The AU saves the CAR deal in extremis, but it needs to do more

The AU has stepped in to save the February peace deal in the Central African Republic, but it remains fragile.

The African Union (AU) has been quick to react following threats to the February peace deal in the Central African Republic (CAR). It convened a meeting from 18–20 March 2019 in Addis Ababa, bringing together the government of the CAR and the country’s 14 recognised armed groups. The aim of the meeting was to bridge differences around the appointment of ministers by President Faustin-Archange Touadera. Some rebels felt the new cabinet was not inclusive enough.

As part of the compromise found in Addis Ababa, three rebel leaders were appointed as advisors to the prime minister. They were put in charge of the new mixed security units in areas they already control. Questions remain, however, about the sustainability of this move.

Meanwhile, the AU and the United Nations (UN) recently appointed new special representatives to the CAR, which could give a boost to the peace process.

The AU is the guarantor of the 6 February CAR agreement, signed in Khartoum, Sudan following months of negotiations. Armed groups still control about 80% of the country’s territory.

The AU is the guarantor of the 6 February CAR agreement signed in Khartoum, Sudan following months of negotiations

Foundation for durable peace?

The Khartoum agreement laid the foundation for the restoration of durable peace in the country. The first step for the implementation of the deal was to be the appointment of an inclusive government as a power-sharing dispensation. The appointment of Firmin Ngrebada, the government’s lead negotiator in Khartoum, as prime minister was initially welcomed by the various armed groups.

However, the subsequent appointments of cabinet members by Ngrebada and Touadera in early March put the peace agreement in jeopardy. Some armed groups felt the appointments were not in line with the inclusive spirit of the peace deal. This was because prominent leaders such as Ali Darassa were not given ministerial positions, although 10 of the 14 armed groups represented at the talks were in the new government (up from only six previously).

The other contention became the distribution of key ministerial portfolios. Initially and historically, armed groups eyed the position of prime minister as the cornerstone of any power-sharing arrangement. However, the Khartoum agreement was silent on the actual distribution of government positions. Not only did the armed groups not get the prime ministerial seat, but the ministers of economy, finance and budget, defence, foreign affairs, justice, and interior, considered key ministries, were also all retained by the government.

Armed groups eyed the position of prime minister as the cornerstone of any power-sharing arrangement

This led to the repudiation of the peace agreement by some armed groups, particularly the Front Démocratique du Peuple Centrafricain (FDPC) and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC), two of the country’s main armed groups.

Fragile compromise found in Addis Ababa?

At the Addis Ababa meeting the AU managed to save the Khartoum agreement. However, this came at a price and only time will tell whether the compromise is sustainable. As a direct result of the Addis Ababa gathering, three major rebel leaders – Darassa, Mahamat Al Katim and Bi Sidi Souleymane – joined the office of the prime minister as advisers in charge of the mixed special security units for the regions they already control.

Importantly, the Khartoum agreement did not deal explicitly – qualitatively or quantitatively – with the distribution of ministerial positions. Although it is the prerogative of an incumbent government to appoint its members, the AU could have stayed involved as this approach placed the agreement at risk of failing from the onset.

Rebel leaders now managing areas they already control

The Addis Ababa process to consider the question of inclusive government was thus to be expected, as the next step to resolve discord over the implementation of the agreement. At the same time, the appointment of rebel leaders to manage the mixed special security units in regions they already control, raises many questions. The armed groups now maintain security in their areas with the legitimacy and means of the state.

It remains to be seen how the mixed security units will be established and operationalised

It remains to be seen how these mixed security units will be established and operationalised. The main aim is to restore and sustain civil peace. This peace will only be guaranteed by the return of the rule of law, whether through a centralised or decentralised form of government, or with a unitary or federal state (the current arrangement is a unitary state with a plan for effective decentralisation).

The Addis Ababa compromise saved both the agreement and Ngrebada, whose resignation had been requested by armed groups. Current reports also indicate weariness on the part of warring parties with continued fighting, which, if true, is encouraging for the prospect of lasting peace. The next steps by the guarantors of the agreement will be crucial.

The role of the AU and partners

The AU’s role is clearly spelled out in the February 6 agreement as being one of its guarantors and tasked with monitoring and evaluating its implementation. The organisation played this role in convening the Addis Ababa meeting in late March.

In line with article 29 of the Khartoum agreement, an implementation and monitoring mechanism was to be established. The AU would co-preside over the executive committee for monitoring and implementing the deal, along with the CAR government, and include parties to the agreement as well as other stakeholders.

In line with the Khartoum agreement, an implementation and monitoring mechanism was to be established

This executive committee is currently being established. Its composition and dynamics will be decisive. In addition, the effective and timely establishment of the other implementation and monitoring organs – the national committee for implementation and the implementation committees at prefecture level – will be crucial in ensuring the agreement holds.

In this endeavour, individuals are just as important as the framework. The AU recently appointed Matias Bertino Matondo, an experienced diplomat, as its new special representative and head of the AU office in the CAR (replacing Bedializoun Nebié Moussa). Matondo will have to quickly transition into this new role and lead the executive committee from Bangui. He will also have to work closely with newly appointed Mankeur Ndiaye, special representative and head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

Another important element in this equation will be the very experienced Adolphe Nahayo, special representative of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Secretary General and head of office in Bangui. He has been in this position since 2014 and his experience on the ground will benefit his two newly arrived counterparts.

Urgently establishing monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and bodies, building trust among the different parties, and placing a prohibitive price on the violation of the agreement are essential to its implementation and viability.

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