Conflict Management in the Central African Republic: A Need for New Approaches

by Patrick Truffer. Patrick Truffer graduated from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs and completes a Master of Arts program in International Relations at the Freien Universität Berlin.

A young anti-Balaka combattant stands guard in a street of the Cattin district of Bangui, on January 18, 2014 (Photo: Eric Feferberg).

A young anti-Balaka combattant stands guard in a street of the Cattin district of Bangui, on January 18, 2014 (Photo: Eric Feferberg).

Since the middle of September 2014, MINUSCA, with the support of the transitional government, has been responsible for stability in the Central African Republic (CAR). This is the eighth international mission since 1997. Critics complain that despite repeated failures, conflict management strategies have not been modified. Since MINUSCA also ignores the root causes of the conflict and adheres to already existing conflict management strategies, it is unlikely to lead a sustainable stabilisation (cf.: Thierry Vircoulon and Charlotte Arnaud, “Central African Republic: the flawed international response“, openSecurity, 19.05.2014; Benedict Moran, “Hanging by a Thread“, Foreign Policy, 22.09.2014).

This case study raises the question of the role, the potential and the pitfalls posed by conflict management strategies for conflict prevention, long-term stabilization and reconciliation. The current conflict in the CAR is discussed in the first section, while the second section examines the conflict management approaches used by the international community. Conflict management considerations and constraints are then discussed in the third section, followed by proposed alternative approaches in the fourth section. The paper closes with a conclusion that goes beyond this specific case and answers the question raised.

Understanding the recent conflict

In 2003, François Bozizé seized power in the CAR in a coup and was “confirmed” by elections held in 2005 and 2011, ruling until his overthrow in March 2013 (regarding the democratic legitimacy of the elections, see: Louisa Lombard, “Election Report: Central African Republic“, The Monkey Cage, 25.01.2011). Important government offices were occupied by members of the Bozizé clan (for example the Ministry of Mines; cf.: US Embassy Bangui, “Leader Of A Failed State: How Bozize Maintains Power“, 14.02.2009). By monopolising public finances and revenues from the diamond and gold sector, Bozizé had installed a kleptocracy, which led to the economic collapse of the state (US Embassy Bangui, “The Weakest Link“, 16.06.2009). Civil-war like unrest then led to the CAR being considered a failed state (cf.: Polity IV, “Authority Trends, 1960-2013: Central African Republic“, 2014).

Because of the Bangui government’s minimal ability to enforce its will, CAR politics has become characterised by the existence of armed rebel groups mostly seeking the same identical goals: a share in the political and economic power (cf.: Alexis Arieff, “Crisis in the Central African Republic“, Congressional Research Service, R43377, 27.01.2014, p. 3). The three main rebel groups signed several cease-fire agreements between 2007 and 2012 under the condition of being given political participation (Human Right Watch, “I Can Still Smell the Dead“, September 2013, p. 31f). Nevertheless, little changed and the 2011 elections did not increase the opportunity to share in political power. Resistance against the central government grew, in particular in the economically and structurally neglected north-east. The rebel groups acting under separate command were however unable to raise the necessary strength for a coup (cf.: US Embassy Bangui, “New CAR Coalition Government – Nothing New, And Not A Coalition“, 23.01.2009). Finally, in September 2012, two of the three main rebel groups came together to form Séléka. As they moved quickly south towards Bangui, Séléka plundered and laid waste to villages. After the overthrow of Bozizé in March 2013, the leader of Séléka, Michel Djotodia, took control of the government as the first Muslim leader of the CAR.

Séléka rebels in northern Central African Republic (Photo: hdptcar).

Séléka rebels in northern Central African Republic (Photo: hdptcar).

Instead of instituting reforms, however, Djotodia continued his predecessor’s kleptocracy. After a successful coup and Djotodia’s attempt to end the ongoing violence by dissolving Séléka, the rebels looted private property, government institutions and the offices of International Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations (cf.: International Crisis Group, “The Central African Crisis: From Predation to Stabilisation“, Africa Report, no. 219, 17.06.2014). In response to the violence and looting, the anti-Balaka formed as a form of civil defence. Under international pressure, Djotodia abandon his function and paved the way for an interim government, led by Catherine Samba-Panza since 20 January 2014. Before accepting the office, she had no links to rebel groups and had not belonged to Djotodia’s government.

