Has Peace Come to Central African Republic?
French commander says yes—but he’s probably wrong
Gen. Francisco Soriano, commander of French troops in Central African Republic, is optimistic. France’s Operation Sangaris succeeded in “drastically” reducing killings since it commenced in December, Soriano said in an interview with Jeune Afrique.
According to Soriano, French soldiers collected more than 1,000 light and heavy weapons as well as 4,000 edged weapons from armed groups. As a result, killings have dropped from their high point of around 60 per day to only two to three per day, the general claimed.
So has Central African Republic turned the corner? Can the country build on this improved security to begin the enormous task of post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction?
Probably no. There are reasons to believe Soriano is too optimistic.
First of all, the international force of 1,600 French and around 5,000 African troops are still in control of only a small part of the country—mostly just the capital. For the peacekeepers, securing Bangui is only the beginning.
We’re not even sure what’s happening outside Bangui and other large cities.
To even begin thinking about securing the rest of the country, the peacekeeping force needs to be much bigger. U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-Moon recently floated the idea of adding 3,000 troops. But even they might not be enough. There are 20,000 peace troops in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Who knows where the additional troops might come from. The E.U. has promised to send troops, but individual member states are reluctant to commit. Germany will likely limit its deployment to a single medical evacuation airplane, a largely symbolic gesture aimed more at placating France than actually helping out in Central African Republic.
To make matters worse, most of the troops currently in the country have proved to be ineffective. Save for the Rwandan contingent, which has recent peacekeeping experience in other conflicts, the African troops have done little to improve security.
Consider the Chadian troops. They guarded convoys of Muslims fleeing Bangui and other towns, but they also committed atrocities against the Christian majority. As a result, Chad is unlikely to be welcome in future peace operations.
Coordination between the different contingents isn’t great. Some peacekeepers have even opened fire on each other. It doesn’t help that the African Union and the United Nations are still arguing over which organization should lead the mission.
Time is of the essence. The International Crisis Group warned that once the rainy season starts in April, much of Central African Republic will be inaccessible. Any substantial redeployment from the capital to rural areas will have to happen before then.
Long civil war or Islamist haven
In an interview with African Arguments, Donatella Rovera—Amnesty International’s senior investigator in crisis response—also disagreed with Soriano’s assessment.
Rovera described the international mission in the Central African Republic as incompetent and reluctant. Crisis Group and Amnesty have warned that, without a stronger intervention, the conflict could become long-term. The country could split along religious lines.
But it’s unlikely that Central African Republic will become a new Somalia or Mali—a haven for terror groups. Still, a lasting conflict could hurt the whole region. Neighboring countries including South Sudan, Sudan and Congo are already struggling to deal with their own internal fighting.
Others like Cameroon are fighting spillover effects from Nigeria’s war against the Boko Haram insurgency. At present these conflicts are separate. But a drawn-out civil war in Central African Republic could change that, making the country a hub of regional insecurity.