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PSC Interview: Conflict cannot be an end in itself in the CAR
23 January 2018

The United Nations (UN) Security Council at the end of last year authorised an extra 900 troops for the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR). The PSC Report spoke to Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the UN Special Representative for the CAR and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA), about the challenges facing the force.

Can you give an overview of the challenges faced by MINUSCA?

Let me ask you another question. What would this place be without the UN? That’s how we should be looking at things. We are in a difficult place. The CAR has been in this situation, I want to say for the largest part of its existence ... Mutinies, coups, civil unrest. This country has never enjoyed peace and stability. As a consequence, the state has just withdrawn from this huge territory and is now only concentrated – barely – in Bangui and its immediate vicinities. For anyone who has been looking to grab power in this country the whole deal was about grabbing Bangui. You control Bangui and you control the country.

... So, what are we doing here? Remember the decision to deploy the peacekeeping mission here was taken as the country was going through an awful war. There was real bloodshed in the country. Some were even talking about the risk of a genocide. We still see today the scars of this very brutal inter-communal violence that took place.

For anyone who has been looking to grab power in this country the whole deal was about grabbing Bangui
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Is it fair to characterise the conflict in the CAR as religious conflict?

Even though we restrain ourselves from talking about religious war in the country, and I think that’s not the case because deep down it’s just a manipulation of religion by military and political actors for their own vested interests, it’s clear that those manipulators have really made headway, and they have succeeded somehow in dividing communities. Now, wherever you go it just suffices for any of these manipulators to suggest they are fighting against Muslims or the Fulani community to mobilise the rest of the country, and go on these absolutely awful confrontations that you see from west to east.

Deep down it’s just a manipulation of religion by military and political actors for their own vested interests
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The worst of it is what is happening in Bangassou ... You now have these Muslims in Bangassou who are living in this Catholic church, and who we are protecting because their homes have been destroyed, their mosques have been destroyed, they have been kicked out of their communities simply because of their religion. And these are people who were born in the area, they are not coming from outside, they are local Central Africans.

How important has the presence of MINUSCA been?

So, our presence has been a factor for stability in this country. I’m absolutely aware that our presence did not stop fully the ongoing criminality and competition – and the Security Council resolution [Resolution 2387] highlights this very well – there is ongoing competition for grabbing control of natural resources, and vying for power and controlling territory, only because the main and the deep and root cause of this situation is simply the lack of statehood. The state is absent.

... To give you an idea of the numbers, how come [we] are 12 000 troops and [we] are not able to bring peace to the country? At the height of the crisis in Afghanistan, you counted 150 000 international troops. So it’s difficult. And the spike of violence since May this year has indeed exposed the limits of the force. We’ve been thinly spread over the country, with a tiny population of 4.5 million, half a million of them outside the country, another 600 000 or so spread all over the country as IDPs [internally displaced persons], with multiple hotspots throughout the country. We have a duty to ensure that we can establish temporary operating bases wherever populations are at risk, so it is a fact that the troops are thinly spread. We face huge challenges to ensure that we are able to proactively respond to the many demands for assistance, to prevent the occurrence of this violence, and wherever possible to push back and limit the threat that armed groups are posing to populations. It is a huge task.

The spike of violence since May this year has exposed the limits of the force
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What is MINUSCA’s exit strategy?

We do have an exit plan. I’ve told everyone both inside and outside that it will be a failure if we were to be still around 20 years from now. It would show that the country was never prepared to take over from international community support …

[The CAR needs] a dedicated effort by the leadership of this country to build block by block, strategically taking advantage of the presence of the international community to rebuild its own tools, not to engage in what has been the national sport, which is just competing, vying for power, and hope that the rest of the world will be around to pamper them and to avoid this whole thing from collapsing, so that they can continue the game of grabbing and corruption and everything. Hoping that this is not the modus operandi, which would in itself suggest that the leadership of this country has decided to break from what has been unfortunately in the DNA of the society, which in itself is not an easy undertaking. So I do measure this, all this is provided that they do the right thing consistently over the next 10 years. Is it a given, can we take it for granted? I’m not sure.

What difference will the extra 900 troops make?

We are very grateful that the Security Council heeded [the secretary-general’s] call and new troops have been authorised by the council, and it’s a matter of the deployment of these additional troops, which we hope will take place in the coming months, sooner rather than later. Because it’s a fact of life that national capacity is just too weak.

Meanwhile, as I said, there can be no military solution ... we are a multidimensional mission, we support the disarmament process, the security sector reform, the national reconciliation process, we are also in the business of asserting state authority through a number of projects to build public buildings and schools. All of this in a way that could provide space for people to see that there are other [ways], that conflict cannot be an end in itself.