Central African Republic’s president leaves, but problems remain

Central African Republic’s president leaves, but problems remain

The past year has been volatile and violent in the Central African Republic, and things do not seem to be improving. Political and military changes are essential to avoid disaster.

The situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) has grown dire. Since Séléka rebels ousted President François Bozizé almost a year ago, thousands have died, and roughly one million people are now displaced. The clashes have taken on a sectarian nature, and the UN claims there is a significant risk of genocide.

One of the warning signs the UN looks for in determining the risk of genocide is the role that identity plays in a conflict. In CAR, the tensions have now become a struggle between the predominantly Muslim ex-Séléka rebels and the Christian anti-Balaka fighters. Having a strong division between identity groups means the fighting can spread rapidly and makes it difficult to end the violence. Comparisons to Rwanda in the early 1990s are inevitable.

Many point to the incompetence and controversial aspects of the interim president Michel Djotodia. Being a Séléka leader himself and orchestrating the coup last year, Djotodia could not be part of a peaceful solution, and nor could his government. As such, central African leaders gathered in neighboring Chad on January 10th of this year and came to the decision that Djotodia and his prime minister need to step down.

It is worth noting the influence that the Chadian president, Idriss Déby, has over the situation. Many claim that the former president Bozize was ousted last year because he fell out of Déby’s favour. Now Djotodia seems to be the next target, and we can expect Déby to play a role in the formation of the next leadership.

How this will affect CAR is uncertain. Another interim authority – perhaps a less controversial one – could improve the situation. At the same time, ex-Séléka troops will likely become even more active in protest, spurring retaliation from anti-Balaka troops, and deteriorating the situation altogether.

Another main concern is the possibility of CAR becoming a base for terrorist activity. With porous borders covered in dense forest, the stateless country is a haven for terrorists in an increasingly tumultuous region. The Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south and South Sudan to the east are far from peaceful. Meanwhile, members of the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army have already been discovered in CAR.

Equally important is the impact of the situation on CAR’s regional neighbors. Nearly 100,000 refugees have fled into neighboring countries, and places like Cameroon are beginning to feel the spillover effects and a drain on their own resources.

CAR itself is rich in natural resources such as diamonds, uranium and timber, but conflict and corruption mean that any benefits these resources could provide have become nonexistent.

It is clear that the now leaderless CAR cannot do much on its own, yet outside help has been limited. Even though French troops have increased to 1,600 under Operation Sangaris and the EU has pledged its own troops, this will not be enough to help regional forces maintain control.

A number of risk factors have reached high points in CAR, and the outlook is bleak. The region as a whole suffers from overlapping conflicts, and both international and regional forces are stretched to their limits. For instance, sending more French troops to CAR leaves fewer resources for maintaining stability in Mali. If there is any hope for peace and development in CAR, a stronger government will first have to be installed, and a lot more help must be sent.

About Author

Karl Sorri

Karl has gained global experience working at the Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin, the Political/Economic Section of the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, and as a freelance journalist. Karl holds an MA in Politics from the University of Glasgow and an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics.