Can the Central African Republic’s peace deal be saved?

The decision to appoint rebel leaders to head regions already under their control was bound to create problems.

Eight months after the 6 February peace deal was concluded between the Central African Republic (CAR) government and 14 armed groups, several important challenges continue to affect the country’s stability.

The most recent major episode of violence was last month’s conflict between the Mouvement des libérateurs centrafricains pour la justice (MLCJ) and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique in Birao in the country’s north. Both groups had signed the peace agreement and MLCJ’s head, Gilbert Toumou Deya, is now a cabinet member in charge of relations with armed groups, as per the agreement.

Presidential and legislative elections scheduled for December 2020 could lead to further instability, as opposition leaders and parties are already gearing up to face off with incumbent President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

A breakdown of the peace deal will reverse the progress made so far in stabilising the country. The African Union (AU), as guarantor of the 6 February agreement, should implement the clauses that sanction spoilers and ensure that those armed groups still on board remain compliant.

The AU should sanction spoilers and ensure that those armed groups still on board remain compliant

Since February dozens of violations of the peace agreement have occurred each week. Following negotiations in Addis Ababa in March, Sidiki Abass (also known as Bi Sidi Souleymane), leader of Retour Réconciliation Réhabilitation (3R), was appointed military adviser to Prime Minister Firmin Ngrébada.

Abass was put in charge of the mixed special security unit – comprising government forces and armed group members – in the Ouham-Pendé region, which his group already controlled. This was part of the AU’s attempt to iron out differences over the post-Khartoum national unity government and salvage the February peace agreement. But the 3R group subsequently massacred 46 civilians in Paoua, Ouham-Pendé, in May.

Two other rebel leaders, Ali Darassa and Mahamat al-Khatim, entered the government at the same time as Abass. Both were made military advisers in charge of mixed special security units, also in areas they controlled before their appointments. The decision to appoint rebel leaders to lead regions already under their control was bound to create challenges for the peace agreement.

Subsequently both Abass and al-Khatim resigned from the government over unclear roles and differences with the prime minister. They have officially reneged on the February peace deal and gone back to the bush.

The 3R group, headed by the prime minister’s military adviser, massacred 46 civilians in May

On 30 July another rebel leader, Abdoulaye Miskine, called on Touadéra to resign, short of which he would be ‘removed by all means necessary.’ Miskine was also a signatory to the Khartoum peace agreement and was appointed to the government, but declined to take up the position, although his group is represented in cabinet. Miskine has now formed an alliance with the Parti du Rassemblement de la Nation Centrafricaine, a rebel group created in June.

The commitment of armed groups to implement the peace agreement they signed is clearly in question. The opportunity they have been given to remain in charge of areas they already controlled has revealed its drawbacks. It has helped preserve the prevailing power balance and has failed to incentivise armed groups to fully commit to the agreement, while legitimising their control over those areas.  

Compounding these problems, the United Nations Panel of Experts on the CAR reports that weapons are still flowing into the country. Several armed groups have shown their reluctance to comply with the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process, scheduled to end in January 2020.

The tri-border area – between Chad, Sudan and the CAR – has always been a hotbed of various kinds of trafficking and has fuelled instability in all three countries. Instability in both Sudan and Chad contribute to the CAR’s fragility.

Russia’s presence in CAR and France’s pushback are exacerbating internal political dissension

Meanwhile the CAR also has to contend with a proxy battle between Russia and France. The CAR is historically a preserve of France, and CAR authorities have built strong ties with Russia since 2017. The Russian presence and France’s pushback are exacerbating internal political dissension which is likely to intensify, especially in the run-up to the 2020 presidential polls.

Another political complication ahead of the 2020 elections is that at the end of May 2019, civil society and opposition parties set up a platform called the United Front for the Defence of the Nation, or E Zingo Biani. It blames the government for appointing armed group leaders to government in what it calls a bad compromise.

E Zingo Biani places itself in radical opposition to Touadéra’s rule, which is bound to contribute to a tense political climate. In the past, violence has erupted before elections to prevent them from taking place or to highlight the government’s incapacity to stem insecurity.

Too many diverging interests, both among Central African leaders themselves and among external powers, make the Central African quagmire even more intractable.

The guarantors and partners should review the implementation of the agreement and the challenges it has faced so far. One possibility is reversing the balance of power, which overwhelmingly favours armed groups. They should also look at whether mixed special security units are still appropriate, and what strong coercive and mitigating measures can be taken against spoilers. All this must be done within a clear time frame.

The AU as the primary guarantor must fully play its role by ensuring the timely allocation of resources to implement and monitor the agreement, if it can be saved.

The diverging interests of external powers and those within the CAR, as well as the instability in neighbouring Sudan and Chad, will continue to pose obstacles to peace and stability in the country. Unless these are addressed in parallel, the prevailing situation will not improve and the future of the CAR will remain bleak, at best.

Mohamed M Diatta, Researcher, PSC Report, ISS Addis Ababa

This article was first published in the ISS Peace and Security Council Report.

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