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– by Thierry Vircoulon
© AP Images/picture-alliance
Soldiers from Chad intervening in the Central African Republic in support of President Bozizé.
The Central African Republic (CAR) has always been a fragile state. The country has seen only five elections, but many coups. With armed rebels once more attacking the government in recent months, one might be tempted to think everything is business as usual in the CAR. That would, however, be the wrong analysis.
It is true, of course, that earlier crises unfolded in a similar way. President François Bozizé has been in power for ten years now, just like his predecessor Félix-Ange Patassé was in 2003, when Bozizé toppled him. Armed gangs are in control of large parts of the country today, as much as they were in 2003, and economic marginalisation is getting worse. And just like in 2003, the current rebellion appears to have been planned from outside the country. In addition, like in the past, France still has several hundred soldiers in the country.
Nonetheless, this is not 2003 all over again. Some experts are already speaking of a new security constellation in the region. Indeed, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) is the peace broker in this crisis, and a new regional leadership is emerging.
The members of the ECCAS have played the main role in this crisis. They successfully mediated between the rebels and the government, and they negotiated the ceasefire. Idriss Déby and Sassou Nguesso, the presidents of Chad and the Republic of Congo respectively, have taken the place of Gabon’s late Omar Bongo, who had been central to regional mediation. Déby and Nguesso orchestrated talks in Libreville and achieved results in record time: in a mere four days, an agreement was debated, drafted and signed between Bozizé and the rebels.
Moreover, a new military actor is now on the scene. Precisely when the French president denied the Central African government the assistance it asked for, South Africa renewed its security agreement with the country and sent 400 troops. For the first time, the South African military has thus ventured beyond southern Africa and the Great Lakes region into an area where it arguably has no immediate strategic interests.
Such action is in line with the continent’s aspirations to have Africans resolve African problems. But coordination between the African peacemakers remains problematic. Pretoria neither took part in the Libreville talks, nor does it seem to have coordinated its military deployment with the ECCAS. However, the Libreville agreement points out that “the members of ECCAS will cooperate with the Central African government to make all foreign troops that do not belong to ECCAS gradually withdraw from the country’s territory depending on the security situation”.
The Libreville agreement has the potential to usher in a time of transition for the Central African Republic. The government of Prime Minister Faustin-Archange Touadéra resigned on 12 January, and the new Prime Minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, who was drawn from the opposition, was appointed on 17 January. He will have to arrange an early legislative election, restore peace and security and start crucial social, economic and security reforms before the 2016 presidential election.
For the transition to succeed, those unhappy with the Libreville agreement, such as some commanders of the rebellion and some dignitaries of the Bozizé regime, must be brought on board. The ECCAS will have to monitor developments diligently: its peace consolidation mission (MICOPAX) is already deployed in the Central African Republic, and it is foreseeable that its mandate will have to be reviewed and extended.
The most important thing, however, is that all relevant actors, whether from the Central African Republic or other countries, must learn the lessons of past crises instead of repeating past mistakes. The Central African Republic does not need business as usual under a new government. It needs a new consensus on development, nation and state building.
Thierry Vircoulon is the International Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director.