Central African Republic’s Tense Election

Tensions are rising ahead of presidential and legislative elections this month in the Central African Republic (CAR), with increasing violence by armed groups and friction between candidates gripping national headlines.

Following an attack by rebels on Rwandan peacekeeping troops, a “protection force” has been deployed to the CAR. The rebels were believed to have been advancing to the capital, Bangui, but UN peacekeepers have reported that their advance has been halted. A CAR government spokesperson, Ange Maxime Kazagui, reported that alongside the 750 Rwandan soldiers and police officers already operating under the UN peacekeeping force Minusca, Russia had also sent several hundred soldiers and heavy weapons to the country to support the government, as part of bilateral agreements.

This news came before the presidential election that is to be held on Sunday 26 December, from which ex-president François Bozizé has been barred following allegations of backing rebels and plotting a coup. Bozizé has denied such claims. He, among other opposition parties, have called for the vote to be postponed until a “re-establishment of peace and security.” Howver, President Faustin Archange Touadéra insists Sunday’s election will go ahead, claiming the presence of the army and UN peacekeepers means people have nothing to fear.

Mr Bozizé, of Christian faith, came to power following a coup in 2003, and claimed two subsequent election wins, which have been widely understood as fraudulent. In 2013, he was ousted by a rebel coalition – the Séléka – drawing largely from the Muslim minority. Since then, the country has been caught in conflict between the Séléka and mainly Christian self-defence forces, who call themselves the anti-Balaka.

After military intervention in 2016, elections were held, appointing President Touadéra, who is currently seeking re-election. But fighting among military groups has continued, with the UN blaming rebel groups for the country’s instability.
Although Mr Bolzizé had until recently been living in exile in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin and Cameroon, he announced his presidential campaign in July, a move that seemed to provoke the country’s simmering civil unrest. He still maintains a large following, both in the army and among the country’s largest ethnic group, the Gbaya. However, he faces UN sanctions for his alleged support of the anti-Balaka, and CAR authorities have issued an arrest warrant for his “crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide.”
Despite this, his support in the country prevails, as on Saturday three main rebel groups announced an alliance called the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), accusing President Touadéra of trying to rig the upcoming election.
As election campaigning intensifies, militia groups also remain active, and reports by UN investigators, the U.S. military and further journalists have also documented activity by the Russian private military firm, the Wagner Group.
Hope Oxley Green