Recent developments in the Central African Republic (CAR), where more than a hundred civilians and some half a dozen UN peacekeepers were killed this week in new violence, look like warning signs of political rebellion in a context of impunity and government inertia, according to jurist Didier Niewiadowski, former advisor to the French embassy in the CAR. His analysis is uncompromising. This former French diplomat thinks the CAR, with its leaders “out of touch with the country’s realities” risks looking like the Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia as it was. In this interview, he talks to JusticeInfo.net.
This violence looks different from what we have seen before. What do you think is different?
Since the one-year anniversary of President Touadera’s investiture on March 30 this year, the Central African crisis has taken on a new dimension and changed in nature. Faced with the inertia and greed of the presidential clan, which has executive power and key administrative posts, more and more people are dissatisfied with Touadera and his government, not only the population who can no longer tolerate impunity, but also members of parliament who see the increase in violence but are stopped from questioning government members about it. The presidential majority is in pieces. So there is a challenge from people who want to overthrow this government, which looks a lot like the one that was in power in 2012. Events in the extreme east of the country, especially what happened in Bangassou, are the first signs of a political rebellion rather than the usual fighting over mineral resources.
And who is behind these first moves towards political rebellion?
We might suspect the “Nairobi people”, that is, supporters of ex-president Bozizé, the political branch of the Anti-balaka (militia), along with officers of the former national army FACA, some supporters of Michel Djotodia and mercenaries from Sudan and Chad. After the departure of the American advisors and the Ugandan contingent, the eastern region – wedged between the DRC and South Sudan – facilitates the creation of sanctuaries and so the development of a planned, organized rebellion. The UN, which is protecting Touadera and his clan, has become their enemy, hence the attacks against MINUSCA (United Nations force in the CAR). We are perhaps witnessing the start of a sort of “war of national liberation”.
Should we see this upsurge of violence as a way of undermining the Special Criminal Court, whose creation seems to be advancing after the nomination of some judges?
Violence against the civilian population across the country has never stopped. Given the gradual disappearance of the State, criminal groups no longer have anything to stop them from their deadly enterprises. The latest events in the east — Mbomou, Kotto and Ouaka – are part of a national thrust of insurrection that stems from the incapacity of the current authorities to steer a national reconciliation policy. The recent decision to conduct a census of army soldiers and strike off “ghost” or “incompatible” names has no doubt also stoked revolt amongst disaffected military. As for the Special Criminal Court, its judges will have an enormous task, which is not about to start soon and which will last many years. In any case, who will go and hunt the criminals in the lawless zones? The CAR’s many criminals are hardly worried by a Special Criminal Court whose aim is mainly to ease the conscience of the international community.
What do you think of the reaction of the UN force, which has become a target itself?
MINUSCA and the diplomats were surprised by the dramatic events in Bangassou. They did not foresee this deliberate attack against UN peacekeepers. Up to now, the UN blue helmets have had only a few scuffles, sometimes bloody but without any real political significance. In Bangassou, it was a real act of war, with many attackers under a real military command. Six dead and 10 injured UN peacekeepers is the worst toll for the United Nations in the CAR. Four peacekeepers were even taken hostage and then killed in a horrible way. It is undoubtedly a warning to MINUSCA.
The Touadera regime has totally lost credibility amongst the population and the thousands of refugees and displaced people struggling to survive, who see it as being protected by MINUSCA and France. The incessant UN and French declarations of support for the regime seem to the vast majority of the population like a huge provocation. And so the UN force has become the enemy in the CAR, because it gives more protection to the regime than to the citizens, who are prey to all kinds of abuses.
French troops have withdrawn, followed recently by Ugandan troops. Isn’t it time to redeploy some elements of the national army FACA that have been trained by European soldiers?
The first contingent of a national army needs to continue its training. Sending them to a hotspot now is not realistic, given that the trouble is in lawless zones with no army barracks or infrastructure. The same causes produce the same effects. In the CAR, men in uniform have always been better at exacting taxes than protecting public order.
Do you think the Touadera government can still regain control?
President Touadera seems to be cut off from reality in his country. Wasn’t he on an official visit to Israel for more than a week whilst the bloody events in Bangassou, Bria and Alindao were making waves around the world? The President of the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Deputy Secretary-General went to Bangui but the Central African Head of State did not bother to come back. Catherine Samba-Panza (former transitional president) cut short an official visit to New York in circumstances that were less dramatic than this.
Central Africans want peace and national reconciliation and that is possible, but not with the current regime, meaning both the government and parliament, which are supported by the international community. Now they are comfortably ensconced in power, the current leaders are not ready to change their behaviour.
So what could be the way out of this terrible situation?
The Central African crisis is likely to last a long time and absorb a lot of money… without producing any results. The French and Americans understood this when they decided to pull out without attaining their goals. The situation in the CAR may well end up looking like the DRC or Somalia as it was, with a lasting but endangered UN presence.
In the CAR, the right decisions have never been taken by Central Africans and their technical and financial partners. If there were real decentralization with autonomy for the regions, no more election of the president through direct universal suffrage, introduction of a parliamentary type system, real regional integration into a revamped CEMAC (Economic Community of Central African States), the development of public/private partnerships and above all an end to the total impunity that feeds bad governance in the CAR… then we could imagine a way out. But we must be realistic. The status quo suits everyone.