Central African Republic: Where To Go From Here

The Central African Republic (C.A.R.) has been embroiled in deadly conflict since a largely Muslim coalition of Seleka rebels deposed then-President Francois Bozize in 2013. This triggered reprisals from largely Christian militias. In recent years government forces – backed by United Nations peacekeepers and Russian and Rwandan troops – have been battling the Coalition of Patriots for Change. The C.P.C. seek to overturn the outcome of elections in December 2020, which saw President Faustin-Archange Touadéra re-elected for a second term. The ensuing clashes displaced over 1.4 million people, according to the U.N., which says 710,000 have been made refugees in neighbouring countries and a further 712,000 were internally displaced as of September 2021. Through these grim circumstances, the international community continues to press for a peaceful resolution in the C.A.R. Still, one cannot help but feel frustrated with a diplomatic process that has produced so few positive results.

In late 2020, President Touadéra promised to hold a national reconciliation dialogue following his controversial re-election. It was a positive sign when he declared the talks with the opposition and civil society would start on March 21st of this year. Unfortunately, the agenda for these talks was vague and lacked substantial aims. The opposition boycotted, and no rebel groups were invited. As a result, the talks ended without real progress.

International confidence in the process has waned, despite the announcement of 600 recommendations at the closing ceremony. “The President has always said he would bring peace to this country with dialogue,” Albert Yaloke Mokpeme, a spokesperson for the presidency, re-assured the A.F.P. news agency. “All the recommendations are necessary.” But Thierry Vircoulon, a Central Africa specialist at the French Institute of International Relations, disagrees. Vircoulon says that the recommendations “will not be implemented,” continuing that “even if the government wanted to … it doesn’t have the time or the money.”

While international actors have voiced their frustrations, closer examination shows that they too have played a role in perpetuating this civil war. In March 2021 U.N. experts, including those from the working group on the use of mercenaries, expressed concern about reports of crimes and human rights abuses committed by Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization with alleged connections to oligarchs close to Putin. Alleged crimes include extrajudicial executions, torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and forced displacement. Wagner has worked jointly with state security forces and, in some cases, U.N. peacekeepers.

Political commentators like Antoine Roger Lakongo, meanwhile, have accused France of being a “burden” to the C.A.R. and France’s other former African colonies. Lakongo alleges that France helped orchestrate Bozize’s demise as the C.A.R. was forming closer diplomatic ties with China, threatening France’s monopoly over C.A.R.’s natural resources. France and the Seleka coalition then allegedly fell out once its links with Al Qaeda in Maghreb (A.Q.I.M.) and Boko Haram in Nigeria became clearer to the public. This is all in addition to France’s colonial neglect of the C.A.R. and its extensive history of military meddling in C.A.R. post-independence. What remains is a “phantom state” locked in civil war while rapacious corporations from across the globe continue to extract its timber, oil, diamonds, and uranium.

At the same time, the C.P.C. has also come under intense scrutiny for its actions. In their 2022 World Report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed that from December 15th, 2020, to June 21st, 2021, C.P.C. fighters killed at least 61 civilians, many of whom they reportedly targeted for voting in the presidential election. H.R.W. also received “credible reports” throughout 2021 of dozens of civilians who were killed in the Ouaka province by fighters from the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic, an ally of the C.P.C. Landmines placed by fighters from 3R, another rebel group that sides with the C.P.C., in an apparent attempt to ward off attacks by national forces and their foreign allies in Ouham Pende province, killed at least 20 civilians. Among the dead was a worker from a Catholic mission and a humanitarian worker.

With tensions this high, it’s easy to understand why the spring 2022 talks failed.

It is important that both sides agree to a ceasefire and that the inflow of foreign arms into the C.A.R. is curtailed. Moreover, President Touadéra must seriously commit to a national reconciliation dialogue that involves all major stakeholders in the nation’s future. Furthermore, the commitments and recommendations that come from these talks must be substantive, clear, and majority-approved. The C.P.C., meanwhile, could adapt a more flexible approach towards the government. Although the current spate of conflict started after the contested 2020 election, free and fair elections alone likely won’t be enough to solve the myriad of issues plaguing the C.A.R. The government must strive to mend divides in the country, especially between rural areas and Bangui. With a foundation of inclusivity, security, and stability, the C.A.R. may finally start to move forward.

Simon Kamau