The conflict in the CAR was not an ethnic conflict at first; its main cause was a failure to distribute political and economic power. Until Séléka’s push from the northeast towards Bangui, the country’s Christians, animists – with close ties to the Christian community – and Muslims had lived together peacefully (“Ban returns to airwaves in Central African Republic to call for end to fighting“, UN News Centre, 17.04.2014; Religious composition: 50% Christian, 35% natural religions and 15% Muslims). The origin of the Séléka rebels from the country’s northeast and neighbouring Chad and Sudan meant that the overwhelming majority were Muslim, partly being Arabic-speakers. The violent passage towards Bangui through predominantly Christian regions and the subsequent takeover of the presidency by a Muslim led to a polarization of society and a deep mistrust among the Christian respectively animist and Muslim communities (cf.: “Central African Republic: Religious tinderbox“, BBC, 04.11.2013; Human Right Watch, “I Can Still Smell the Dead”; Moran, “Hanging by a Thread”). The anti-Balaka has been formed by young Christians and animists with less education from rural areas whose families had been killed and villages burnt down. They see the Séléka as foreign and demand its disarmament and expulsion. Important motivation factors are revenge and personal enrichment. The anti-Balaka’s use of violence, especially against Muslims, and the extent of their looting is comparable to that of Séléka (Cf.: Thierry Vircoulon and Thibaud Lesueur, “Central African Republic: The Third Government in Thirteen Months Gets Under Way“, International Crisis Group, 21.01.2014).

Mapping of the conflict in the CAR (own illustration; to enlarge, click on the image). Grey: not critical for the current conflict; Yellow: goals and motivation; Orange: possible spoilers; Red: main source and dynamics of the conflict.

Mapping of the conflict in the CAR (own illustration; to enlarge, click on the image). Grey: not critical for the current conflict; Yellow: goals and motivation; Orange: possible spoilers; Red: main source and dynamics of the conflict.

 

Conflict management approaches

Attempts to make use of conflict management approaches in the CAR have been unsuccessful since 1997. These included the Disarmamant, Demobilisation, Reintegration and Repatriation process (DDRR), an arms embargo and the 2011 elections. MINUSCA also relies heavily on these same approaches (cf.: Vircoulon and Arnaud, “Central African Republic”). The lacking distribution of political and economic power remains ignored as the main cause of conflict.

DDRR
The DDRR process is supposed to reintegrate the rebels into the social fabric to ensure they will not take up arms again in the long-term (Lars Waldorf, “Getting the Gunpowder Out of Their Heads: The Limits of Rights-Based DDR“, Human Rights Quarterly 35, no. 3, August 2013, p. 704). There are doctrinal reasons for the high esteem accorded the DDRR process. According to the UN, demobilization is “the single most important factor determining the success of peace operations” (“A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change“, United Nations, 02.12.2004, Paragraph 227f). But there is no empirical evidence for this thesis (Waldorf, “Getting the Gunpowder Out of Their Heads”, p. 714). The DDRR process between 2007-2012 failed because of financial malfeasance by the Bozizé government and the lack of financing for the reintegration phase. With increasing frequency the lists of alleged rebels or rebel leaders were bloated numerically to bag a greater financial compensation for participating in the process. In addition, the DDRR process can only be sustainable if it is possible to make a living legally with-out resorting to violence (cf.: Waldorf, “Getting the Gunpowder Out of Their Heads”, p. 704). The catastrophic economic situation meant that these conditions were not and still are not present. Therefore without tackling the economic situation, DDRR as part of MINUSCA is predestined to fail.

