The Central African Republic Sinking Back Into Chaos

On October 24, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres chose to spend the organization’s National Day in the Central African Republic (CAR). He declared that it was a “duty of solidarity” when explaining his visit, before adding that he also hoped to shake the internal community who, he believes, neglects the nation and does not put enough effort into the building and safeguarding of peace.

Since its independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic has struggled to find peace and stability. It has remained an extremely weak state shaken by repeated coups and power clashes. The twenty-first century has shown no signs of positive evolution. Bozizé’s ascension to power in 2003 has marked the start of a new period of violent tensions. The legitimacy of his governance is being questioned ever since he threw his first successful military coup. Over the past few years, rebellions have grown more organized and powerful, which has intensified tensions. In November 2013, the UN drafted a worrying report over the fear that a genocide might occur. The following month, the country plunged into an aggravated civil war, and the intergovernmental organization finally mandated that France engage in a military intervention to prevent further chaos.

Operation Sangaris was launched on December 5, 2013. Far from being the first military operation in the country, it falls into a long history of interventionism in the CAR. It is, in fact, the seventh time that France launches a military operation since the nation’s independence. European and UN forces, however, have also been present for decades in peace-building and stabilization efforts. Like most interventions, Sangaris does not have, in former President Hollande’s words: “a long-term calling.” The goal of the operation was to restore state sovereignty, support local forces, and prevent a possible disastrous genocide. It was scheduled to last six months; instead it lasted three years. It was planned to deploy a maximum of 1,600 soldiers, but at its peak it reached a force of 2,400 soldiers. These elements demonstrate the complex and violent challenges facing the country. The progressive withdrawal of French troops began in March 2016. Since July, the mission has reached a format of 350 soldiers. The operation has also been militarily effective, in the sense that it has reached the objectives set up by the French government. It has not, however, solved the problems deeply rooted in the CAR. Just like the numerous military interventions preceding it, it did not prevent the nation’s spiral back into chaos.

Guterres’ visit comes days after the UN published a new report highlighting the deaths of 133 civilians by armed groups between November 2016 and February 2017. The report also stated that there were “credible allegations” with regards to the deaths of another 293 civilians. In May, the UN released the “Mapping Project,” which listed 620 incidents of serious violations of international human rights. Since then, project Armed Conflict Location & Events Data (ACLED) counted 1,145 victims since the beginning of 2017. Other abuses mentioned by these reports include murders, kidnappings, sexual violence, torture, large-scale destruction of homes and properties, recruitment of child soldiers, violence based on religion and ethnicity, and presumed support for armed groups. In September, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that ongoing violence has led to the highest level of displacement since the start of the crisis in 2013, with over one million people being forced to leave their homes.

The risk of a genocide lingers once more over the Central African Republic. Just like before, the end of a strong military presence has allowed inter-communal violence to rise again. Interventions are necessary to prevent a direct disastrous outcome, but they are only planned for the short-term and offer ephemeral results. To save the country from its endless spiral into chaos, the internal community should provide more – more efforts, more means, and more time. Long-term political and social solutions are necessary, but can only be implemented in a stable and secure environment provided by a credible military force. The building of peace and the “duty of solidarity,” however, comes at a price that nations cannot or are not ready to pay.