin. Violence between the Séléka and Bozizé forces was widespread and had a catastrophic effect on the country. After Djotdia seized power, he formally dissolved the group but did not disarm them resulting in the rebels dispersing into the country and committing atrocities including mass murder, rape and recruiting child soldiers.
In retaliation against this violence, Christian ethnic groups formed their own faction, the ‘anti-Balaka’. This group was created both as a means of protection against the Séléka but also as a tool for revenge as a result of the violence Christians had faced by their hands. Violence between these two groups saw displacement of approximately 590’000 Central Africans and thousands of deaths.
Today the two groups have dissolved into fourteen armed militias. Conflict between them has resulted in approximately 2.8 million people, or 57% of the population, being in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and protection.
One of the rebel groups consists primarily of Bozizé’s own ethnic group, the Gbaya, and are consequently pushing for his reinstatement as president. All of this contributes to keeping the country stuck in the vicious cycle it has been in over the last few years.
After two years under Michel Djotdia, the Central African Republic elected Faustin-Archange Touadéra. His election resulted in France removing almost 2’500 troops from the country and was understood by rebel groups as the indirect withdrawal of French support to the Central African Republic’s government. This encouraged them to fight harder.
On December 6th, 2020 Francois Bozizé returned from exile to announce he would be running in the presidential election later that month. His attempt to run was rejected by the government due to the accusations he faced from the United Nations for facilitating war crimes. He had allegedly been hiding in Uganda.
On December 19th, eight days before the election, the government publicly accused Bozizé of once again attempting a military coup to seize power. However, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was ultimately re-elected with 53.92% of the vote. The United Nations are urging all parties involved in the conflict within the Central African Republic to respect this result, however there is no indication that peace will occur in the short-term.
The recent coup is indicative of continued violence and unrest within the country since the civil war began in 2012.
The government is stuck in a deadlock with the fourteen armed groups controlling the countryside. While the political power rests in the government-controlled capital city of Bangui, the rebel groups control lands rich in uranium, gold and diamonds. This access to natural resources is providing them with bargaining tools to access weapons, mercenaries and further their individual group goals. These fourteen armed groups control approximately 75% of the countryside.
The rebels are able to keep portions of the countryside in a relatively stable condition, but do not have the ability to spread their influence across the rest of the nation. On the other hand, while these rebel groups control vast amounts of the population, resources and geography then Touadéra and the rest of his cabinet have no capacity to govern their state. Effectively, he is a president who is able to run the capital but not the country.
Russia, Sudan and Rwanda have all deployed troops into the country in order to support Touadera and encourage peace. There are concerns that these groups are motivated instead by financial motivation. On top of this, Touadara’s national security detail is allegedly composed of Russia mercenaries rather than CAR nationals.
In 2019 the fourteen armed groups and the government signed a Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation. This theoretically created an embargo within the country for buying arms as well as a deal to stop the fighting, but has proven ineffective. Since then, seven groups have officially left the deal and widespread violence and arms trafficking continues.
The Central African Republic is roughly seven and a half times larger than Ireland, despite having similar population sizes. This means that it’s geographical borders are porous and mercenaries from across the continent can be brought in to support the various groups in conflict. They can be afforded as a result of the natural resources within the land that the fourteen armed groups control.
David Otto Endeley is a UK national and first generation immigrant from Cameroon. He is the Founding Director of the Conflict Prevention and Resolution programme - Step In Step Out (SISO). In 2019 he sat down with the leaders of the fourteen armed groups as well as the government to establish why fighting had broken out in the first place and establish what each group wanted.
To him, all groups want peace for the country, however the manner they go about this is different. A significant divider is that many of the rebel leaders want to lead the country themselves rather than support others.
A key component of ‘Step In Step Out’ is their solutions based approach to fighting radicalism. Prior to 2012, the Central African Republic’s population experienced little to no ethnic tension. Therefore, it is easier to engage at a grassroots level for deradicalization within the country as the population has an accessible connector.
This connector they share is that they can easily remember what life was like less than a decade earlier, before the civil war broke out. Endeley believes the Central African Republic’s government and militias need to return to the “last known good”. There is no need to rebuild relationships within the country, but ask the population to remember them.
The country is currently attempting to introduce a Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration (DDR) scheme although they do not have the capacity to successfully accomplish this. If the government wants rebels to reintegrate, but you do not have structures to reintegrate them, then they are doomed to fail.
Additionally, if the government is struggling to control the country then there is very little incentive for rebels to lay down their arms. This builds into the cycle the country has found itself in. Rebels will not lay down their arms until the government can take care of its country, but this is not possible until the armed groups are dismantled.
Unfortunately the majority of civilians feel the government does not care for them as they are not armed and therefore low on the national list of priorities. The government has no structural capacity to really engage with the issues facing them as it can barely access a vast portion of the population.
At the moment over 684’000 people are displaced within the Central African Republic. Refugees have fled to countries such as Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 51% of the nation’s population do not have enough to eat and almost 38% of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. Coupled with the government’s inability to care for them, it creates an environment in which vulnerable people are radicalized towards violent extremism.
Despite the UN previously saying that the country was on an optimistic path, the reality is very different indeed. Political spokespeople have rejected any offer of negotiating with rebels as the government “would never negotiate with people guided by a logic of violence.” In the immediate future the cycle looks set to continue and without a miracle, there is no reason to think otherwise.