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The East African : January 13th 2014
30 ARO U N D AF R ICA The EastAfrican OUTLOOK JANUARY 11-17,2014 Bangui’s perfect storm: Is interventionist France The fo≥me≥ colonial maste≥ has committed 1,600 t≥oops to p≥e-empt the pe≥ceived ≥isk of genocide in the Cent≥al Af≥ican Republic By PETER KAGWANJA AND LAUREEN WESONGA Special Correspondents F rench President Francois Hollande’s recent decision to increase the number of his country’s troops in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) seems to resurrect France’s time-hallowed military interventionism in Africa. But senior officials in Paris are making a case for the intervention as a “war of necessity.” France is CAR’s former colo- nial master. Paris has committed 1,600 troops to pre-empt the perceived risk of genocide. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius described CAR as a “collapsed state” where violence, rape and executions by armed militias are a recipe for a Rwanda-style genocide, this time fanned by inter-religious hatred. And by the same token, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson has talked of “pre-genocide” conditions. Amidst the escalating sectar- ian violence, on Thursday President President Idriss Déby Itno of Chad convened a summit of the 10 countries making the Economic Community of Central African (ECCAS) bloc to chart the path to peaceful in CAR and to decide the destiny of President Michael Djotidia, who has not been able to rstore public security and order. ECCAS Secretary General Al- lami Ahmat had denied that the summit’s purpose was “regime change” in Bangui. On Friday, CAR’s interim president Michel Djotodia and prime minister Nicolas Tiangaye quit under pressure after the regional leaders held him responsible for failing to halt the continuing sectarian violence in the country. The conference accepted Djo- France has been keen to co-ordinate its intervention with African and global initiatives. todia’s “resignation” in a statement on Friday, calling it a “highly patriotic decision to end the country’s paralysis,” and blasting the “passivity of the Central African political class faced with the crisis which has gripped the country.”The current meltdown in CAR started on December 12, 2012, when a coalition of rebels known as Séléka issued its first press release, making public its political, military and economic agenda. Séléka coalesced around sec- tions of two of CAR’s many anti-government militias, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and the Patriotic Convention for Saving the Country (CPSK), which signed a coalition agreement in August 2012. Under the banner of the al- liance CPSK-CPJP, Séléka published a press release taking responsibility for attacks on three towns on September 15, 2012. Séléka was boosted by the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) rebels. And on December 15, 2012, the group published its first press release using its new name “Séléka CPSK-CPJP-UFDR.” Séléka bears the birthmarks of the era of brutish governance in Bangui after Independence from France on August 13, 1960, when Paris propped up the rule of unelected presidents. The acme of French-backed despotism has its ugliest face in the self-styled “Emperor” Jean Bidel Bokassa, whom Paris supported to seize power in order to secure a supply line of rare uranium for its nuclear plants. Bokassa envisioned himself as an African Napoleon. The takeover by Séléka ended CAR’s short-lived democratic experiment that followed local discontent with the tyranny of the Cold War era, which was supported by pressure and aid from the country’s donors — mainly France and the European Union — and the United Nations. The first multiparty demo- cratic elections in 1993 brought Ange-Félix Patassé to power. But he was violently deposed in 2003 by General François Bozizé, who legitimised his power by winning democratic elections in May 2005. However, public discontent and rebellion soon brewed around Bozizé’s inability to regularly pay the public sector, postponing of elections, alleged corruption, underdevelopment, nepotism and authoritarianism. The rebellion in Bangui has come in two main waves. The first wave, also known as “the Central African Republic Bush War” (2004–2007), started immediately Bozize seized power in 2003. It consisted of multiple rebel groups coalescing around the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) led by Djotodia. The second wave, the 2012– 2013 Central African Republic conflict, eventually saw Bozize’s ouster from power on March 24, 2013. Djotodia declared himself president. The Arc of Insecurity The current political paralysis in CAR started when Djotodia’s coup d’état failed to completely subdue Bozize’s supporters, or to exercise full command and control over Séléka rebels who resorted to looting, rape and extreme violence. The mayhem has turned CAR into a bridge for anarchy, terror and statelessness linking West Africa, the Northern corridor and Eastern Africa, or what security strategists have dubbed “the arc of insecurity” spanning the Sahel through the Sahara Desert and into the Horn of Africa. So far, the violence is taking a heavy toll CAR’s 4.6 million people, displacing 935,000 people, 510, 000 in Bangui. Some 72,000 others have fled the country as refugees in the neigbouring Chad, D.R. Congo and Cameroon.Nearly all the members of Séléka are Muslim drawn mainly from the northeastern part of the country bordering Chad and Sudan’s Darfur region. This has introduced a new religious dimension to the conflict. Research has shown that some rebels are Arabic-speaking Islamic militants — they do not speak Sango or French, CAR’s official languages — giving credence to the speculation that Khartoum-sponsored Janjaweed militia from Darfur may be in town. This has sparked religious tension and retaliatory attacks against Muslims in a country where 80 per cent of the population are Christians. Christian militias popularly known as anti-balaka, are said to be leading the fight against the Séléka. The religious fault line in the CAR conflict is now gaining regional and international dimension. The military aircraft OPPOSED FROM THE START Michel Djotodia, a former civil servant who rode in to the capital with other Muslim rebels from the country’s remote north, was hated from the start by the largely Christian population in the south. For months, he insisted that his rebel movement had been disbanded, even as its men continued pillaging and kidnapping in the capital. Mr Djotodia insisted that he was not eager to stay in power and was merely preparing the way for future elections. But he barricaded himself in his military camp high above the capital, and advisers had insisted that he was going to stay on. On Friday morning, as people in Bangui anxiously awaited the news from Chad, residents took to the streets to proclaim their hatred of Mr Djotodia. “You take power and then you kill for nine months? That’s no good,” said one of the demonstrators, Guy-Roger Nambana, an artisan, as French soldiers watched warily from a distance. “He’s got to go,” Mr. Nambana added. NYT transporting Séléka’s wounded leaders are said to have flown to Khartoum and Rabat, Morocco. Séléka leaders have also made several trips to Qatar, illustrating growing linkages with Islamic countries. Meanwhile, Christian-led South Sudan, Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville have expressed concern over this drift to Islamic fundamentalism, creating religious tensions within the country and the region. Coupled with this is the re- source-conflict nexus in the CAR conflict. CAR is a typical case of “resource-curse,” as its wealth of mineral deposits and its good climate and fertile soils have become causes of endless conflicts between leaders in Bangui and the economically-deprived but mineral-rich northeast region, which have oil deposits that go all the way into neighbouring Chad. Last September, Djotodia an- nounced the disbanding of Séléka. But the fighters have merely dispersed into the countryside where they are reportedly committing mass atrocities, including execution, ethnic cleansing, rapes, looting and plunder. Humanitarian nightmare The first bush war displaced about 10,000 people. Since the second wave, after 2012, the UN estimates that some 400,000 people have been displaced. This humanitarian crisis now provides the opening for French military intervention.
January 6th 2014
January 20th 2014