A Precarious Post-Election Peace

A Rwandan soldier, left, exits a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft near a refugee camp full of displaced residents at Bangui M'Poko International Airport, CARBy SSgt Ryan Crane [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Rwandan soldier, near a refugee camp full of displaced residents at Bangui M’Poko International Airport, CAR
Photo Credit: SSgt Ryan Crane [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Alongside Canadian campaigns leading the elections in late 2015, citizens of the Central African Republic (CAR) also began the process of replacing the interim government headed by President Catherine Samba-Panza and Prime Minister Mahamat Kamoun. They have been in control of the landlocked state since Michel Djotodia resigned in early 2014. His resignation came as international and internal pressures forced the government’s hand in an attempt to stem the violence that has been steadily developing for decades, and had taken over 5,000 lives since this bloody civil war began over three years ago.

The violence centers on the predominantly Muslim Séléka alliance and the mainly Christian Anti-balaka militia, whose rivalry endangers a fragile socio-political climate. The Séléka alliance was originally created to protect Muslims in the Christian dominated country under former President François Bozizé. Anti-balaka in its first instance was applied to self-defence units set up to protect small communities as they were attacked by Séléka forces, in the absence of the government’s ability to provide security.

While it is perhaps more efficient to lump the multitude of sects that comprise both groups, it is an area of complexity that requires more attention; divisions within Séléka led to political destabilization in the past and there is reason to believe that fractures within the groups could cause any lasting peace deal to fall apart. As the Anti-balaka is comprised of multiple elements as well, divisions within the militia may generate a similar effect; the group’s spokesman has called for members to be integrated into the national army with appropriate rank or give demobilization packages, though it is unclear if all the elements of the militia’s forces would cooperate and to what extent.

Though religious motivations are charged with fueling the conflict, the divisions have roots in the country’s long history of coups. The ousting of Bozizé by Séléka rebels lead by Djotodia in 2012 is widely credited as the start of the conflict, though many of the combatants involved participated in the CAR’s Bush War (2004-07), and were/are encouraged by a struggle for resources, particularly diamonds and gold in the resource rich Northern states, which are sold to Sudan and Chad and trafficked to Antwerp, Dubai and India. Additionally, both the Séléka and Anti-balaka groups are comprised of both Muslim and Christian elements (respectively) in addition to animists from the same geographic regions, demonstrating the nature of this ongoing bloodshed as a “community conflict with religious aspects”.

While the country’s history of coups have led to speculation about the efficacy of the recently held elections, the efforts made by the anti-Big Man interim government of Samba-Panza has made significant strides to include both the Muslim minority and reorganize the national forces to make them more effective and better able to coordinate with the international peacekeepers that have been on the ground attempting to control the killing, rape, and reported cannibalism for the last decade. Samba-Panza’s attempt at inclusion of the Muslim minority in the hopes of appeasing the Séléka alliance resulted in the appointment of Prime Minister Kamoun who hails from N’Délé, a town in the Northern prefecture of Bamingui-Bangoran. This has largely been regarded as a misfire; while he is Muslim, he is not a Séléka member; he also served as the Director-General of the Treasury under Bozizé, thus his position has been heavily criticized by the Séléka.

While the basic facts of the conflict, ongoing as it has been for a significant portion of the country’s recent history, point to sectarian quarrels and resource driven motivations, the involvement of Chadian and Sudanese elements in the politics of the state have long been a determining factor in the stability of the country and region as a whole. Many of the issues faced by the international peacekeepers on the ground stem from distrust of colonial powers, as well as the support of various external political and military factions, particularly from Chad according to ex-President Bozizé. Recent reports have also damned the international peacekeeping effort as peacekeepers have been accused of sexually abusing destitute children, creating an increased environment of mistrust between the population and the efforts of the international community.

The International community has hailed the first-round of elections and invited Anicet-Georges Dologuélé (23.8%) and Faustin-Archange Touadéra (19.4%), the two candidates that will participate in the upcoming run-off poll on January 31, 2016, to maintain peace and order that has prevailed throughout the electoral process up until this point. Dologuélé was Prime Minister from January 1999 to April 2001, and presented himself as a candidate of peace and inclusion. During his campaign Dologuélé gained favour with the Kwa Na Kwa — the party of former President Bozizé’s which gave him official support, though he was a candidate from the Central African Union for Renewal Party — by declaring that Bozizé would play some role in national affairs if elected. Touadéra served under Bozizé as Prime Minister from January 2008 until January 2013. Though he is a member of the Kwa Na Kwa he ran as an Independent. 

At least 20 of the other Presidential hopefuls (from a field of 30) called on the authorities to put a stop to the ballot counting, alleging fraud, as the results began to come in.

So is democracy for democracy’s sake truly a viable (or desirable) situation? Under the internationally approved unelected interim government, Samba-Panza managed a significant slowdown of a decades old conflict, albeit with marginal levels of religious (read regional) inclusion. While the elections have so far been well received, it is uncertain whether the runoff elections in late January will reignite violence or placate a country on the brink. The international peacekeeping initiatives, while generally helpful, may not be enough to calm a renewed conflict should it be ignited as a result of competing presidential hopefuls. In response to the fear of violence in the wake of the elections, civil society organizations have also thrown their hat in the peacekeeping ring, with initiatives like inter-faith forums, designed to encourage dialogue and build bridging relationships, and reconciliation campaigns including “It’s Enough”, an inter-factional football match designed to encourage the country’s youth to maintain peace.

While the precarious peace in the wake of the first round of elections signals hope for the CAR, it is unclear whether it will last. Should peace hold, the road ahead for whichever candidate wins the runoff vote will be fraught with fissures; they will face the challenge of dismantling/integrating the Séléka/Anti-balaka militias and resettling and rehabilitating the 447,500 internally displaced by the conflict, for a start. The dam of international and regional pressure has thus far been able to hold back a flood of violence, but cracks are appearing and will only grow if the institutions and social infrastructure necessary for fruitful and transparent elections, and stability in the aftermath of them, are not rebuilt.



Vennesa Weedmark (3 Posts)

Vennesa Weedmark is Managing Editor of Freedom Observatory‘s English-language publications, having previously served as an Associate Editor between 2013-2015. Vennesa graduated with a Master of Arts from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, England. She was a Senior Editor and contributing author at the Glendon Journal of International Studies (an undergraduate-run, peer-reviewed, academic journal based at Glendon College, York University) from 2011-12 and continues as a reviewer. She served as the Vice-President of Communications for the Glendon Model NATO Club (2011-12) and was the Secretary of the Glendon Conservative Club for three majestic years (2009-12). Vennesa can converse in English and French fluently, and is quite articulate in Hungarian. Her main areas of interest include nuclear security and non-proliferation, underdevelopment economics, Caribbean international relations, proto-IR in African antiquity, and International Studies theory.


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