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Operation Sangaris

Philipp Sandner / mc
December 5, 2014

A year has elapsed since the start of a French military mision in the Central African Republic. It has had some success, but the road to peace and reconstruction is arduous.

Französischer Soldat in Bangui 23.11.2013
Image: Reuters

'Muslim enclave', 'open air prison', 'shrine for jihadists' - the Muslim district PK 5 in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR) has many names, not all of them complimentary. It is the quarter where Muslims congregate in the Christian-dominated city, especially since the Seleka rebels began polarizing the country in 2012. As many as 6,000 people have been killed in the civil war and about half the population has been displaced.

PK 5's reputation as a business district has suffered and it will be some time before life returns to normal. "Living together - that's an opportunity for our development!" reads a placard on the wall of Gbaya Dombia school. By promoting interfaith dialogue between the inhabitants of the capital, the school wants to help strengthen peaceful coexistence.

Symbolbild Smartphone & Kommunikation in Afrika
The inscription in Bangui's PK 5 district reads 'What does France want in Central Africa?'Image: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

A Christian-Muslim football match is planned. "I will be playing," said Abdoulaye Yaya from the Muslim team, "because I want peace. We don't want conflict, just peace."

Animosity towards French military

Another placard in the school grounds reads:"Thank you Sangaris, EUFOR and MINUSCA." These are the names of international military missions which want to help the Central African Republic overcome its crisis. The French military Operation Sangaris was officially launched on December 5, 2013 with 1,600 troops. French President Francois Hollande promised at the time that it would be a mission of limited duration whose task would be to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

Intially Sangaris was viewed by Muslims with suspicion. They regarded it as an operation on the side of the Christian anti-Balaka militia. But the animosity appears to have disappeared along with the graffiti that once read "No to France, no to Sangaris"

Perhaps this amounts to an admission that the French forces have - to a certain degree - been successful in the west of the country. "Had Sangaris not been there, the whole of the Muslim population would have been wiped out," said David Smith, head of Okapi Consulting, which advises international organizations on the Central African Republic. He was referring to events in the town of Boda. But there are limits as to what international troops can accomplish."They can keep the armed groups apart, but that is not a long-term solution," Smith said.

Zentralafrikanische Republik Unruhen
Boda town, western CAR, where the Muslim population 'would have been wiped out' without the FrenchImage: picture alliance/AA

The reasons for maintaining this French mission are just as valid as they were when it was launched 12 months ago. "There is no operating gendarmerie, there is no operating national army. In fact, since the arrival of Operation Sangaris a year ago, the national army is either confined to its base or will remain within Bangui, or has disappeared in the bush and in some cases taken up arms with the various rebel movements," Smith said.

Elections likely to be postponed

Interim president Catherine Samba-Panza is scheduled to hand over power to an elected successor in 2015. But observers assume that the elections will now not take place in February as planned, but be postponed until the second half of the year.

Catherine Samba-Panza
Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza is expected to cede power to an elected successor in 2015Image: Reuters

There is no shortage of potential candidates. But many of them lack credibility, because they were once members of rebel organizations. There is the worry that Central African Republic would be governed by the same people who created the country's problems in the first place.

Elections are seen as essential for peace building. "As flawed as any election is likely to be in the Central African Republic - and it probably will be flawed - it is necessary to go to the polls in order to move on to the next step, which is trying to create the institutions that any sovereign state has - and that the Central African Republic has never really had - in any sort of working order," Smith said.

But the list of problems that even a newly-elected government would have to resolve is long. There are swathes of territory in the north of the country over which the government in Bangui has no control. A comprehensive peace treaty between the warring factions remains elusive, despite several attempts to reach a deal. There is still no functioning civil administration in the country and it is impossible for many Central Africans to lead secure, peaceful lives.

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