[…] the last Central African DDR […] saw an original list of under 1,300 ‘rebels’ [, which] swell to over 7,000. […] the DDR process is largely irrelevant to solving the CAR’s political crisis. — US Embassy Bangui, “Rebels Of Opportunity: DDR Unlikely To Solve The Ills Of The Car“, 26.06.2009. See also: Mark Knight and Alpaslan Özerdem, “Guns, Camps and Cash: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reinsertion of Former Combatants in Transitions from War to Peace“, Journal of Peace Research 41, no. 4, 2004, p. 505.

 
Arms embargos
A sustainable DDRR process ensures that after successful reintegration former rebels will no longer take up arms despite their availability. The flaw in past DDRR processes was their lack of sustainability and not the continued availability of weapons. Nevertheless, the international missions tried to reduce the availability of weapons with an embargo. Not only are the routes by which these weapons enter the country unknown, but an embargo can hardly be enforced due to the lack of controls, widespread corruption and unqualified personnel (Cf.: Jefferson Morley, “UN Bans Arms to Central African Republic“, The Arms Control Association, January 2014). Nevertheless, it is once again part of the MINUSCA mission (United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 2149 (2014)“, S/RES2149, 10.04.2014, p. 11, Art. 31e).

Elections
UN Resolution 2149 urges the transitional government to hold “free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections” by February 2015 (United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 2149 (2014)”, p. 3, 6, 9f). This reflects the widespread humanitarian approach of “elections before institutions” (Vircoulon and Arnaud, “Central African Republic”; cf.: Terrence Lyons, “Postconflict Elections: War Termination, Democratization, and Demilitarizing Politics“, Institute for Conflict Analysis an Resolution, Working Paper No. 20, February 2002). In addition, France insisted on early elections, perhaps to have an exit strategy to withdraw its troops (Arieff, “Crisis in the Central African Republic”, p. 7). However, the lack of opportunities for political participation represents only some of the cause of conflict. This divisive conflict has also been exacerbated by the disastrous economic situation. Elections alone are thus unlikely to stabilise the situation. On the contrary, the election campaign period could further fuel the conflict among the stakeholders. Ensuring the security of the elections will thus take up a correspondingly high share of MINUSCA resources (Emily Mellgard, “The Central African Republic: Where Elections Could Do More Harm Than Good“, Council on Foreign Relations, 14.02.2014; Louisa Lombard, “Genocide-mongering does nothing to help us understand the messy dynamics of conflict in the CAR“, African Arguments, 24.01.2014). The provision of the necessary foundations for elections, such as electoral laws and registers, will also pose a burden on the transitional government’s resources. Infrastructure in the CAR is insufficiently developed, additionally complicating the implementation of nationwide elections. This is particularly true during the rainy season from February (Vircoulon and Arnaud, “Central African Republic”).

"I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Séléka - they should not have fear. I don't want to hear any more talk of murders and killings. Starting today, I am the president of all Central Africans, without exclusion." --- Catherine Samba-Panza, interim president of the Central African Republic after her election (Photo: Siegfried Modola).

“I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Séléka – they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings. Starting today, I am the president of all Central Africans, without exclusion.” — Catherine Samba-Panza, interim president of the Central African Republic after her election (Photo: Siegfried Modola).

 

Considerations and constraints

Considerations on the economic situation and possible spoilers
Lacking distribution of political and economic power represents the main cause of the conflict, which has then been aggravated by the economic collapse. Stabilization is viable only by improving the economic situation. Young fighters from rural areas and from the northeast must be offered a realistic perspective for the future. To quickly and noticeably improve the economic situation, economic reconstruction must occur as soon as possible, be decentralized and adapted to regional needs. The prioritisation of projects in agriculture, the trades and infrastructure will ensure employment for this young generation and improve the welfare of the population over the medium-term (International Crisis Group, “The Central African Crisis”). Measures which create additional jobs, such as reconstituting the Forces Armées Centrafricaines (FACA) and the police, must be a priority.

After the collapse of agriculture in the wake of the violence, the diamond and gold sector remains the economic mainstay of the CAR. To finance a long-term economic recovery, this sector needs to be completely reorganised and monitored. The oversight body should include representatives from the government, operators (to avoid spoilers) and all parties in the conflict. Royalties should flow into the state treasury, with a defined proportion reserved for regional administration and projects.

