The Central African Republic: $2.2 Billion Won’t Buy Peace
The Central African Republic has been in a state of anarchy since the 2013 ouster of President Francois Bozize by primarily Muslim Séléka rebel coalition based in the north of the country. The ongoing UN peacekeeping mission immediately following the rebel victory has successfully disarmed the government, but largely failed to disarm either the ex-Séléka rebels or the reactionary anti-Balaka groups, and has not brought lasting peace for the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons throughout the country. An internationally-funded election in early 2016 restored some measure of legitimacy to the government through the election of former Prime Minister Faustin-Archange Touadéra, yet the election was followed by the announced withdrawal of French forces from the UN mission. The withdrawal was completed before the notoriously conflict-prone dry season, compounding the Security challenges faced by the new President.
The principle concern facing the CAR is the continuing violence plaguing the country. The months following Touadéra’s inauguration have been marked by a deteriorating security situation, as members of the peacekeeping force have been accused of mass murder and the various rebel groups have remained armed and unwilling to negotiate with Bangui. Concurrently the CAR faces security issues from the northern and southern borders. To the north the Janjaweed Militia, infamous for their role in the Darfur conflict, frequently cross the unguarded border to poach valuable wildlife, particularly elephants. To the South and East of the country the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by warlord Joseph Kony, continue their decades-long campaign of murder and kidnapping despite international efforts to combat them.
Foreign interests threaten the CAR’s security as well. WikiLeaks published leaked documents in February 2016 showing significant foreign involvement between the former CAR government and French and Chinese companies. The CAR is rich in resources such as diamonds and Uranium, which attract the developed world and rising powers alike. The Chinese in particular, along with Sudan, have had a deleterious effect on the CAR through a flow of illicit arms into the country. The Chinese state-run company outed by WikiLeaks, PTI-IAS, was none other than a defense company, and a report from Conflict Armament Research’s survey of disarmament efforts show that many of the arms and munitions held by the rebels on multiple sides of the conflict are of Chinese or Sudanese origin. Omar Al-Bashir, long-standing President of Sudan, was certainly in a position to sympathize with and arm the Séléka groups, as they mostly bordered Sudan and shared the same faith, unlike the mostly Christian population to the south, as demonstrated by the Séléka possession of military vehicles manufactured by Sudanese State-owned arms manufacturers.
President Touadéra has not been idle since his election. He has traveled across the world attempting to gather international support for the CAR. His administration, in conjunction with the EU, put together a $3.16 Billion dollar proposal for the EU to consider. On November 17th, the EU pledged a total $2.2 Billion to Touadéra’s National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan (RCPCA) to rebuild the health and education infrastructure of the country over the next five years. While the announcement has been seen as a ray of hope by CAR advocates, others have been critical of the deal, saying that for a country of approximately 4 million the plan amounts to just $500 per person, and is at serious risk of being stymied by corruption and a general difficulty in safely traveling more than a few miles outside of the capital. The news is further blunted by the RCPCA’s initial request for $3.16 Billion over the same period, nearly a Billion dollars more than what the EU provided.
Even if the Plan was funded in its entirety, elements of its implementation range from difficult to unrealistic. The plan to disarm and reintegrate the rebel groups, for instance, is only funded for the first 3 years. Given that the rebel groups are disorganized, spread across the country, and routinely at odds with one another, the prospect of funding a disarmament through only the next 3 years is extremely optimistic, even at the CAR’s ideal funding level.
The planned attempt to revitalize the military faces similar concerns. The FACA, the armed forces of the CAR, is functionally disarmed and untrained. The UN has placed an arms embargo on the country in an attempt to curb the proliferation of small arms, and the UN peacekeepers, many of whom are from the African Union, currently serve the country’s security functions. Simply recruiting, housing, and training a professional military from the ground up will cost more than the annual $35 million the RCPCA asks, and properly equipping them will require a significant international effort. The Government’s authority does not extend far beyond the Capital, and rebel groups that do not accede to the DDR programs, or renege on the framework agreement established in 2015, will need to be brought to heel as part of the program to combat arms proliferation. With the French withdrawal and limited support from the remaining UN forces, the future of the FACA remains bleak.
Despite the deal’s many shortcomings, the news is not all bad. The influx of cash and improvement of health services and road networks stands to bring significant benefit relief to local communities. Renewing confidence in the government through more effective administration and attempts to reform the justice system demonstrates a willingness on the part of the government to change for the better, and the genuine interest in extending government services beyond the Capital is the kind of ambition that the country desperately needs. The EU is not the only source of funding for the CAR, various aid organizations and bilateral donors are deeply involved in the country and offer medical and social services while the government consolidates.
Overall the EU’s lukewarm support is a step in the right direction, and a source of sorely-needed funding, but it is only one step in the Central African Republic’s marathon to peace and stability.