Explained: Crisis in the Central African Republic

An alliance of rebel groups backing former President Francois Bozize are seeking to overturn the results of the December presidential elections, in which incumbent President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner.

The story so far

The security and humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) has rapidly deteriorated over the last several weeks. An alliance of rebel groups backing former President Francois Bozize has captured significant territories throughout the country. These forces are seeking to overturn the results of the December presidential elections, in which incumbent President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner. Mr. Bozize was not allowed on the ballot. The post-election violence has made matters worse for millions of people who are already reeling under a sectarian conflict for years.

Who is fighting whom?

Since 2013, the CAR has been facing violent inter-religious and inter-communal conflict. The Seleka rebellion began as a reaction to the underdevelopment and oppression of Northern Muslim populations by the government of Mr. Bozize. After overthrowing Mr. Bozize in March 2013, the Seleka (meaning ‘unity’ in Sango) killed and pillaged across the country, especially in the Bangui neighbourhoods, the Republic’s capital. The Seleka primarily consists of Muslims from the northeast of the CAR, as well as a significant number of Chadian and Sudanese foreign fighters.

The Seleka seized power in 2013. Its head, Michel Djotodia, became the first CAR President to come to power without active intervention from France. Unable to handle his militia, Mr. Djotodia, in September 2013, agreed to dissolve the Seleka. This decision, however, failed to stop the killings. The violence provoked the Christian anti-Balaka (‘anti-machete’) alliance, leading to a cycle of violence that quickly developed into a sectarian conflict. Mr. Djotodia was pressured to resign in 2014 amid violence. Despite electing a new leader in 2016, the country has been mired in tit-for-tat inter-communal violence and political instability.

Who’s behind the renewed crisis?

The G5+ group — which includes France, Russia, the U.S., the EU, the African Union, and the World Bank — issued a joint statement calling on the rebel groups and Mr. Bozize to lay down their arms. Mr. Bozize, who appointed Mr. Touadera as Prime Minister in 2008, returned to the CAR in December 2019, after living in exile for six years in DR Congo, Benin, and Cameroon. There is an international warrant against Mr. Bozize and U.N. sanctions for alleged assassinations, torture, and arbitrary arrests under his presidency. Mr. Bozize is accused by the U.N. and the CAR government of leading an alliance of rebel groups keen on disruption.

What is France’s role in CAR?

In the CAR, France has a history of periodic military interventions, most recently during 2013-2016. The CAR continues to rely on France’s assistance after its independence in 1960. Nearly every CAR President gained power in a coup d’etat supported by the French. For instance, Mr. Bozize seized power in a French-backed takeover in 2003. The CAR also retains the colonial currency, the CFA Franc, with a significant proportion of its national reserves in the Central Bank of France. In recent years, Russia has also started playing a bigger role in the country. French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the recent violence in a phone call with Touadera and reiterated his condemnation of Bozize.

What does Russia want in CAR?

In 2017, Russia started expanding its involvement in the CAR following a request by Mr. Touadera to supply the FACA (Central African Armed Forces) with weapons. The FACA was under the U.N. arms embargo, due to political volatility and systemic abuse of human rights. The UNSC was requested by Mr. Touadera and the transitional government to lift the embargo and equip the military, insisting that it is the best way to provide security and recover the territory occupied by militant forces. Russia secured an exception to the embargo in December 2017 and equipped the CAR with weapons and training.

Moscow also provided Mr. Touadera with a personal security adviser and has set up a large training camp for the CAR Army, south-west of Bangui. Russia intervened in the negotiations of the African Union between the CAR government and militant groups in 2018 by forming its own peace initiative along with Sudan. This step by Russia was sharply criticised by France. Ultimately, the African Union decided to bring the Russia-Sudan initiative under it, which led to the February 2019 Khartoum peace deal. To sign the agreement, Russia flew in 14 rebel leaders to Khartoum. Russia’s involvement in CAR is widely seen as part of its larger struggle for global influence. Russia is mostly interested in trading weapons for natural resources, such as gold, minerals, and rare earth elements.

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