The ceasefire agreement between 2007 and 2012 demonstrated that the rebels are willing to negotiate if promised a share in political and economic power. Whether spoilers, possibly individual rebels or rebel groups as well as stakeholders in the diamond and gold sector, appear will be largely dependent on the success of economic reconstruction and the rebels’ opportunities to participate. These could be kept under control through the holistic “reward-persuade-coerce triangle”. A credible political and economic participation should be made clear to potential spoilers (Persuade). The political involvement in the transitional government and regional projects for the reconstruction of the economy, particularly in the northeast of the country, could curb possible spoilers among the rebels (Reward). Should they still come forth, a robust mandate of the MINUSCA would block them (Coerce).

Considerations on the DDRR and arms embargo
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the DDRR’s objective is “to contribute to security and stability by facilitating reintegration and providing the enabling environment for rehabilitation and recovery to begin” (UNDP, “Practice Note: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-combatants“, 2005, p. 11). It is primarily a confidence-building measure, because DDRR is not tasked with reducing the general availability of weapons. A successful reintegration is essential in the long-term, which will depend on reintegrated rebels being able to earn a living legally without violence (Knight and Özerdem, “Guns, Camps and Cash”, p. 503). If successful, the former rebels will not resort to weapons because they will have been reintegrated into civilian life, and not because there are no weapons available.

DDRR is not a stand-alone process, contrary to how it has been executed in the CAR since 2007. It is part of economic, political and social reforms. In addition, the DDRR process must be coordinated with other conflict management approaches, such as the Security Sector Reform (integration options), elections (creating new conflicts) and with the overall reconstruction programme (job availability). Creating jobs is essential so that former rebels do not get an advantage over other job seekers. This means that for DDRR to succeed, economic conditions must be improved as a whole (UNDP, “Practice Note”, p. 11, 18, 39, 58). Accordingly, the effort and expense of an arms embargo should be critically scrutinised.

Constraints on the transitional government
The transitional government has an integrative character with 135 representatives from various political, civil and religious interest groups, also including anti-Balaka and Séléka members (Arieff, “Crisis in the Central African Republic”, p. 8). However, meetings are rare and it can barely enforce its decisions beyond Bangui (Moran, “Hanging by a Thread”). This is not unusual because the government has not been able to assert its will on a nationwide level since the beginning of the colonial period (Arieff, “Crisis in the Central African Republic”, p. 3). Conflict management strategies must therefore be implemented not only centrally, but also regionally and where possible at a municipal level. A greater regionalization and localization also corresponds to the general recommendations for peacekeeping operations of Lakhdar Brahimi (“Effective peace-building requires active engagement with the local parties, and that engagement should be multidimensional in nature.”; Lakhdar Brahimi, “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects“, United Nations, 21.08.2000, paragraph 14). In order to improve the government’s power to enforce its decisions, the police and military, kept weak under Bozizé, must be rebuilt (Stephanie Wolters and Liesl Louw-Vaudran, “Central African Republic’s new president ‘a fresh start’“, Institute for Security Studies, 24.01.2014; cf.: André-Michel Essoungou, “Central African Republic: killings in the time of transition“, Africa Renewal 28, no. 1, April 2014). Due to the constraints under which it is operating, the transitional government must concentrate on the most important issues. These include the reconstruction of the economy, infrastructure and the government. Committing current transitional government resources to the preparation and conduct of elections would be a misplaced expenditure (The UN Security Council had already expressed in UNSCR 2149 its “concern at the collapse of the already fragile administration which limits the ability of the new Transitional Authorities to govern.”; United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 2149 (2014)”, p. 3).

Assessment of the situation and possible conflict management approaches focused on the main conflict source (own illustration; to enlarge, click on the image).

Assessment of the situation and possible conflict management approaches focused on the main conflict source (own illustration; to enlarge, click on the image).

