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What’s next for the Central African Republic?

Linda Staude (ot)
September 20, 2016

Rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) are regrouping and up to 20 people have been killed in recent attacks. Peace continues to elude the CAR two years after a UN peacekeeping mission there was launched.

Zentralafrikanischen Republik Bangui - Reifen brennt in zerstörter Moschee
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Blackwell

A cluster of people have gathered around a truck where helpers are distributing food to the hungry at Camp M'Poko, a refugee center for displaced people located near the international airport in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).

The camp consists of row upon row of ramshackle canvas shelters and houses an estimated 30,000 people who are too scared to return to their homes.

"You would no doubt be killed if someone recognized you as a Muslim," said camp resident Aisha. "A lot of people are talking about reconciliation but it is not happening. If a Muslim appears in certain sections of the city, he will be killed immediately."

Aisha fled the violence that has been plaguing CAR for the past three years. The continued atrocities committed by the Muslim Seleka rebels and bloody revenge attacks by the Christian anti-Balaka militia have created chaos throughout the country.

Ticking time bomb

"The main difficulty is trying to negotiate a deal between the government and the armed groups so that a program to de-escalate, disarm and reintegrate fighters can be instated. But we are far away from any such agreement," said Thierry Vircoulon, an expert on CAR at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris.

According to Vircoulon, the militias are looking to join the government and be absorbed into the regular army, a move he thinks would not be a good idea.

"The international community and the UN are pushing for a deal between the government and the militias because they do not have the capacity to neutralize the armed groups," he added.

In their brutal fight for power, land and precious raw materials like diamonds, gold, uranium and oil, the militias have killed at least 6,000 people. Twelve year old Francois is one of the estimated 10,000 children who were captured and made soldiers or slaves for the various militia groups.

Zentralafrikanischen Republik - Flüchtlingslager Benz-Vi
An estimated one million people have been displaced by the ongoing violenceImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Bätz

"I had an aunt who took care of me," he said. "But when the Seleka came, they killed my aunt and my cousin. I joined the rebels to avenge their deaths."

About six months have passed since Faustin Archange Touadera was sworn in as the new president of CAR. Herve Ladsous, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations who oversees MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, called his appointment a "pivotal step on the road toward progress, development and reconciliation."

However the high expectations that arose after the elections and the visit by the pope last November have not been fulfilled. This may be partly because the new president was once the head of the government under his predecessor Francois Bozize who was forced out of the country by a coup in 2013.

"This is problematic because it strengthens the belief of the armed groups that they lost; that the election at the beginning of the year just reestablished the rule of the previous government," said Vircoulon.

Peace keepers?

President Touadera has continued to repeat his campaign pledge to be the president of reconciliation. During a speech in the rebel-held north of CAR, the president said that the people are demanding peace and reconciliation saying "there is no other way."

But violence is still a part of daily life in the CAR and the UN peacekeepers stationed in the country are not changing that. Dozens of accusations of sexual abuse and rape have emerged against the "blue helmets" as they are known.

The situation on the ground for civilians has also not changed. About one million people have been displaced, around one-fifth of the population of CAR. An estimated 2.5 million are at risk of starvation.

President Touadera im Interview
Many experts do not think President Faustin Archange Touadera will be able to restore peace in CARImage: DW

Experts see little chance for an improvement of the situation. Some think that the armed groups will attempt a new assault on the capital Bangui before the end of the year in order to put pressure on the government. That would be catastrophic for the people of CAR and of course for the peace efforts of the international community.

Vircoulon has seen this before. "First you have a transitional government, then a UN peacekeeping mission, elections and then a donor conference. It does not matter if it is Mali, CAR or Somalia, it is always the same pattern that is never adjusted for the varying situations. This is why such efforts rarely function well," he said.

And this is why CAR, with its failed government and in the clutches of lawless militias who pillage, plunder and kill at will, may suffer the same fate as other trouble spots in the region.