Originally Published 2014-01-06 12:59:05 Published on Jan 06, 2014
Since France has said that it will not be continually involved in African intervention, the solution to security problems in Africa must come from the Africans themselves. The establishment of a pan-African force to react to crisis with support from Europe has been suggested by France.
CAR: Back to chaos and lawlessness
" When the long-running civil war in the landlocked Central African Republic (CAR) between rebel and government forces ended in 2007, observers hoped that peace would usher in a new era of economic recovery and development. Instead, CAR has plunged into a state of chaos since President Francois Bozizé was ousted in March 2013 by the Séléka rebel alliance who accused the President of not abiding to the peace agreements signed in 2007 and 2011. Bozizé, the then Army Chief of Staff, started a rebellion in 2001 during which his forces captured the capital Bangui in March 2003, while the then President Ange-Félix Patassé was outside the country.

Fast-forward to December 2012, and the Séléka rebel coalition undertook a successful coup. After ousting Bozizé, Séléka leader Michel Djotodia proclaimed himself as the President. In September 2013, he dissolved Séléka and integrated some of them into the army, leaving the others unattended to.

The country has now plunged into chaos as undisciplined rebels commit widespread looting and abuses against those they consider as Bozizé supporters. And hopes that the Libreville agreements signed on 11 January 2011 would end the stalemate were quickly dashed.

After getting its independence from France in 1960, CAR has been in an almost constant state of rebellion. Its four million citizens have experienced authoritarian rule, the failure of an elected government, as well as more than ten coup attempts and mutinies. CAR has been one of the poorest, most unstable countries in the world. With the collapse of law and order and the spread of deadly violence between disbanded rebels and self-defence groups, more than half a million people have fled their homes to the bushes.

Often referred to as "forgotten crises", the CAR conflict has now returned to the fore. Sadly enough, the recent rebellion is just the latest in a long history of upheavals that have plagued the African continent. One of the most important challenges on the horizon is to make sure that the CAR does not slip back into obscurity at a time when continued international support will be crucial. Addressing local issues is the key to ending violence and to ensuring the stability of the national and regional settlements.

The Islamic Factor

For the first time in the country's history, large-scale atrocities are being committed along Muslim-Christian lines and any semblance of law and order in the Central African Republic has vanished. The Central African Republic's heterogeneous population with over 60 different ethnic groups, proved to be too volatile for the country's political stability, laying the foundations for the ongoing conflict. Also regional neighbours, notably Chad and Cameroon, are at risk of the conflict spilling over.

A trickling down of the religious conflict elements in the form of Islamic tensions from the North to Central Africa has been observed. This is why the African need to be carefully monitored in case of any further Islamic elements creeping down South. Wars fought on communal lines have proved to be very bloody and tend to leave a legacy of vengeance and bitterness, often taking years to heal. The development of inter-religious rivalry could lead to irreconcilable differences to the conflict as they often leave a lingering negative impression in the minds of the community. In the years to come, one can never know when that reservoir of resentment may spring up in the form of violent retaliation.

The anti-Balaka militia outfit was formed by the Christian majority from large parts of the countryside to counter the mainly Muslim rebels in the Séléka. Séléka is a heterogeneous alliance of Central African mercenaries and foreign fighters who have nothing in common except Islam. Its rebel recruitment is mostly from Muslim communities settled in CAR or in the border areas of Chad and Sudan. Sudanese elements settled in CAR are connected with the conflict, particularly in northern CAR. While Séléka fighters have notional inclinations for political Islam, they share a strong sense of communal identity and a will to avenge previous CAR regimes and their beneficiaries identified as Christians. This is not much of a discriminating factor, as the CAR population is more than 75% Christian. Another interesting factor is that lay Muslims in CAR today are less likely to be harassed by the Séléka, and most often, there is cooperation from their side. The whole Muslim community is therefore perceived as supporting the Séléka and hostile to the core Christian population.

Séléka is as heterogeneous as its opponents; some are willing to work toward normalisation, while others are betting on a return to war. The CAR situation is a deepening crisis that requires new political and social arrangements on a national scale. The development policy should target the social strata and regional accommodation that currently are marginalised. The big question is whether the international community and players are willing to frankly address these issues.

Critical French Intervention: Better late than never

Since 2011, France has intervened in four African states -- in Ivory Coast, on a joint mission in Libya, in Mali and now in the Central African Republic. Initially, France and US refused an intervention when President Bozizé appealed for help to repel rebel forces. France was criticised especially as it had a military presence since 2003 in its formal colony. When French President François Hollande visited Central African Republic (CAR) in late December 2012, he made it clear that he would not mingle in internal affairs, insisting that those days were over. Hollande knew the dangers of renewing its ties with its colonial past however; Paris has now intervened on humanitarian basis. Whether there is a real threat of genocide or not, the Rwandan massacre still haunts the French political class.

The sectarian crisis threatens to thwart French President François Hollande's goal of quickly restoring order, disarming militias, expediting emergency aid and preparing for elections in 2014. Given the state of affairs, France will be pushed to intervene especially in former colonies even though Paris has said that it is not the "Policeman" of Africa.

A two-day French-African summit in Paris, on improving security in the impoverished CAR, attended by 40 leaders from across Africa concluded with Mr Hollande pledging to help the African Union turn its plans for a rapid reaction force into a functioning unit by 2015, which would be capable of intervening in regional conflicts. The heads of state welcomed the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2127 and agreed on the need to implement it with immediate effect in CAR. France has now deployed 1,600 troops to the country, while the African Union has authorised its force, MISCA (UNSC being its parent organisation), in the CAR to increase from 2,500 to 6,000 soldiers. The first batch of additional Congolese and Burundian peacekeepers has already arrived. France is offering to provide equipment, logistical support and training for 20,000 troops from the continent every year for five years. All the heads of state agreed on the need to ease tensions between religious communities. They called on the international community to mobilise the necessary capabilities to address this situation. But the problem is the rhetoric which is usually the result of an urgent need to sympathise with any crisis. All the participants called for a donor's conference to be convened as soon as possible to confront the humanitarian emergency and ensure the minimum functioning of the Central African state. The question to be looked at critically is how to implement it and who is to take the immediate responsible charge to avoid even more widespread chaos and lawlessness.

The critical challenge is to lay down specific guidelines on what would constitute "minimum functioning of a state". Co-ordination amongst the implementing agencies is another key determinant to ensure peace and stability. The external actors, UN, France and the African coalition should play a key role in ensuring stability by engaging the domestic actors even though bringing together the parties to the conflict would be a challenge. The conflict resolution should concern itself with the humanitarian aspects and ensure that the intervention does not serve the political interests of any external actor.

The CAR mission is France's second military operation in Africa this year. The first was in Mali to repel Islamist groups in the North and prevent them from advancing to the capital Bamako. The operations have continued a long-established pattern of French military intervention in the continent, but Hollande's government insists its approach represents a break from the past, when Paris was often accused of propping up undemocratic regimes and cynically pursuing its own interests in the region. In view of the strategic presence of America in the West, Asia in the East and also the strong Euro-African economic connection, France has called Africa "the continent of the future". Europe has been engaged at the financial level in Africa but France has called on EU for greater defence cooperation and establish an expensive military kit to help pay for military operations in Africa. Poland had agreed to send 50 air force technicians to maintain aircraft in Central African Republic.

Since France has said that it will not be continually involved in African intervention, the solution to security problems in Africa must come from the Africans themselves. The establishment of a pan-African force to react to crisis with support from Europe and with a strong French connection has been suggested by France. In a way, this move would keep the French engaged, in the years to come, on the war torn African continent.

(The writer is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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