Central African Republic neglected by the international community? Analysis
In the Central African Republic, protests, clashes, reprisal attacks and armed conflict were sparked recently by the killing of a Muslim taxi driver in Bangui. The root causes of the crisis in the CAR can be traced back to events following the overthrow of President Francois Bozize in March 2013. Sectarian violence has continued despite the presence of UN peacekeepers and French troops. At least 60 were killed in the latest violence and tens of thousands displaced from their homes. Why does the CAR continue to be engulfed in an uncontrollable spiral of violence? And is there a way out? RFI spoke to Central African Republic researcher Evan Cinq-Mars, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
Why do you say the international response has been woefully inadequate?
I think there are a number of factors. First and foremost, CAR has not received meaningful attention from the international community for many, many years. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been the recipient of significant numbers of both peace building, peacekeeping and humanitarian responses. From that perspective, unfortunately over the course of the past few decades these interventions - whether focused on providing humanitarian assistance or trying to address various crises - have not meaningfully addressed recurring cycles of violence in CAR and the factors that drive them. And as a result have actually contributed to frequent bouts of instability including the most recent crisis that’s gripped the country since December 2012.
Has disarmament or a lack of it led to some of the fighting we’ve seen recently?
Absolutely, the armed groups in CAR have benefitted from unfortunate failures in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration efforts by the international community for many years. The armed groups have been able to exploit transnational networks that have provided weapons to CAR both from Chad and Sudan, and continue to use weaponry against civilians in the context of not only indiscriminate and targeted attacks against civilians but also hostilities between the armed groups as well.
Which regional states have been giving the UN Security Council cues, as you say?
Why was the UN Security Council taking cues from countries that have a particular interest in the Central African Republic? From that perspective, the Council during critical moments of the crisis followed the lead of states within the Economic Community of Central African States, which is a sub-regional organisation. That organisation is predominately led by Chad which has particular and specific interests in CAR. It’s part of a broader issue at the UN and at the UN Security Council specifically of looking for regional solutions to regional crises. So in terms of taking cues, I would say the Security Council really focused on the preferences and priorities of the Economic Community of Central African States, among which some members had their own particular self-interest in the Central African Republic.
Which members have focused on their own self-interest?
I would say Chad, Sudan, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo – many countries are interested in the Central African Republic in the context of not only ensuring that insecurity does not affect them along their border regions, but CAR has also been used as a rearguard for rebel movements for many different countries. CAR has relied upon regional states for its own security - consecutive presidents in the Central African Republic have relied on security guaranteed by Chad. So there are many [countries] in the Central African region that play a particular game in the Central African Republic, that negatively impacts civilians more so than anyone else.
Are there particular areas of self-interest for permanent members of the UN Security Council?
This was one of the issues with the Central African Republic in the lead up to this current crisis, that it was not a geopolitically important situation of concern. The one country that stepped up and intervened was France. I think that as a former colonial power it really speaks volumes about the state of civilian protection in the 21st century if the UN Security Council has to rely on and in fact calls on, at the 11th hour, a former colonial power to launch a military intervention to protect civilians. I think it’s a sort of anachronistic ‘spheres of influence’ approach that really had a detrimental effect in the Central African Republic in terms of the response to the situation, the consequences of which we’re still seeing today.
Why do you say that there’s been a rush to elections?
It’s part of a pattern of engagement in the Central African Republic not only with respect to this current crisis, but previous crises where the international community - particularly international organisations and key players in the response to the crisis - have always put elections as a benchmark, towards moving onwards and upwards to focus on other situations. And this has been particularly true in CAR with the current situation. I think that elections are still seen as the benchmark by which actors can say, ‘okay we’ve held elections and we can move forward now’. I think that’s a definite priority, but the recent violence has certainly indicated that there are still concerns with the security situation and rushing to elections might only risk exacerbating that further.
Is President Catherine Samba-Panza capable of turning the situation around?
She has the monumental task of trying to address a crisis that has outpaced the ability of her own authorities [the interim government], but also the international community to respond. And she can’t do it alone, nor can CAR’s transitional authorities. She will require the ongoing, sustained and enhanced assistance of the international community. Particularly, if the priority is to move to elections, perhaps not this month - October as they were originally scheduled - but before the end of 2015. So the answer very simply is no. She can’t do it on her own - the interim president will require sustained international support to meet the benchmarks, of not only elections but also reconciliation, of ensuring a level of justice and accountability, addressing the security situation - the tasks ahead are truly immense.
Do you see a risk of renewed civil war?
I don’t necessarily see a risk of renewed civil war, what I do see is a risk of a widening conflict between the armed groups in the Central African Republic, and there’s certainly a possibility of that. There are many worrying reports coming out of Bangui and the interior over the past few days – the armed groups regrouping, moving on strategic areas. It’s certainly concerning and particularly as we consider the impact of the weekend’s violence between 25 and 26 September and what’s ensued, and how that might continue to impact on the civilian population.