Central African president Faustin-Archange Touadera (L) signs a peace deal next to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum on February 05, 2019. – The government of the Central African Republic and 14 armed groups on February 05 inked a new peace accord seeking to end years-long fighting that has left thousands of people dead. The accord was initialled by President Touadera for the CAR government and representatives of militias which control most of the chronically-troubled country. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)
By: H.M. Okumu
The government of the Central African Republic and 14 armed groups inked a new peace accord on recently seeking to end years of fighting that have left thousands of people dead. Since gaining independence in 1960, the poverty-stricken Central African Republic (CAR) has experienced dictatorial rule, corruption, and severe political instability. Almost without exception, every ruler of the CAR since independence—David Dacko (1960-66), Jean-Bédel Bokassa (1966-1979), David Dacko (1979-1981), André Kolingba (1981-1993), Ange Félix Patassé (1993-2003), and the current President, General François Bozizé (2003-current) 1 —either came to power or was ultimately overthrown in a military coup. In the last decade alone, the CAR has witnessed at least 10 military coup attempts and army mutinies, and an almost constant state of rebellion.
CAR’s neighbors—Chad, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cameroon—have all involved themselves in the political dramas of the country, but France, the former colonial power, continues to play a dominant and influential role in deciding who governs. The CAR has also been affected by conflicts in neighboring Sudan, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with rebel groups and government forces from neighboring countries freely using remote rural areas as rear bases or for military operations. 2 This has created a significant flow of small arms, further fueling instability, particularly in northern CAR. Conflict in its neighbors has also generated refugee flows into the CAR, which is housing some 11,000 recognized refugees from Sudan, Chad, and the DRC.
The roots of the latest round of instability and conflict lie in the final years of the government of former President Ange Félix Patassé, who came to power in elections in 1993 and who was overthrown in a military coup by his former army chief of staff, General Francois Bozizé in March 2003. Patassé faced several military coups and army mutinies in his 10 years of rule, leading to deep ethnic divisions in the military, as the mutineers accused Patassé of tribalism and ethnic favoritism.4 A succession of military uprisings in 1996 led the Presidents of Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mali, and Chad to hammer out a peace accord, known as the Bangui Agreements, between Patassé and the mutineers, and to support the deployment of a 500-strong regional African peacekeeping force, the Inter-African Mission to Monitor the Implementation of the Bangui Agreements (Mission de surveillance des accords de Bangui, MISAB ). 5
In May 2001 former President André Kolingba, who had lost power to Patassé in the 1993 Presidential elections, sponsored an unsuccessful military coup which set off a series of events that ultimately led to Patassé’s removal. After the coup attempt, the president accused his Army Chief of Staff, François Bozizé, of involvement and fired him on October 26, 2001. Bozizé rallied troops to resist his sacking, but was ultimately forced to leave for exile in southern Chad. These events deeply split and weakened the CAR armed forces—the Central African Armed Forces (Forces armées Centrafricaines, FACA )—dividing it between Patassé and Bozizé loyalists.
On October 25, 2002, Bozizé launched another rebel offensive against Patassé, bringing his rebel troops to the outskirts of the capital, Bangui. Unable to rely on his weakened army, Patassé obtained the support of forces of the Congolese rebel Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Congo Liberation Movement (Mouvement de libération du Congo, MLC), which operated mostly in the southern CAR regions bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. He also recruited a mostly Chadian mercenary force headed by Chadian-born Abdoulayé Miskine (born Martin Koumtamaji), which operated mostly in northern CAR. Patassé additionally received support from Libyan troops. Both Bemba’s MLC forces and Miskine’s mercenary force committed widespread atrocities, including massacres and rapes, during 2002 and 2003.6
Following the failed October 25, 2002 coup attempt by Bozizé, the regional economic bloc, the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (Communauté économique et monétaire de l’Afrique centrale, CEMAC) deployed a small regional peacekeeping force, the Multinational Force for the CAR (Force Multinationale en Centrafrique, FOMUC) , supported by the French government and European Union. FOMUC was tasked with ensuring the security of President Patassé, to assist the CAR forces in securing the country’s borders, and to help restructure the armed forces. Three hundred and eighty FOMUC troops from Chad, Gabon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continue to be deployed in CAR until today and took part in a joint French/CAR military counteroffensive in northeastern CAR in December 2006 to retake rebel-held towns.
