Locals in the Central African Republic have been sidelined, which means that any solution to the fighting in the country is unlikely to succeed.
It seems as if everybody has a plan to save the Central African Republic but it is hard to figure out where the locals fit in. There seems to be a two-track policy when it comes to dealing with the crisis – the international community follows one route while the CAR government waits for permission to act.
The political process seems to be going nowhere. A transitional government under interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has been in office since February – but saying it has been in power since then would be an overstatement. The president seems to spend a lot of her time flying from regional summit to regional summit, waiting to be told what, if anything, to do.
Sometimes, as was the case at last week’s African Union summit in Equatorial Guinea, she was told to wait in the corridor while her African counterparts tried to decide among themselves what to do next.
Two thousand French soldiers, about 6 000 members of the African Union-led force and the token European Union soldiers on the ground are waiting for the United Nations to take over in September with what should be a 12 000-strong peacekeeping mission known as Minusca.
Attempts to rein in the rebels also seem to be going nowhere. Despite claims by both the predominantly Christian “anti-balaka” militias and the predominantly Muslim Séléka rebels that they are moving closer to signing a ceasefire agreement, there has been no let-up in deadly attacks between the two groups.
This week the central city of Bambari was the site of some of the worst sectarian violence yet – Séléka rebels attacked the Catholic cathedral, killing and injuring dozens of people inside seeking refuge.
Bambari is on the recently formed fault line that has in effect divided the country into a Muslim east and a Christian west.
The presence of AU and French troops in the city has not stopped the violence and the peacekeepers have not been able to disarm the militia, as they were mandated to do by the UN security council.
A military chaplain leads a prayer during a muster of CAR armed forces – a divided and divisive entity – at Camp Kasai in Bangui. (AFP)
One of the biggest difficulties in reaching any sort of agreement between Séléka and the anti-balaka is that neither rebel group is a homogenous entity – they are both many-headed beasts answerable to no single leadership structure and able to operate with virtual impunity. This is because a local law and order infrastructure has barely existed in most parts of the country since independence and all but evaporated when Séléka overthrew then- president François Bozizé last year.
Meanwhile, Samba-Panza’s hands are tied. Without the most basic tools a head of state usually has at her disposal, she looks on as decisions about her country are made in foreign capitals.
A way forward
On July 21, regional leaders are expected to meet in the Republic of the Congo capital, Brazzaville, to discuss a way forward in the CAR. Samba-Panza, who has been planning a Cabinet reshuffle for several weeks now, has put the move on hold once again until after the talks.
The fate of her predecessor, Séléka rebel leader Michel Djotodia, was also in the hands of outsiders: he was summoned to the Chadian capital in January and told by regional heads of state to resign along with his prime minister, Nicholas Tiangaye.
Few people in Bangui have any confidence in the ability of the president or her national transitional council to stabilise the country. The proposed Cabinet reshuffle is seen as an attempt to address concerns of weakness as well as criticisms that Samba-Panza’s team contains too many people linked to the Séléka administration.
Samba-Panza was elected by what was left of Djotodia’s transitional council and took power with a serious handicap – the international community did not allow her to rearm the national army, known by its local acronym as the Faca. During Bozizé‘s time in power, the Faca was regarded more as a presidential guard than a national army. Most of its membership was drawn from the ethnic group loyal to Bozizé, and its abuses are reportedly one of the reasons Séléka was formed.
Today, members of the Faca can be found loitering on street corners in Bangui, performing exercises near one of the military bases in the city in an effort to keep fit and maintain some dignity or, more often than not, in the bush where they have joined either one of the anti-balaka rebel groups or, in some cases, one of the Séléka rebel groups.
Opposition politicians, with their eye on presidential elections next year, smell blood as they circle around the lame-duck presidency. Editorials full of candidates’ promises to end the country’s extended period of humiliation and resurrect an army dominate Bangui newspapers.
The UN’s panel of experts on the CAR began investigating the roots of the conflict earlier this year and has put together a draft report on its findings, a copy of which has been leaked to the Mail & Guardian.
An elder addresses a complaint to Prime Minister André Nzapayeke at a meeting with local leaders in the Muslim enclave of PK5 in Bangui. (AFP)
They have been documenting incidents of violence committed by armed groups and the looting of natural resources dating back to December 5 2013, a day when violence in the capital Bangui spiralled out of control and prompted both the AU and the French to increase their military presence.
The draft has been presented to the UN security council and could be changed before a final version is made public.
The draft makes recommendations that could lead to other individuals being added to the existing sanctions list that already contains the names of Bozizé, anti-balaka co-ordinator Levy Yakété and number two in the Séléka hierarchy, Noureddine Adam.
For a country that has sunk to the levels of horror that the CAR has, the recommendations appear rather light: asking neighbouring countries to publish full import and export statistics on natural resources; urging all parties, including countries of the region, to enhance information sharing; that authorities in the CAR take all necessary steps to remove defence and security personnel who have been identified as members of armed groups; and to ensure the safe management of arms and ammunition.
How a government without a functioning army or police force is supposed to do this is unclear.
The panel is also investigating outside involvement, including by Chad and Sudan, in the conflict. But the fact that the report has yet to draw any definitive conclusions on the alleged roles of Chadian President Idriss Déby and his Sudanese counterpart, Omar al-Bashir, is an indication of the diplomatic sensitivities that must be addressed.
Until the people of the CAR believe that they are at least playing a role in shaping their destiny, it is unlikely the current round of efforts by the international community will translate into any form of sustainable stability. That must be home-grown if it is to last. Removing the perpetrators of violence, as UN sanctions aim to do, is good but empowering those who want to build the country is equally, if not more, important.
There is an increasingly popular phrase heard and seen on clothing in the CAR, in the local language, Sango: “Beafrika – Mo Londo!” (People of the Central African Republic – Stand up!)
David Smith, director of Okapi Consulting, is an expert on the Central African Republic.