 

Alternative conflict management approaches

Alternative conflict management strategies are shaped by the resources available and the constraints placed on the transitional government. The strategy presented here uses three alternative conflict management approaches. Some of these approaches have been used previously. Here, however, a different implementation is postulated. Rebuilding the economy, infrastructure and government in the CAR, together with DDRR and elections should be initiated, financed and supervised at a regional, if possible, municipal level. To keep spoilers in check and guarantee a successful implementation of this strategy, an adequate share of the “fruits of peace” must be guaranteed at regional and municipal levels. At the same time, the transitional government’s security capacities should be strengthened. To avoid a drain on resources and a repolarisation of the stakeholders, national elections should only be held after successful Security Sector Reform (SSR) and DDRR processes.

Priority 1: Rebuilding the economy, infrastructure and government
International missions concentrating mainly on DDRR since 1997 have not produced lasting positive results in the CAR. To be successful, an alternative conflict management strategy must focus on rebuilding the economy, infrastructure and government while promoting regional and municipal projects. By focusing on developing the agricultural, trades and infrastructure sectors, jobs will be created, generating income and improving the welfare of the population. Additional jobs could be generated by rebuilding government administrative services, the police and the FACA. In addition, this would create new possibilities for reintegrating rebels and rebel leaders.

Funding would be ensured during the first phase by international contributions, with a second phase funded by royalties from the diamond and gold sector, which will also have to be completely reorganised and monitored. The oversight body should include representatives of the government, mine operators and all parties to the conflict.

The advantages lie in regional and municipal involvement, job creation and sustainable progress for all. The disadvantages are the costs. Many of the new jobs created are not likely to become financially self-supporting in the long-term. The extent to which long-term financing by royalties from the diamond and gold sector is possible remains uncertain.

Priority 2: SSR and DDRR
Until now, SSR does not play a central role in the international missions. It could how-ever make a decisive contribution to reintegrating rebels and rebel leaders and strengthening the transitional government. SSR must be done in parallel with the re-construction of the economy, infrastructure and government and coordinated with the DDRR process. Rebuilding the FACA necessitates a centralised approach, while a regional approach is feasible for the police forces.

A regional approach is possible with DDRR and this might increase its chances of success (Gino Vlavonou, “Understanding the ‘failure’ of the Séléka rebellion“, African Security Review 23, no. 3, September 2014, p. 324; see also the example of the “weapons-free villages” campaign in the Solomon Islands: UNDP, “Practice Note”, p. 42). To reduce the potential for abuse, cash should not be paid for weapons being handed over. Compensations should offer priority access to reintegration support measures and starter packages with food. This would help prevent an unintentional support for the arms trade (UNDP, “Practice Note”, p. 40, 46). By improving the economic situation and the opportunities to make a living legally and without violence will increase the chances of a successful DDRR process through improved reintegration.

The advantages lie in the long-term strengthening of the transitional government and the reintegration of the rebels. The disadvantage is the amount of time required. International troops must remain on hand to suppress any new violence until the SSR is successfully concluded.

Priority 3: Institutionalization before liberalization
This approach, contrary to UN Resolution 2149, gives secondary importance to the implementation of national elections. They should occur in 2-5 years at the earliest, depending on the progress of the other conflict management approaches. This is also in line with the general recommendations for peacekeeping operations of Lakhdar Brahimi (“Delaying elections to build a sufficiently stable environment in which to hold the elections has a better shot at sustainable peace and can set the basis for future successful democratic development”; Lakhdar Brahimi, “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects”, paragraph 44). Even if not democratically legitimate, the transitional government should be strengthened and monopolise state power within the SSR framework.

To reduce the lack of democratic legitimacy, the successful implementation of regional projects should be followed by elections at the municipal level and in the prefectures (cf.: Lombard, “Genocide-mongering does nothing to help us understand the messy dynamics of conflict in the CAR”). One side effect would be a transition to a more decentralised political system. This could also contribute to long-term stabilisation, as regional solutions to regional problems would be encouraged. In addition, it would politically bind the conflicting parties more effectively not only to the central government, but also on the regional level.

The advantages lie in the prioritization of rebuilding the economy, infrastructure and government and strengthening decentralised structures. Further political integration of the conflicting parties at regional and municipal levels could eliminate the occurrence of spoilers and new violence. The disadvantage lies in the lack of democratic legitimacy in the transitional government, which could lead to a rebellion against the transitional government and against the international forces. A transparent approach is therefore a top priority.

Ex-Seleka fighters at a checkpoint on the road out of Bossangoa, November 4, 2013. They regularly rob local residents who have to cross the checkpoint to retum to town after searching for food in the countryside (Photo: Marcus Bleasdale).

Ex-Seleka fighters at a checkpoint on the road out of Bossangoa, November 4, 2013. They regularly rob local residents who have to cross the checkpoint to retum to town after searching for food in the countryside (Photo: Marcus Bleasdale).

 

Conclusion

The conflict in the CAR is an excellent example of how the causes of a conflict can be hidden by ethnic factors and only ferreted out with detailed analysis. The implementation of preset doctrinal approaches without assessing the situation and the factors involved does not bode well. This has been at the root of the failed international missions since 1997 in the CAR. MINUSCA, in place since mid-September 2014, will not achieve sustained stabilisation for the same reasons. For example, the long-term success of DDRR relies on the economic environment. Nevertheless, the improvement of the economic situation in the CAR is not part of the UN Resolution 2149 mandate for MINUSCA. In general, the focus on holding elections raises critical questions regarding the possible hidden intentions of the states participating in the international missions. Elections cannot solve most causes of conflict, but they do provide a welcome exit strategy. In addition, elections may also lead to new conflicts among stakeholders and drain valuable resources that could be better used elsewhere.

The cause of the conflict must be central to any assessment of the considerations and constraints of the situation: what realistically feasible measures could significantly improve the situation as quickly as possible? In the case of CAR, combining different conflict management approaches into a strategy and the importance of decentralised solutions should be considered. Regional or municipal approaches could incorporate the conflicting parties into the stabilisation process and thus reduce the likelihood of spoilers – not only in the case of the conflict in the CAR. With a decentralized strategy, the various measures could be implemented at different speeds and exemplary solutions could be developed to set the path for regions affected with more problems.

The alternative conflict management strategy proposed for the CAR prioritises three different approaches. The first priority should be regional, if possible municipal projects to rebuild the economy, infrastructure and government to create jobs and have a no-ticeably positive effect that will curb spoilers and form the basis for a successful reintegration of the rebels under DDRR. The second priority of the DDRR process and the SSR should be to reintegrate the rebels and at the same time monopolise state power into the hands of the transitional government. National elections would be conducted only as a third priority. Municipal and regional elections would be held earlier to reduce the democratic deficit.

International efforts in the CAR are disappointing because they focus on their own doctrinal ideas rather than on the underlying causes of the conflict. In this case new approaches are needed. Although conflict-specific strategies do not guarantee success, they do have a high potential to cause a change within the conflict. This means that properly designed and implemented conflict management strategies play an indispensable role in conflict prevention, long-term stabilisation and reconciliation.

This entry was posted in Central African Republic, English, Patrick Truffer, Peacekeeping, Security Policy.

2 Responses to Conflict Management in the Central African Republic: A Need for New Approaches

  1. Peaceful transition is progressively becoming a reality in the hitherto conflict-torn Central Africa Republic as the two armed rival rebel movements, the Anti-Balaka and Seleka have embraced politics and democracy through the creation of political parties ahead of the announced June 2015 elections. The Christian-dominated southern Anti-balaka movement on Saturday, November 29, 2014, during its general assembly meeting in the capital Bangui, took the decision to bury their arms and turn the movement into a political party [named Central African Party for Unity and Development (PCUD)]. […] The Muslim-dominated northern Seleka armed movement on its part, has broken up into three factions, with each of them creating a political party in preparation for the 2015 general elections in the country. — Emmanuel Kendemeh, “Cameroon: CAR’s Anti-Balaka Transformed Into Political Party“, Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé), December 3, 2014.

  2. Pingback: Schism in the South: Will South Sudan Achieve Lasting Peace? 3/3 | Offiziere.ch

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