Fighting between Bozizé’s rebels, which included many Chadian fighters (some reportedly provided by Chadian President Idriss Déby, others who had joined on their own initiative) and Patassé’s forces continued sporadically from October 2002 to March 15, 2003, when Bozizé finally seized power. The prolonged fighting had a devastating impact in the north, as warring parties looted the civilian population, destroyed the limited state infrastructure, burned many villages, and committed widespread killings and rapes. 7 According to international humanitarian officials who were present in northern CAR during both the 2002-2003 and the current fighting, the level of destruction and human rights abuses of the 2002-2003 conflict was at least as serious as during the more recent fighting, although it received even less international attention.
The severe poverty of the CAR as a whole, but in particular the glaring economic and social disparities between the north and other areas, 9 especially the region around the capital, Bangui, are significant contributory factors to political instability. The population of the north is marginalized, and many who have joined the rebel movements complain of a lack of salaries and basic services such as schools and hospitals in their communities. The weak State in CAR means that much of the north is outside the control of the security forces. It is a lawless region where shadowy rebel and bandit groups operate freely and often prey on the civilian population.
Even when viewed in its entirety, CAR is shockingly poor. CAR ranks 172 out of 176 countries on the 2006 Human Development Index, and the average life expectancy is only 39 years.10 The most recent figures for maternal and infant mortality rates, an accepted indicator of the state of the health system, are extremely high, 1,355 per 100,000 and 132 per 1,000 in 2003, respectively. 11 More than half of the population is illiterate; including more than 80 percent of rural women.12 CAR also has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the region, with a national average of over 10 percent. 13
The situation in the north is even worse. There are no tarred roads or electrified towns, and schools and medical facilities are primitive and understaffed, if functioning at all. In many villages, there are no water pumps to provide clean water. In the most remote areas of northern CAR, state structures are virtually non-existent—there are no police officers, administrative officials, teachers, or health professionals. There are almost no development projects in many parts of the north, in contrast with southern CAR, where the donor community and the World Bank are supporting large-scale development initiatives.
This marginalization is especially profound in the sparsely populated Vakaga province in the northeast, which takes four days of driving over bad roads to reach from the capital, Bangui. The people of the northeast are essentially cut off from the more prosperous south and are indeed physically cut off from the rest of the country during the rainy season, when the poorly constructed roads become impassable
The accord was initialled by President Faustin-Archange Touadera for the CAR government and by representatives of militias that control most of the chronically-troubled country. It was formally signed on Wednesday this previous week in the country’s capital Bangui, CAR authorities said of the agreement whose terms were not immediately revealed.”The contents will be made public after the signature,” the head of the CAR government delegation, Firmin Ngrebada, said.There was also no word on what compromises may have been needed to achieve the accord.
“The Khartoum Agreement opens the door for peace to return to our homeland,” Touadera declared at the ceremony.”It is now time to open a new page for Central Africa. Let’s go together to Bangui to build our country together.”The agreement, brokered by the African Union after 18 months of exploratory work and sponsored by the UN, is the eighth attempt in almost six years to forge peace in a country stricken by turmoil and poverty.
Thousands of people have been killed and a quarter of the population of 4.5 million has fled their homes.The UN says unrest has driven so many people from their farms that hundreds of thousands are at risk of famine. After the agreement was initialed, representatives of the armed groups shook hands with Touadera and Bashir. Past stumbling blocks in peace negotiations have include rebel demands for an amnesty, something that the CAR government, under pressure from Western allies, has refused.
After the deal was announced on Saturday, Aboubakar Sidik, spokesman for one of the main armed factions, the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic (FPRC), said “a consensus has been reached on sticking points which were an amnesty and an inclusive government”. The history of peacemaking in the CAR is littered with failures. All seven previous agreements have failed to stick. The last attempt, in 2017, was forged with the help of the Catholic Church, but fighting resumed. The Khartoum talks began on January 24 after several false starts because of outstanding differences. A major sticking point was the creation of a mechanism to follow up any peace agreement.