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A recently-concluded three-day regional summit in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville narrowly delivered a much anticipated ceasefire agreement between Séléka and Anti-Balaka forces, the two major armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR). Such an agreement does not, however, guarantee an end to the country’s deep crisis. Disarmament of the armed groups, local dialogues, justice reform, and a clear roadmap for the remaining part of the transition are urgently needed to give the Brazzaville agreement any chance of success.
Previous regional summits and agreements have done little to end the crisis in CAR.
The January 2013 Libreville Agreement, for example, created a ceasefire between the then-government of François Bozizé and the Séléka alliance led by Michel Djotodia. The ink was barely dry before the deal was off. Séléka continued its advance and captured Bangui in March 2013, forcing Bozizé into exile. Then followed nine months of lootings, killings and a complete collapse of the state under the predatory rule of Djotodia and his troops. Unable to control his own forces Djotodia caved to international pressure and stepped down at a regional summit in Chadian capital of N’Djamena in January of this year.
CAR’s current transitional president Catherine Samba-Panza, a former mayor of Bangui favored by France and regional powerhouse Chad, took over from Djotodia. She inherited a crippled state, without police or judges, where civil servants had not been paid for months, and where no one controlled the national armed forces. Facing such stark challenges, and with limited help from the international community and no real leverage over the armed groups, she has been unable to drive the political transition. Fighting in the country has continued. Mounting national and international frustrations led to the Brazzaville summit in an attempt to kick-start the political process and end the violence.
Participants at the summit were expected to agree on a disarmament process and many expected a government reshuffle. However, none of this came to fruition. The summit nearly derailed when Séléka delegation leader Mohamed Dhaffane demanded a partitioning of CAR into a Christian south and a Muslim north. Dhaffane, whose support base comes from parts of the local Peul communities that pasture their cattle in the central and southern part of the country, was pressured to push for partitioning by Séléka hardliners, Djotodia and second vice-president Noureddine Adam, both of whom face sanctions. Dhaffane eventually bowed to international pressure and signed the ceasefire. A more formal split in the group could develop in the near future. Moreover, it is questionable whether Séléka hardliners, now firmly in control of the northern Vakaga province bordering Chad and Sudan, will respect the agreement.
The Anti-Balaka group was represented by its national coordinator, Edouard Ngaissona, a former minister for sports in the Bozizé government, who returned to Bangui in January 2014 and used his support base and political experience to seek control of Anti-Balaka. With some success, he has been able to control Anti-Balaka groups in the capital, and he recently reconciled with a competing Anti-Balaka group lead by Sebastien Wenezoui, who then became assistant-coordinator of a Bangui-united Anti-Balaka coalition. Anti-Balaka groups in the countryside, however, continue the fight without much command from Bangui. Recent clashes in the central town of Bambari, which left more than 50 people killed in a week, was due to fights between local Anti-Balaka groups and Séléka, not orchestrated from Bangui. However, the Bangui-based Anti-Balaka groups did send fighters to reinforce the local groups as the fighting escalated. Séléka also sent reinforcements of fighters from the village of Bria.
The complexities in CAR suggest that the success of the agreement signed in Brazzaville requires much more than signatures, and peace will not come without external support. A viable peace process requires the long-term involvement of the international community, patience to completely rebuild the state, and courage to support and at times co-manage the political process.
A seasoned CAR observer recently told me, “not only is CAR externally landlocked, it’s also internally landlocked.” Local complexities and dynamics, which continue to drive the crisis, are poorly understood and not well represented in Bangui, much less at regional summits. Mediators of the CAR crisis, regional and international policymakers that are supporting the transition should encourage local dialogues and promote a much broader inclusion of different stakeholders in the political process.
Without inclusive approaches there will be many future regional summits that fail to change matters on the ground in CAR, where conflict will continue to rage.