Central African Republic: international community must maintain pressure on Bozizé to ensure a lasting piece
By Jean-Simon Rioux
On 25th and 26th August, headlines revealed a newly reached agreement between the Conventions of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and the government of the Central African Republic (CAR). As part of the accord, the rebel group agreed to join the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme (DDR) and to transform into a political party. Concurrently, Baba Ladé – leader of the Popular Front for Recovery (FPR) – announced his return to the Central African territory in order to negotiate with Bangui (and N’djamena) and, within a few days, had surrendered himself to the Multinational Force of Central Africa (FOMAC). After years of rebellion, the CPJP and the FPR’s decision to lay down their arms and to engage with the government of President François Bozizé presents a rare opportunity to bring a semblance of stability to the embattled Central African Republic. However, this period of apparent calm should not be allowed to create a false sense of security that would support the regime’s resistance to reform.
Certainly, these developments are good news for the civilian populations who have been threatened by the CPJP since its creation in 2008. But the rebel group’s disarmament, even as the last active group in the country, still won’t bring durable peace to the CAR. Without a global comprehensive reform strategy addressing the roots of insecurity, the DDR process cannot in itself build an effective peace – as illustrated by the cases of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Niger Delta.
This in-depth reform programme was adopted as the outcome of the 2008 Inclusive Political Dialogue between central government and a collection of opposition and rebel groups. Following the signing of the agreement, however, international pressure disappeared, letting President Bozizé free to break a number of its commitments, especially those regarding the reconfiguration of the independent Electoral Commission (CEI). After his 2011 re-election – tainted by fraud and irregularities – Bozizé simply abandoned any notion of reform articulated in the agreement.
The government adopted a strategy of bilateral negotiations with the various rebel groups. This approach allowed the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) and the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD) to successively to join the DDR programme, which has recently been re-launched by the United Nations Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) and the United Nations Development Programs (UNDP) after years of deadlock.
DDR or not, general insecurity prevails
The disarmament of the main rebel organisations won’t be enough to stabilise CAR once and for all. Banditry remains a plague across the country, and the recent surrender of rebel groups has not lowered the frequency of incidents. Insecurity still prevails not only in notorious rebel area such as the North-East or the East, but all the way to Bangui’s edge. Indeed, only a few kilometres away from the city, civilian populations are still frequently victimised, giving a strong illustration, if there was any need, that the state authority outside the capital is purely theoretical. Former rebel groups officially enlisted in the DDR process could even be responsible for a number of these attacks.
The Lord Resistance Army (LRA) also remains active in the East of the country. Despite some encouraging successes by the US backed Ugandan armed forces (UPDF) in their fight against the organisation, groups originating with the LRA seem to nest just on the westward side of the authorised military operations’ zone. Bangui doesn’t seem interested in expanding the zone to allow UPDF to hunt Kony’s forces any further, and the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) are simply unable to accomplish anything by themselves – neither were they when the US tried to support them. The imminent withdrawal of MICOPAX only accentuates the pressing need to tackle the roots of instability.
DDR without a peace process: a risky business
Most importantly, even though the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former armed rebels remain pivotal to CAR’s growth towards stability, a DDR programme cannot in itself replace a comprehensive peace process. In fact, DDR without a broader peace process might actually reinforce dangerous political precedents that risk becoming systemic in CAR.
Bilateral agreements signed successively with the various rebel groups, in a closed political system, strengthen the perception that armed rebellion and violence against civilians is the preferred, if not only way to channel political grievances. Actions against civilian populations are not only a means to enrich oneself and to gain access to valuable resources, but they are becoming the main vehicle of political positioning. The agreement ceding to UFDR the responsibility for security of the Vakaga and Hate-Kotto prefectures in the North-East – and de facto the control over its natural resources – only accentuates the phenomenon.
Blanket amnesty provided to all rebels in these various agreements, including for atrocities perpetrated against civilians, reinforce the climate of impunity. Consequently, both the risk and the cost of rebellion appear diminished, while the structures that allowed the emergence of past rebellions are consolidating, increasing the risk for new armed organisations to form – or for enlisted groups to resume the fight.
Tackling the root causes of insecurity
As long as structural causes that have facilitated the development of rebellions are not tackled, the CAR is condemned to see cycles of insecurity and violence repeat themselves – following in the path of its neighbour, the DRC. The development of a durable peace will require deep reforms of the Central African Republic’s institutions:
Democratisation of the political system, in particular through a independent and impartial electoral commission and free and fair elections;
Better and more transparent economic governance, especially regarding natural resources;
Effective implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy included in the Inclusive Political Dialogue’s agreement. This development strategy should especially aim to end the marginalisation of peripheral regions;
Development of the state’s control over all its territory, and especially regarding the monopoly of the use of force;
Better political governance, in particular through nominations at executive positions based on capacities rather than ethnic, familiar or personal loyalties;
In-depth reform of the army, which is well-known for its ethnicisation but remains one of the very few vehicles of social promotion for a disavowed Central African youth;
Development of the rule of the law and of a judiciary system worthy of the name.
The implementation of the Inclusive Political Dialogue’s agreements would probably be the best starting point to begin this state-wide transformation. The document encompasses most of these issues and holds strong legitimacy. However, to rely solely on President Bozizé’s good faith would once again be naïve. He has in the past been swayed by international pressure, so therefore the international community should tie its aid to the implementation of the agreement in order to maintain the pressure on the regime. Otherwise the risk is high that the latest rebellion won’t be the last.
Jean-Simon Rioux is Research assistant, Central Africa project International Crisis Group.