Where to from here for the Central African Republic?

The African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will undertake a field mission to the Central African Republic (CAR) from 28–30 June 2021.

This follows a joint four-day visit by the AU, United Nations (UN), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and European Union (EU) to the CAR in early June, led by Bankole Adeoye, new AU Commissioner for the Political Affairs, Peace and Security Department, and Jean Pierre Lacroix, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations. 

The PSC’s field visit aims to assess the situation in the country, and in particular take stock of developments since the creation of the armed Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement (CPC), which tried to derail the electoral process and seize power in Bangui in January 2021.

The CPC – composed of six major armed groups that were signatories to the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the CAR (APPR) – was formed in December 2020 and has carried out attacks across the country. Former president François Bozizé is believed to have been instrumental in the formation of the CPC and is currently presiding over the coalition.

Recent skirmishes on the Chad–CAR border show that lasting solutions require regional responses

The AU needs to be proactive in ensuring the implementation of the security arrangements set out in the 2019 peace agreement. In some areas of the country where armed groups have reneged on the agreement, it will have also to rethink the idea of mixed security units and hold the perpetrators of violence to account.

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 and regional instability can only be found through a coordinated regional response.

President Faustin-Archange Touadera has officially begun what is legally his second and last term in office. With his newly appointed prime minister, Henri-Marie Dondra, and a new government, Touadera faces the huge task of beginning to rebuild the country and leaving it better off than when he took over in March 2016. Ultimately, to end this cycle of instability in the CAR a new approach to tackling its problems is needed.

Revitalising the 2019 peace agreement?

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

In addition, according to a group of UN experts, authorities’ response to the CPC threat has been marred by alleged human rights and humanitarian law abuses. These experts have 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 have been corroborated by an investigation by the Sentry organisation and CNN that documents ‘an array of mass atrocities against civilians in the Central African Republic’.

UN experts say responses to the CPC threat have been marred by human rights and humanitarian law abuses

In March the UN Security Council (UNSC) increased the size of 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 move is intended to enable MINUSCA to fulfil its mandate, particularly in terms of protecting civilians. There have been calls over the years for MINUSCA to be given an offensive mandate, which the UNSC has been reluctant to grant.

While the CAR has completed the electoral process it started in December 2020 with the election in May/June of the remaining members of Parliament, the CPC remains active. It is still not clear how the 2019 peace agreement will be revitalised going forward.

Tackling the security situation in the CAR is one of the main challenges at this point. This has to be done while ensuring that civilians are protected and not targeted by the warring parties, including the CAR government and its allies. An inclusive and constructive dialogue with the non-armed political opposition is also necessary to bring calm to the political and social environment, and so begin the reconstruction of the country.  

Proxy battle

The government has denied that the atrocities uncovered by the Sentry organisation and CNN ever happened, and denounced these claims as a plot to undermine its efforts to deal with the armed groups of the CPC. It also said it would not be caught up in a proxy battle between France and Russia.

Since 2017 Russia has significantly increased its presence in the CAR and its collaboration with the state. France, a historical partner of the CAR, does not view Russia’s presence in a positive light. It recently froze 10 million euros in budgetary support and suspended military assistance to the CAR government on the grounds that it is complicit in a disinformation campaign against France, spearheaded by Russia. France also says Touadera’s government has failed to hold constructive dialogue with the opposition.

The PSC’s visit demonstrates the AU’s presence and commitment to the peace process in the CAR

Some multilateral donors have also threatened to suspend their cooperation with the CAR government (World Bank, EU) should the human rights abuses by the CAR’s armed forces not stop.

The PSC’s visit is important in marking the AU’s presence and commitment to the peace process in the CAR. However, it needs to assess the reality of the political and security situation on the ground in order for the council to help adjust and strengthen the AU’s support to the CAR. 

The PSC should help foster a strategic alliance between the AU and the UN in order to create a more cohesive push for properly implementing the 2019 peace agreement. A joint visit between the PSC and UNSC Sanctions Committee could help in that regard; a more permanent link between the two councils can be established through the three African non-permanent members of the UNSC.

The PSC should also engage with ECCAS on how the region can effectively contribute to a stabilisation strategy for both the CAR and the region.

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