Who wants SA back in Bangui?

So what will happen if the South African National Defence Force (SANDF)does return to the Central African Republic? What will they find when they get there? First of all, it's still a big "if". 

Although President Jacob Zuma is telling anybody who cares to listen that the people up north are "begging" him to send the troops back, that's not the message coming from the region concerned. 

Sources attending the summit in N'Djamena, Chad, last week, at which regional leaders discussed the deteriorating security situation in the CAR, say that it was Zuma who asked his Central African counterparts whether South Africa could be part of the expanded regional peace mission, Fomac. But CAR Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye dismissed any plan for including South Africans, saying that such action was "premature". 

It is unlikely that a South African military presence would sit well with the new people in charge, Seleka. The last time South African soldiers were in Bangui, the Seleka rebel forces were shooting at them while they were unsuccessfully attempting to protect the very person Seleka was trying to remove – former president François Bozizé.

Bozizé is gone, but what about the reasons the South Africans were there in the first place? There are South African interests in several mining operations, including gold, diamonds and oil. There are even claims in Bangui that some of the businesspeople with mining concessions in the CAR are behind the call to bring back the SANDF. That's not surprising in a country that is in an almost permanent state of revolt.

Bozizé is gone and Seleka is in charge, but there are other rebel movements that side with none of the above and are fighting for control of various regions. This instability combined with the fact that whoever is in power in Bangui usually exercises little control outside the capital means that "other" security arrangements have to be made to protect assets in the hinterland.

Controlling rebel followers
If the SANDF does return to the CAR it will not find many friends. Bozizé's people are either in hiding, across the river in the Democratic Republic of Congo, next door in Cameroon or perhaps even here in South Africa. One of the big names in CAR mining, Richard Ondoko, was in South Africa when the Mail & Guardian tried to reach him in Bangui earlier this month. The Bangui offices of three entities he is involved with, Axmin Mining, Aurafrique and Hydro Finance, were all looted by Seleka rebels. The mining company's assets in the field were also destroyed.

The only saving grace for the South Africans as far as Bangui's residents are concerned may be the memory that the SANDF and Seleka were not on the same side in last month's battle. Though few tears were shed when Bozizé fled his palace in the presidential helicopter, the euphoria that engulfed the city when Seleka took over was short-lived. Less than two weeks after Michel Djotodia proclaimed himself president, anti-Seleka marches were already stopping traffic on the city's main thoroughfares, protesting a reign of looting and killing by Seleka that continues to this day. 

It was the apparent inability of Djotodia to control his rebel followers that prompted regional leaders to hold an emergency meeting in the Chadian capital last Thursday. It was agreed that the 500 peacekeepers supplied by Chad, Congo- Brazzaville, Cameroon and Gabon should be boosted to 2000. Known as Fomac, the mission is an initiative of the Economic Community of Central African States (Eccas), of which South Africa is not a member. Eccas might agree to accept a South African component in Fomac if the African Union gave its blessing to such a plan. As part of Fomac, the SANDF stands a chance of being perceived as being on the side of the peacekeepers. If the SANDF goes to Bangui in a partnership with Seleka, the South Africans will be seen as siding with an increasingly unpopular group perceived as an unwelcome and unfamiliar minority, from a distant district called Vakaga.

Vakaga is a sparsely populated area sandwiched between Chad and Sudan's Darfur region, where, unlike the rest of the CAR, most people are Arabic-speaking and Muslim – the rest of the country speaks French and Sango and is predominantly Christian and animist.

Few people from Vakaga had travelled to Bangui before this coup, and few people from the south had travelled to Vakaga, mainly owing to the lack of transport infrastructure. This disconnect is one of the factors that sparked the rebellion – Djotodia is from Vakaga, as are many of the new faces in his government, ­including members of his family.

Tiangaye is visiting South Africa this weekend and will have a meeting with Zuma on Sunday. He recognises that he is the acceptable face of Seleka. A former human rights lawyer and part of the short-lived unity government under Bozizé, the international community listens to him when he speaks. 

Tiangaye was in Brussels this week to ask the European Union to ­continue bankrolling his bankrupt country. In South Africa, he says, he wants to change the relationship to one between states rather than between personalities.

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