Central African Republic: A Failed State
The African Union, France, and the United Nations have finally decided that the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) warrants significant intervention. The problem is that they are still approaching the crisis as if order and stability can be expeditiously achieved. Just as with Mali, France wants to get in and get out. But the CAR is a failed state in need of long-term, thorough intervention to address a political, societal, and economic morass that was years in the making.
Since the Séléka rebel group seized the capital in March 2013, political authority and the rule of law have completely eroded. The purported head of state has no legitimacy or de facto control over the country’s territory or people. President Michel Djotodia, a Muslim in a predominantly Christian country, came to power through a bloody insurrection as the leader of the Séléka . He then appointed himself as the head of a three-year transitional government in addition to defense minister, suspended the country’s constitution, and dissolved the parliament. While verbally committing himself to reconciliation and peace in the CAR, Djotodia has only aggravated the situation by naming fellow rebels to top government posts and disbanding the rebel alliance that enabled his rise to power, though the order had little practical effect.
The result of these events has been a security vacuum. Séléka rebels and subsidiary groups are taking over small pockets of the country and using violence—including looting, abductions, rape, and the burning of churches and government buildings—to assert their supremacy. Meanwhile, the national armed forces and police have collapsed, allowing criminal enterprises to prey on local populations all over the country. And Christian, anti-Séléka militias are emerging to reclaim their areas. In the last month alone, over 1,000 people were killed.
Compounding the internal strife, other groups are taking advantage of the CAR’s porous borders. The Lord’s Resistance Army, the predatory guerrilla band led by Ugandan national Joseph Kony, has set up shop in the country without much opposition. Some say that the CAR is now also a haven for Islamist militants looking to recruit and launch operations. As if this weren’t enough, Chadian and Sudanese rebel leaders are using CAR territory as a base from which to attack their respective homelands.
France is focused on disarming militias, and this is important, but long-term stability is not possible without the installation of a neutral transitional government that includes representatives from all regions and sects.
Long before the Séléka’s final advance into the capital, there were signs of an imminent breakdown in the social fabric. Ousted president François Bozizé, who himself gained power through rebellion, refused to follow through on the promises he made to reform the security sector. The Séléka were continuously excluded from negotiations or dialogues surrounding constitutional reform. When rogue forces entered the CAR from neighboring countries, he did little to protect the Muslim communities in the affected areas. And Bozizé was known for running a corrupt government that disenfranchised most citizens, especially the Muslim minority.
The CAR was once known for quite peaceful Christian-Muslim relations, but the current crisis has pitted communities against one another. Residents of religiously mixed areas are now fleeing within the country or abroad. The growing humanitarian crisis alone has resulted in acts of violence born of desperation.
In order to begin the process of restoring social peace, the international community will have to do more than send troops and disarm militias. Christian and Muslim leaders are taking the lead on reconciliation, but they lack resources and secure venues where dialogues can take place. The international intervention forces need to support and encourage these societal efforts until a formal, democratic political process can be established.
Political and societal components of the intervention must be supplemented with material assistance. The CAR was already one of the poorest countries in the world. With the crisis in full force, farms and mines have been abandoned, and direct assistance from significant donors has been suspended. Service delivery has completely unraveled, with over half a million people struggling to obtain water, food, and medical care. The few aid organizations operating in the country are having difficulty reaching people in need due to the widespread and unpredictable violence. Clearly the international community is not going to build up CAR’s economy overnight. But the intervention forces must at minimum ensure that aid organizations can reach desperate populations.
Intervention in the CAR is commonly justified with the need to “prevent the country from spiraling out of control.” Unfortunately, given the political, social, and economic meltdown described above, the CAR has already spiraled out of control. The international community is reluctant to acknowledge the enormity of the problem because of the responsibilities that come with it, but to avoid realistically defining the situation—as state failure—is not fair to the CAR people and does more harm than good. Only a clear-eyed view of the crisis can produce an appropriate plan of action capable of restoring the fundamental rights that the country’s citizens deserve.
Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.