The situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), which escalated since mid-December 2020, has recently heated up even more. Presidential and parliamentary elections in the CAR were scheduled for December 27, 2020. The former president of the country, Francois Bozizet, who was the leader of the country from 2003 to 2013 and known for massive repressions and murder of political opponents, was not allowed to participate in the elections.
As a response, on 17 December armed opposition groups united in the Coalition of Patriots for Change (the Coalition) and began an armed uprising against the CAR authorities. Their offensive attempted to cut off the supply routes to the capital city of Bangui but failed.
These events provoked an escalation of the civil war in the CAR. The situation is aggravated by the growing evidence of possible intervention by foreign states in the conflict.
The first evidence of military intervention by Chad started appearing at the beginning of January during the fighting around Bangui, when the CAR troops apprehended one of the rebels from the Coalition group. He turned out to be a Chadian citizen. The Chadian Government had confirmed his citizenship and even issued a press release demanding his release and repatriation.
On January 21, the CAR armed forces carried out another attack against the Coalition group. At the end of the operation, the surviving militants fled to the north of the country, leaving their personal belongings, vehicles and weapons.
During the sweep, the CAR armed forces found military insignia and ammunition of the Chadian army. A dossier with precise data and details of the operation and its consequences were passed for further investigation to the Bangui Department of Internal Affairs.
According to preliminary results of the Internal Affairs Department`s investigation, mobile phones which were detected at the battlefield consisted of numerous photos and personal information.
One of the smart phones owners was Mahamat Bashir, who is a close contact to Mahamat Al Khatim, the leader of the Central African Patriotic Movement.
There were also photos presenting soldiers of the Chad regular army right in front of the French military base. Also, customs documents with the Chad stamps on them had been found at the site of the CAR operation. These papers revealed information about vehicles, weapons and militants which had been sent from the territory of Chad to the Central African Republic.
All these findings bear evidence of possible participation in the CAR conflict of not just Chadian mercenaries, but also Chad regular military personnel.
Thus, the “Coalition of Patriots for Change” which was initially created for political purposes, had quickly turned into an instrument of armed intervention by actors interested in conflict in the CAR. Speaking of whom, it is worth to mention not just Chadian, but French interests.
On December 31, 2020, the Prime Minister of the French Republic Jean Castex, accompanied by the Defence Minister Florence Parley, arrived in Chad.
An official aim of their visit was to “honour the memory of the soldiers and officers who died during the operation Barkhan since 2013”.
But local media reported that the French delegation met the Chadian president Idris Debi to discuss “bilateral cooperation”, including the subject of the Central African Republic.
Despite systematic reports from the CAR Army about the attacks by the Chadian mercenaries against the CAR inhabitants, the Government of Chad denies any involvement in this conflict.
It is noteworthy that at the official level and in statements by the media, Paris showed support to the president of the Central African Republic Faustin-Arсhange Touadera.
However, while analyzing events at the CAR from the historical retrospective, it is clear that Paris has played a major role in the emergence of military and political groups in the Central African Republic.
Almost all of the CAR's presidents came to power in a result of a coup-de-tat. The method is simple but effective – as soon as the CAR leader started expressing nationalist sentiments which could theoretically cause harm to the interests of France as a post-colonial power, he “voluntarily” or forcibly left his post.
Humanitarian Crisis in Central African Republic continues
The humanitarian crisis in Central African Republic (CAR) doesn´t seem to end. The CAR has been under attack by armed groups for two months, ever since the armed CPC (Coalition of the Patriots of the Central African Republic) launched numerous attacks on key cities including the capital, Bangui, aimed at aborting the elections at December 27 2020. Even though the government of the Central African Republic hoped for peaceful elections, the National Army was prepared to defend the security of the country.
According to UN-expert Yao Agbetsi, the CPC routinely violate human rights and committing crimes against the civilian population of the CAR as residents have subjected to extortion, robbery, rape, and abduction. CPC fighters also regularly kidnap press-gang children into their ranks and use them as human shields.
CAR-President Faustin-Archange Touadéra issued a call for aid to neighboring countries, and to international partners. The recent bilateral partnership in the security sector with the Russian Federation was one of the achievements of the Central African government, which helped to give a boost to the national defense forces (the FACA).
The presence of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) seems at the same time not at all satisfying for the people of CAR. Even the recent news of the possible increase in the MINUSCA numbers provoked wide discussion among the local population and security experts.
Yao Agbetsi reports: “UN personnel in the CAR (MINUSCA) showed their low efficiency in resolving the crisis in the country. More than 14,000 people of the MINUSCA contingent cost the international community about $1 billion a year and they do not contribute to the restoration of peace in the CAR”.
