The following article on Central African Republic appeared on Janes website in 2011
A decision by Central African Republic’s President Francois Bozize to postpone presidential elections a third time seems to have been met by broad agreement in the political class in Bangui. But while the announcement has not provoked outrage, it reflects the degree of political stagnation and the inability of the authorities to bring peace and security to the restive north of the country.
President Francois Bozize’s decree, read on national radio on 30th July, stipulated that presidential elections will now be held on January 23rd 2011, with a ten day campaign starting on January 10th. The decision is to some extent being greeted with relief by some international observers who believed a flawed poll could be worse than no poll at all. Concerns that the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) was slow in issuing voters lists, and that demobilisation, disarmament and rehabilitation (DDR) programmes for ex-rebels would not be complete in time, explain why opposition groups are accepting the decision – on August 11th a collection of opposition parties and the rebels endorsed the new date, and committed themselves to abiding by a code of conduct. A spokesman for the main Union of Active Forces of the Nation (UFVN) coalition said they were committed to preventing the country returning to instability. Two days later, Central African Republic celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence from France.
But it will not be plain-sailing for the incumbent president, whose mandate to rule had to be extended by the Constitutional Court when the elections were postponed for a second time by the CEI in May. He will need to do everything in his power to ensure that the January date is stuck to, in order to prevent former rebel leaders such as Jean-Jacques Demafouth, who is now the deputy of the government’s DDR programme, from returning to the bush. First and foremost Central African Republic needs to secure sufficient funding from international donors such as the UN, EU and former colonial power France in order to proceed with the polls, and in a time of global financial shortfalls this will not be easy.
Another major challenge to the peaceful running of elections continues to be the lack of security in the northern regions far beyond Bangui’s control. Tension remains high between the Kara and Gulu ethnic groups in the north-east Vakanga province. On 19th July an attack on the village of Birao left two dead and caused hundreds to flee their homes; it was claimed by remnants of the CPJP rebel group who said they are revenging the supposed death of the leader Charles Massi who disappeared in captivity in Bangui earlier in the year. The attack brought in to sharp focus the inability of the CAR armed forces (FACA) to provide security in this distant region, close to the lucrative Bria diamond fields. What’s more Human Rights Watch released a report in early August saying that the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army has stepped up its attacks inside CAR’s territory, where they loot and take children to fight in their militia.
This insecurity is taking place against the backdrop of the pull-out of the UN peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic, Minurcat, which has had 300 mainly Togolese troops stationed in Birao, Vakanga province, for the last two years. Minurcat patrols stopped on 27th May, and are beginning to leave. The CAR’s fears for the future were highlighted when Foreign Minister General Antoine Gambi appealed at a briefing of the UN Special Representative to Chad and CAR at the Security Council for more help. He revealed that President Bozize had written to Ban ki Moon requesting UN observers, trainers and advisers to help train the FACA. The Minurcat pull-out seems all the more disappointing for CAR because it has been dictated by Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno, and seems to have taken little heed of his southern neighbour’s requirements. He declared Minurcat to be a failure and told them to leave in January 2010, after he reached a rapprochement with his sworn enemy Omar el-Bashir. While some questioned why the force was ever in CAR at all (there are only a few hundred refugees from Darfur in CAR – refugee protection being one of the main stated aims of Minurcat), its presence in Vakanga is believed to have acted as something of a deterrent.
At the Security Council briefing, Ban Ki Moon’s report on Chad and CAR outlined two options for assistance to CAR. One would be a UN peacekeeping force specifically in the north east (this looks unlikely); the second would be to strengthen the capabilities of the extremely weak FACA. No further concrete details were given, and in the short-term there looks likely to be a security vacuum when Minurcat leaves completely on December 31st. Any attempts to bolster security in CAR using will have to be carried out through other less effective regional initiatives such as Micopax, a European Union supported mission of 500 soldiers coming from neighbouring Economic Community of Central African states.
Choosing a date nearly six months in the future means that the Central African Republic authorities and national electoral commission now have a serious chance to organise the elections properly, but funding must be made available. It is likely the various rebel groups will lose patience and re-commence attacks if they lose faith in the process. The security situation in the north-east is likely to stay relatively calm for the next few months due to the rainy season, but recent clashes in Birao indicate that Vakanga is far from pacified. The Minurcat pull-out may encourage rebel groups in the area to attack. An added complication is the presence of Chadian rebels who will certainly intend to re-launch their attacks on the Chadian army when the rains end in October.