A Partition of Central African Republic Would Be a Bad Idea
Northern secession would create new problems
Central African Republic can’t catch a break. After months of violence, representatives of various factions finally signed a ceasefire a few days ago—only for one rebel leader to reject the deal hours later.
Joseph Zoundeiko, a military chief of the Seleka rebels in the town of Bambari, told the BBC that he would “ignore the ceasefire” because it was negotiated “without proper input” from the movement’s military wing.
It’s not clear how the country’s other armed groups will react to the peace agreement.
Zoundeiko also demanded independence for the Muslim parts of Central African Republic, an idea that first circulated in April. Some Seleka factions insist that authorities should put an official stamp on ethnic cleansing and draw new borders around the country’s Muslim population.
But creating a new country is neither possible … nor a good idea if it were possible.
At first glance, it might make sense to create a new state in the region. After all, Central African Republic is a sorry excuse of a nation-state. French colonial administrators drew its borders. Its governments have been a succession of incompetent and brutal military administrations.
And in the current conflict, militias have emptied whole swathes of land of their Muslim population, which once made up 15 percent of the country’s people.
But the latter point is also one of the most important practical arguments against a partition. Even in the north, where most Muslims from the south have fled to, the country is hardly religiously homogenous. Any attempt to draw borders between communities would leave many people on the wrong side—a sure way to guarantee future marginalization.
To make matters worse, some of the country’s most important diamond reserves are in the north, making southern approval of a partition highly unlikely.
The same is true for France and the African Union. The A.U. has made the adherence to colonial borders one of its core political principles.
The only two examples of post-colonial secessions in Africa are Eritrea and South Sudan—and neither inspires confidence. It took Eritrea only a few years to end up in a brutal war with Ethiopia. Today the ruling regime rivals North Korea’s in its suppression of the population.
South Sudan just descended into a violent civil war, underscoring that new borders don’t make old conflicts go away.
Demands for secession seem mainly to come from elements in Seleka hailing from Sudan and Chad, two of the Central African Republic’s northern neighbors. For them, a partition of the country would be attractive, because it would greatly enhance their influence in the region.
Given the circumstances, a secession of the Muslim north under the inspiring working title of Republic of Northern Central Africa, is highly unlikely. But maybe it’s a good opportunity to think about more realistic political and military approaches to end the current crisis.
There is one aspect of secession that certainly would be a positive development for the country. The separation of the various armed factions. It would be useless to attempt this along a single border, but with a large enough peacekeeping force, individual communities could be kept safe from assaults.
French troops have achieved this protection in a very limited manner in some parts of the country. To extend the safeguards nationwide would require greatly-increased international engagement. The effort would have to be even larger to enforce the disarmament and demobilization of various armed groups.
The alternative is continuing low-level conflict … and insecurity for years to come. And a failure to address Central African Republic’s challenges now will guarantee that the bad idea of partition won’t go away.