The Central African Republic (CAR) is a country that needs stability and prospects for its people in order to pull itself out of the bloody mire that it is in today. This is not an easy task for a government, which despite having an elected President, struggles to govern the capital, Bangui, never mind the rest of the country. Not having a functioning army does not help and high up on the ‘to do’ list is to start from scratch and build one untainted by the war crimes committed when the Seleka insurgency began in 2012. The military was largely demobilised by the victorious Seleka, who were themselves disbanded after their own murderous time in the ascendancy, and international sanctions prevent what is left of it from being rearmed. As a consequence, security is reliant on international peacekeepers, whether from the African Union, United Nations, or France, the former colonial power. They have been having a hard time of it, as the militias that operate in the CAR are not shy of killing off the peacekeepers, or the civilians and aid workers they try to protect. In the long term the CAR needs a national army worthy of serving a country and its people. They are unlikely to get one.
The harsh reality is that parts of the CAR are bandit country, in particular where there is profit to be had from the exploitation of natural resources, and people with no prospects in sight will be drawn to serving warlords if this is the only way to make a living. There are other, more noble reasons to pick up a gun, notably if ones family or home is at risk and there is only one way to protect them. It is not hard to imagine how easily self-defence becomes destroying anyone or anything perceived as threat, including those nearby who are different and belong to another ethnic group.
The violence has continued, although the participants and the nature of the violence have changed, despite there being no shortage of ceasefires and agreements in what can loosely be described as a peace process since the latest war began in 2012. The latest in June this year, between the Government and rebel groups, committed to giving political representation to the armed groups in exchange for an end to attacks and roadblocks. This may seem like rewarding violence, but it is also a pragmatic way forward when there is no provision for security. It is also a further step in the direction of political participation, which in turn means representation. Removing roadblocks allows for the free movement of aid and trade, both of which are needed as the building blocks of a functioning state able to meet the needs of its people. The CAR is resource rich and there should be no shortage of food, but opportunism and violence has left people both poor and hungry.
There has also been a regular commitment of peacekeepers to the CAR dating back to 1996. The current UN force in the CAR is MINUSCA, which evolved from an AU force (MISCA), when the UN commitment to the CAR was stepped up in 2014. This stands at 10,000 and the UN is asking for more as US forces hunting the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have left. This needs to be put in perspective: the US troops were special forces dealing with a specific threat, and not peacekeepers, who operate under a UN mandate and try to avoid fighting, seeking to provide protection. 10,000 troops is actually an utterly inadequate number to provide security to the people of the CAR, even in the south-east alone, which is the current focus of the fighting. It takes more troops to police a country than it does to invade one, and the UN peacekeepers are present by consent and work to prevent violence, not to join in. They are also likely to be poorly resourced, with nations willing to commit troops to the UN so long as somebody else is helping to pay the bills.
Peace in the CAR will only be achieved in the long run by continuing the long and unsung process of talking and bringing together opposing groups while at the same time providing security. In the long term this will only be provided by a functioning army, police and effective border controls, and it is this that the international community needs to work towards to avoid all its other efforts being wasted. This means the rebuilding of the CAR’s forces to support the UN and work towards taking over its role entirely. A surge in the deployment of peacekeepers will pay dividends in the long run, so long as they are given free rein to hit the opportunists and foreign fighters hard when needed. They will still need to continue with the essential core duties of peacekeeping, namely, talking, negotiating and liaising as they are not there to fight a war, but to protect life. This begins with the peacekeepers themselves: combatants should be in no doubt that the UN is there to keep the peace, but at the same time be clear that killing them will carry a heavy penalty. This carries with it the caveat of accountability in that the peacemakers will be held accountable for their actions.
Next week we return to Syria and ISIS.
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Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator