The Same Corrupt Politicians and Dangerous Warlords Still Haunt Central African Republic
Militia and rebel groups’ names may change, but the perpetrators remain the…
Exile obviously doesn’t agree with former presidents of Central African Republic. The latest exile to return to the country’s political scene is Michel Djotodia, who since July 13 heads the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic.
Of course, the Popular Front, which continues African rebel groups’ penchant for unwieldy names, really isn’t a new organization. Instead, it’s a the same loose coalition of rebel groups we once knew as Séléka.
Séléka was responsible for ousting Djotodia’s predecessor François Bozizé in March 2013. Djotodia pronounced himself head of state after his forces and allies seized the capitol Bangui and Bozizé fled to France.
Since then, Central African Republic has become one of the world’s worst humanitarian nightmares, in large parts thanks to the continued meddling and warmongering of some of the key players.
Djotodia couldn’t or wouldn’t control his troops. The largely Muslim Séléka fighters frequently committed abuses against the Christian civilian population of the areas it conquered, especially in Bangui.
In response, anti-balaka self-defense militias sprung up in many places. These local groups are heavily supported by elements of the Central African army, known as FACA, which are still loyal to ex-president Bozizé.
Yes, it’s confusing.
An African peacekeeping force that was in the country at the time largely did nothing, until French troops reinforced it in December. International pressure led to the abdication of Djotodia in favor of Catherine Samba-Panza, who took over ministries had been looted and who staff were demoralized if not entirely absent.
Nobody who matters wants to join the new regime, because it has transitional status and its functionaries won’t be allowed to stand in the next regular election.
Samba-Panza has so far proved unable to reign in the anti-balaka, which have committed their own serious atrocities against Central Africa’s Muslim population. Fighters have ethnically cleansed the whole southwestern part of the country, including Bangui, of its Muslim residents.
While the anti-balaka are a genuine grassroots groups, a recent report by Amnesty International found that “FACA members, including members of François Bozizé’s former presidential brigade, have joined the anti-balaka.”
Since December 2013, the worst atrocities seem bear the fingerprints of a trained and organized military force, leading Amnesty and the United Nations to conclude that Bozizé is using the militias to undermine the transition process and prepare the ground for his return to power.
Amnesty lists several former FACA commanders who have now assumed command over anti-balaka militias. Equally, Séléka puts its faith in the old cadres that were responsible—alongside Djotodia—for Central African Republic’s degeneration in the first place.
The same assembly that re-elected Djotodia also selected Noureddine Adam and Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane as the second and third in command of the group, effectively reinstalling the same leadership that also spearheaded the disastrous 2013 march on Bangui.
Djotodia and Adam, as well as Bozizé, are all on a U.N. sanctions list for their role in the Central African violence.
With this cast of characters, Central African Republic’s tragic tale likely won’t have a happy ending. Instigating and allowing atrocities that constitute ethnic cleansing, mass murder and potentially even genocide, Bozizé, Djotodia and their underlings have lost the necessary credibility to lead Central African Republic toward reconciliation and reconstruction.
Unfortunately, though, these men still command considerable capacity to spoil any peace process. The international community will need to find ways to either pressure or goad them to be part of the solution, not the problem—or at least to contain their influence.