The Central African Republic at another turning point

In the run-up to elections on 27 December 2020, political manoeuvrings have started by both the government and the opposition in the Central African Republic.

The Central African Republic (CAR) is scheduled to hold the first round of its legislative and presidential elections on 27 December 2020.

In the run-up to the elections, political manoeuvrings have started by both the government and the opposition, which include former presidents Francois Bozizé and Michel Djotodia. Bozizé has officially announced that his candidacy for the December 2020 presidential elections. He returned to the CAR in December 2019, after nearly six years in exile in Uganda and a short stint in Cameroon; he is believed to still wield significant power on the political scene as he enjoys some level of popularity among the people.

In the run-up to the elections, political manoeuvrings have started by both the government and the opposition

The country has been plagued by instability and violence since the end of 2012. This has deepened the destruction of its already weak state, severely damaged national cohesion and adversely affected the social fabric in the CAR.

The African Union (AU) has led mediation in the country since 2017, with its efforts culminating in the signing of a peace agreement on 6 February 2019 in Khartoum between the government and 14 armed groups.

Recent political developments

A number of political developments can explain the current political and security tensions, which could in turn negatively impact the smooth organisation of elections and further destabilise the country.

Bozizé’s return to the CAR, a year prior to the elections, was to comply with the constitutional requirement of having resided in the country for at least a year in order to be eligible to contest the polls. While still under United Nations (UN) sanctions, the recent announcement of his candidacy for the presidential polls is sure to further heighten tensions in the country, especially when the question of whether he satisfies other eligibility requirements will be posed. 

There is also an international warrant for his arrest, issued by the CAR authorities for crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide. The International Criminal Court has been investigating crimes of this nature in the CAR since 2012. Meanwhile, the Special Criminal Court, established in the CAR in 2015, has been investigating similar crimes committed since 2003.

As founder and leader of the former ruling party, Kwa na Kwa (KnK),  Bozizé allegedly still enjoys a sizable level of popularity. His rapprochement with opposition parties (gathered around Anicet-Georges Dologuélé) in the run-up to the elections was therefore seen by the ruling coalition as a source of major concern. It should be noted that President Faustin-Archange Touadera was Bozizé’s prime minister for five years and vice president of KnK. 

The tension in Bangui was considered serious enough for Congolese president and former Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) mediator in the CAR crisis, Denis Sassou Nguesso, to meet Bozizé and another opposition leader, Abdoul Karim Meckassoua. Held in Oyo, Sassou Nguesso’s hometown, the meeting aimed to defuse political tensions. Meckassoua was president of the CAR’s national assembly from May 2016 to October 2018, when he was voted out. He has attributed his political demise to Touadera’s ruling coalition. 

The tension in Bangui was considered serious enough for Congolese president Denis Sassou Nguesso, to meet Bozizé

Though divided over leadership ambitions, several opposition parties  have created a platform called Coalition de l’Opposition Démocratique (COD-20-20). The coalition, which came into being in February this year, includes important political leaders and parties such as Bozizé (KnK), Meckassoua (Chemin de l’espérance [Way of Hope]), Nicolas Tiangaye (Convention Républicaine pour le Progrès Social [Republican Convention for Social Progress]), Mahamat Kamoun (Be Africa Ti E Kwe) and Dologuélé (Union pour le Renouveau Centrafricain [Union for Central African Renewal]).

Although members of the ruling coalition consider it a major challenge, it remains to be seen whether this platform will survive the vagaries of the electoral campaign and the individual political ambitions of its leaders. 

In the same vein, parties allied with the presidential majority on the platform Be Oko or Les Cœurs Unis (United Hearts) have tried to extend their alliance in order to bolster Touadera’s candidacy for the next elections.

Meanwhile, using the COVID-19 pandemic as a motive, the ruling coalition tabled a constitutional amendment in the National Assembly that would have enabled it to postpone the elections in case of force majeure, and do the same in similar future occurrences.

The constitutional court, however, dismissed the application, stating that the case for a constitutional amendment was not strong enough. The judges argued that in case of a health emergency or any other force majeure the president should rather consult political and other leaders in order to find a consensual solution.

While the opposition welcomed the court’s ruling, constitutional experts believe that the country’s constitution still does not provide for force majeure. Observers view this as a positive sign of the gradual entrenchment of democratic practices in a country where political battles have often been settled through violence.

Continued insecurity

While the peace agreement signed on 6 February 2019 by the government and armed groups had, for a time, raised hopes of a permanent return to peace, clashes between armed groups or targeting civilians have multiplied and are now taking place with worrying regularity.

Despite the signing of the peace agreement, the balance of power remains, de facto, in favour of various armed groups that control a disproportionate part of the territory. Some of them have continued their criminal and other illegal activities, attacking civilians as well.

Among the incidents involving signatories to the February 2019 peace agreement are the killings of around 50 people by the 3R armed group in May 2019. There have also been bloody and regular clashes between Noureddine Adam’s Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central Africa) and the Mouvement des Libérateurs Centrafricains pour la Justice (Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice) in the Vakaga prefecture.

The number of displaced persons in the country has risen to 697 000 as of May 2020, with 615 000 refugees in neighbouring countries.

This has taken place despite efforts to ensure the implementation of the 6 February 2019 peace agreement. This agreement provided, among other things, for the total cessation of hostilities and the establishment of mixed security units (CAR armed forces and armed groups). While notable progress has been made, the establishment of the mixed security units remains unsatisfactory.

There are now growing calls to reprimand those who violate the peace agreement. However, the position of the CAR authorities and the international community has always been to avoid a confrontation that is likely to bury the peace agreement. This gives rise to persisting insecurity and instability.

Political leaders must break old habits of using dividing tactics and resorting to arms to achieve their political ambitions

As the elections draw near, they must be prevented from being used as an additional motive to spread violence and chaos. Political leaders must break old habits of using dividing tactics and resorting to arms to achieve their political ambitions. Armed groups, if they do not participate in elections, should avoid derailing the electoral process through violence and intimidation.

The guarantor of the 6 February peace agreement, the AU, and other partners should not shy away from holding peace spoilers to account. The AU in particular has been slow in providing the necessary support to implement and monitor the peace accord, particularly when it comes to assisting with the deployment of mixed security units.

Beyond that, the latest peace agreement, if properly implemented, is only a piece of the CAR’s peace puzzle and perhaps the condition sine qua non for anything else to take place and flourish. Much of the work will be about rebuilding the economic, social and societal fabric of the country.

The coming elections will be a turning point for the CAR, one that can either preserve the status quo or worsen an already complex situation.

This article is an extract from a forthcoming research paper on the CAR. The ISS is grateful to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie for its generous contribution to this research.

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