“It’s particularly critical because what’s at stake for both [CAR President Faustin-Archange] Touadera and the country is to break the patterns of the past, to try, even in the midst of this crisis, to come up with ways of doing things differently,” Richard Moncrieff, the Central Africa project director of ICG, tells RFI.
“There needs to be an acknowledgement of the mistakes of the past, there needs to be better development in the provinces to undercut the armed groups,” he says, among other measures.
Although the country was relatively calm following Touadera’s election in 2016, an upsurge in attacks by armed groups throughout the country in 2017 have caused thousands to flee to neighboring Chad, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, while the UN maintains that some 600,000 civilians are internally displaced.
Last August, then-deputy UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, visited Bangassou, where he saw some 2,000 Muslim civilians taking shelter at the Catholic church. The Red Cross had said in May that it found 115 bodies. He said that the country was on the verge of a “genocide”.
On Thursday, Touadera reiterated that no genocide is going on within the country, but spoke about the violence that has gripped some regions within the country.
“For us, genocide is a very strong word. There has been violence. The situation in the Central African Republic varies between cities and regions. Therefore, we think that to talk about genocide at this stage is going too far,” he said.
While there is agreement that the ongoing violence of armed groups and civilian exodus cannot continue, there is no acknowledgement of one firm plan to get the country back on track. A raft of mediation, from regional groups, the African Union, even Sant’Egidio, a Vatican-supported peace-building group, have created a number of documents, but no firm control on the ground. The problems with this are multiple, says Moncrieff.
“One problem is the content of the agreements, which is sometimes quite unclear, sometimes ambivalent, particularly concerning how the leaders of armed groups approach things whether to include them in government, whether to prosecute them,” he says.
Central Africans and civil society groups are tired of living in fear and do not want amnesty for armed groups on the table, while regional actors, including Chad, want the government to make concessions to armed groups.
“While an amnesty for these armed group rebel leaders is not a good idea, there are nevertheless some concessions that can be made to address some of the concerns of the armed groups, to bring some members of the armed groups into the process,” says Moncrieff.
The report further indicates that former militia could have a position in local government, not necessarily national government, such as Mahmat Zacharia, an influential ex-Seleka leader, who was also a municipal councilor in Gordil in the early 2000s.
Those who organize the mediation efforts are often very biased, says Moncrieff, while those included at the table are not necessarily the ones who claim to represent the armed groups and cannot impose the agreements on the groups out in the field.
“What’s needed, and we hope this is coming with the new African Union initiative, is to reduce the number of initiatives in order to have a single agreed platform,” he says. The AU CAR National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan 2017-21 needs to be supported and enforced by the AU, too, he adds.
“An agreement that says the right thing means nothing if it has no leverage and support behind it to impose it on the armed groups whose leaders have signed it,” he adds.
Cattle issues should be included
The report indicates that paying more attention to local security issues, including transhumance, or the seasonal movement of herding livestock. RFI has previously spoken to Central African refugees in southern Chad, who point out that the theft of their cattle as one of the primary reasons they fled.
“The issue of the security of livestock is absolutely central both to the concerns of ordinary people and to the grievances which is driving the creation of armed groups, which are then politically manipulated and become violent,” says Moncrieff.
Cattle security is a key point for international regional cooperation, as well, he adds, because “no neighbor has a genuine interest in a state of anarchy concerning livestock. Livestock corridors and livestock markets can be secured to deter people who are stealing cattle at the point of a gun.”
Bangui, the capital, is more stable than the rest of the country, because the state structure cannot maintain peace beyond the urban areas, says Mohammed Bello, acting secretary-general of the Confederation of African Traditional Herders, who spoke to RFI from Cote d’Ivoire, where he is attending a regional transhumance meeting.
Bello agrees that livestock protection and seasonal pastoral corridors need to be established. “Livestock is something you can regularly translate into cash, something that people hunt, that people steal. It’s a threat for pure pastoralists and most of them have become refugees.”
Moncrieff knows that bringing up cattle issues during mediation is difficult, but focusing on the needs of ordinary Central Africans, too, should not be lost in the paperwork.
“It’s not easy for the international community and international powers to focus on this when they are dealing with a very violent crisis,” he says. “The point we’re trying to make is that if we want the solutions to be sustainable and durable, we do have to look at these underlying issues again.”