A donor conference for the Central African Republic is taking place Thursday November 17 in Brussels, with participants including the country’s new president Faustin-Archange Touadéra. His record after nearly a year in office is disappointing, especially with regard to fighting impunity and corruption, which are at the root of the country’s three-year crisis. In an interview with JusticeInfo, jurist and former cultural advisor to the French embassy in Bangui Didier Niewiadowski urges donors to make sure their funding is not misspent.
Does the Touadera government have a record to reassure the donors ?
He does not have good advisors, and the government was cobbled together under the influence of presidential advisors turned businessmen. His record is rather disappointing after eight months in office. Some people think he has not changed from when he was Prime Minister from 2008 to 2013 under president François Bozizé. He has not sought a political solution to the crisis, and it is to be feared that inaction takes pride of place over fulfilling his promises.
So he doesn’t really represent change?
The election of President Touadéra was hailed by most Central Africans, and it raised a lot of hopes. But today, the disappointment is more and more apparent. The voters believed in this former university professor who was appreciated by his colleagues and students. But he was also former president Bozizé’s Prime Minister and it seems that is what he has turned out to be, someone who doesn’t care much about human rights, whose political vision is clouded by short-term interests and who is easily influenced. Like his predecessors, he has quickly succumbed to nepotism and cronyism, which has undermined the good opinions people had of him. His doing nothing about the ex-Seleka* militia and being well disposed towards the Antibalaka** will only fuel citizens’ frustration and the rise of civil society, which is starting to resist, especially after two of its representatives were jailed.
That brings us to justice and the fight against impunity, things which the donors insist on in the CAR…
There is no functioning criminal justice system. The Special Court, approved in June 2015 is still not operational. Its judges have not been recruited and its premises will not be ready for several months. It is easier to jail two civil society members for calling a protest (editor’s note: Gervais Lakosso and Marcel Mokwapi were arrested on November 8 and provisionally released under judicial surveillance on November 14) than to stop the ex-Seleka leaders who are under arrest warrants from circulating freely in Bangui. By the same token, Jean-Francis Bozizé (son of former president François Bozizé) was able to return to his home in Bangui with no problem, even though he is under an international arrest warrant. He was questioned by MINUSCA (UN mission in the Central African Republic), but was immediately freed by the judicial authorities under hypothetical judicial surveillance. Impunity and the absence of rule of law ensure that the Central African kleptocrats stay in power.
Bangui is seeking funding support for its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme. Do you think the government’s plan is up to the challenge?
If you treat the consequences rather than the causes of rebellions, you are only applying a Band-Aid. It is an illusion to think that the DDRR programme will solve all the problems of the armed groups. Today unscrupulous warlords, whether they be called Seleka or Antibalaka, control a big part of the country. They are not likely to give up the fiefdoms that are making them rich on the backs of population. The warlords should be deprived of their income-generating fiefdoms and neutralized by strong action from MINUSCA. The “recovery and peacebuilding” plan should rethink the way the State is organized, including moving to strong decentralization and de-concentration of State funds; overhaul the electoral system, which is too centralized and facilitates fraud; put the priority on education and training; secure the mining sites and livestock transhumance routes.
There have been other donor meetings before this one, notably one in June 2011, which Touadéra attended as Prime Minister. Is he a more reassuring figure five years later?
Most of the people meeting with the Central African authorities, whether they are from the UN, European Union, African Union or France, were not handling the Central African Republic in 2011-2012. So diplomatic amnesia and the tendency of the CAR’s partners to bury their heads in the sand means the 2016 roundtable will probably be like the 2011 one, resulting in three billion US dollars to fund the 5-year “recovery and peacebuilding” plan for the CAR. Given that the annual national budget is 370 million US dollars, it is obviously out of the question that the loans granted be reimbursed. President Touadera, along with numerous ministers and advisors joined by former bigwigs of the Bozizé era (2003-2013), can take part with ease of mind because they are not likely to be quizzed about the financial outcomes of the previous roundtable in which they participated. Their arguments are well honed and do correspond with recovery and reconciliation needs. The problem is that bad financial management is likely once again to wipe out the goodwill of the donors and the efforts of taxpayers in the countries concerned.
Do you have a message for the donors?
In advance of the donor roundtable, the donors should have been a lot firmer with President Touadéra and his government, especially on fighting all forms of crime, setting a moral example like not letting the predators of the Bozizé era back in power, and taking account of the distress of nearly half the population, especially the one million refugees and displaced people. The funding granted in Brussels should be protected against misuse, given the failings of public accounting in the CAR, even if the government will no doubt demand internal management in the name of a national sovereignty that no longer exists. But like in 2011, we should not expect tight conditions, especially since most of the donor representatives will no longer be in the same post in a few months after changes at the head of their institution.
* Seleka is a rebel coalition that chased President François Bozizé from power in March 2013 and which is linked to mass atrocities against the population. The Seleka were fought by the self-defence militia.
**Antibalaka, self-defence militia, who in turn committed serious abuses.