Will this week’s AU mission to CAR deliver a change in strategy?

More regional attention is welcome, but a four-day visit is unlikely to produce more than a show of commitment.

The ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) presents a conundrum for all stakeholders to resolve, despite plans and agreements to end it. The creation of the armed Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement (CPC) – which tried to derail the country’s elections and seize power in Bangui in January 2021 – has further complicated matters.

Recent skirmishes on the Chad-CAR border and ensuing tensions between the two countries show that a lasting solution to the question of armed groups can only be found through a coordinated regional response.

To this end, the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is currently undertaking a field mission to the country. The four-day trip started on 28 June and followed a joint visit by the AU, United Nations (UN), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and European Union (EU) to the CAR in early June.

The PSC aims to assess the situation since the advent of the CPC. The coalition – composed of six major armed groups that signed the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation – was formed in December 2020 and is responsible for attacks across the country.

CAR’s civilians need protection from the warring parties, including the government and its allies

Former president François Bozizé is believed to have been instrumental in setting up the CPC and is the coalition’s coordinator. While the CAR’s electoral process ended with the election in May/June of the remaining Members of Parliament, the CPC has remained active.

There is consensus in the CAR government and among the country’s main multilateral partners (the AU, UN, ECCAS and EU) that the 2019 agreement is the only viable framework for peace. But ensuring that the deal holds is not a straightforward task. The government faces challenges in dealing with the political opposition, which it has accused of being in cahoots with armed groups.

To make matters worse, UN experts report that authorities’ response to the CPC threat has been marred by alleged human rights and humanitarian law abuses. The experts expressed concerns about the ‘increased recruitment and use of private military and foreign security contractors by the government of the CAR, and their close contacts with UN peacekeepers.’

These allegations were corroborated by The Sentry and CNN, which investigated ‘an array of mass atrocities against civilians in the Central African Republic.’ Some multilateral donors – such as the World Bank and EU – have threatened to suspend their cooperation with the CAR government should the armed forces’ human rights abuses continue.

The PSC should strengthen AU–UN ties to push for proper implementation of the 2019 peace agreement

In March, the UN Security Council (UNSC) increased its Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) from 11 650 to 14 400 military personnel, and from 2 080 to 3 020 police personnel. This is intended to improve MINUSCA’s ability to protect civilians. Over the years, there have been calls for the mission to have an offensive mandate, which the UNSC has been reluctant to grant.

Tackling the CAR’s security situation is complicated. It must be done while ensuring that civilians are protected from the warring parties, including the CAR government and its allies. Inclusive dialogue with the non-armed political opposition is also necessary to bring calm to the political and social environment, and to begin the country’s reconstruction.

The government has denied the atrocities uncovered by The Sentry and CNN, denouncing the claims as a plot to undermine its efforts to deal with the CPC’s armed groups. It also says it won’t be caught up in a proxy battle between France and Russia.

Since 2017, Russia has significantly increased its presence in the country and tightened its collaboration with the state. France, a historical CAR partner, doesn’t view Russia’s presence positively and recently froze €10 million in budgetary support and suspended military assistance to the government.

A joint PSC–UNSC Sanctions Committee visit to CAR could improve implementation of the peace deal

France defends its actions on the grounds that the CAR government is complicit in a disinformation campaign against France, spearheaded by the Russians. It also accuses President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s government of failing to engage in a constructive dialogue with the political opposition.

The PSC’s visit this week is important in marking the AU’s commitment to the peace process in CAR. But unless it gets an accurate picture of the political and security situation on the ground, adjusting and improving the AU’s strategy will be difficult.

The PSC should help strengthen ties between the AU and UN to push for the proper implementation of the 2019 peace agreement. A joint visit of the PSC and UNSC Sanctions Committee could help achieve that. Africa’s three non-permanent UNSC members could set up a more permanent link between the two councils. The PSC also needs to encourage ECCAS to play a more active role in stabilising the CAR and the region.

Ultimately though, to end the cycle of instability in the CAR, a new approach is needed. The AU must proactively ensure that the security arrangements in the 2019 peace agreement are carried out. In some parts of the country where armed groups have reneged on the deal, the idea of mixed security units needs to be revised, and the perpetrators of violence held to account.

Touadéra has begun his second and last term in office. With his newly appointed prime minister, Henri-Marie Dondra, and a new government, the president faces a mammoth task in rebuilding the country. He will need all the help he can get from the AU, regional and international partners.

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

This article was first published in the ISS PSC Report.

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