Agbetsi also notes that the CAR’s allies, Russia and Rwanda, have provided effective military support in the fight against the rebels. It can be beneficial for the CAR to engage Russia more actively in solving its regional security problems.
Also Marie-Therese Keita-Bocoum, independent expert on the situation of human rights in the CAR, shares the stance with Agbetsi. In an opinion piece for African Associated Press (AAP) Keita-Bocoum wrote:
“The government headed by President Touadera made it clear that it would be in the interests of its people to bring the war to a victorious end. All groups will be destroyed, and their leaders will be brought to justice. This resonates with the country’s population, which is confirmed by regular pro-Touadera demonstrations of thousands of residents. African countries should support the actions of the legally elected government due to the fact that the president has proved that the people’s interests are at the forefront of his mind.”
She criticizes as well the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) which in her opinion “seeks to interfere in the internal affairs of the CAR.”
Keita-Bocoum: “The ECCAS chaired by Angolan Gilberto Da Piedade Verissimo is a tool for pursuing Angola’s political interests. In order to divert its population’s attention from internal problems, the government of Angola intervenes in the situation in the CAR, acting on the side of criminals and terrorists.”
The African expert empathized the role of the international allies of CAR: “Thanks to FACA, trained by Russian instructors and Rwandan allies, the advance of CPC mercenaries has been stopped and they are suffering losses.”
Timothy Longman, professor of political science and international relations at Boston University and internationally recognized expert on the Rwandan genocide, calls as well for a stop of violence in CAR.
Longman: “President Touadera made it clear that it would be in the interests of its people to bring the war to a victorious end. All groups will be destroyed, and their leaders will be brought to justice. This resonates with the country’s population, which is confirmed by regular pro-Touadera demonstrations of thousands of residents. African countries should support the actions of the legally elected government due to the fact that the president has proved that the people’s interests are at the forefront of his mind.”
Luanda should stop putting pressure on the legitimate government of the CAR and supporting the rebels
After the military successes of the national army of the CAR in the fight against the armed groups’ militants, the idea of a dialogue with the rebels, put forward by CEEAC and ICGLR, looks absurd. Criminals and enemies of the peace must be arrested and brought to justice. Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera does not consider the option of negotiations with the armed groups who took up arms and acted against the people of the CAR. Meanwhile, on the Angolan side, Gilberto Da Piedade Verissimo, the president of the Economic Community of Central African States commission, stubbornly trying to start a dialogue with the leaders of armed groups who have formed the Coalition.
Under the guise of helping to resolve the Central African crisis, Angola is promoting its interests. President João Lourenço, António Téte (the minister of external relations who went to Bangui and then to N’Djamena), and Gilberto Da Piedade Verissimo, the president of the Economic Community of Central African States commission, are trying to open up a channel of communication between the different actors in Bangui. What is the role of Angola in resolving the security situation in the Central African Republic?
It is worth noting that Angola is the second oil producer in Africa, after Nigeria. Despite this fact, the country is in economic decline, but the president of the country and his elite have a large personal capital of unknown origin. There is rumor that the political elite has enriched itself over the past decade by shady arms deals with various terrorist groups from neighboring countries.
There is a strong possibility that the current Central African Government is not in a favorable mood for cooperation with Angola in the field of natural resources within the framework of CEEAC. Therefore, the benevolent and seeking help from all the former head of the CAR, Francois Bozize, could provide privileges for Angola. Otherwise, how else to explain the negotiations of the Angolan delegation with Jean-Eudes Teya, the secretary-general of Kwa na Kwa (the party of former President Francois Bozize).
One of the conditions proposed by the Coalition was the liberation of the CAR-Cameroon corridor. The fact is that the government forces already control this area and there is no need to negotiate with the militants. In addition, CAR population expresses its complete disagreement about the opening of a dialogue with the rebels. Over the past month, several rallies have been held in Bangui, where people chanted "no dialogue with the rebels": those who came out against the people of the CAR with weapons should be brought to justice.
The government, together with the support of the international community, is planning to restore State power throughout the country, and it is only a matter of time.
Tensions in Central Africa: Forcible recruitment, killings and looting among rebels' confessions
Rebels who attacked the capital of the Central African Republic do not understand what they are fighting for. Central African Republic television showed footage of an interrogation of one of the rebels captured during the attack on Bangui, who said that opponents of the current CAR authorities keep rank-and-file fighters in the dark about their plans and objectives.
'They do not understand what they are doing'
"After the gendarmerie questioned some of the rebels arrested in the attempted attack on the capital Bangui, one of the detainees said they were forcibly recruited into armed groups, did not know what they were doing, and according to the detainees, they belonged to the 3R group operating in the Nana-Grébizi area," Bangui-24 reported.
The Central African media point out that according to those arrested, the rebels follow the orders of their commanders without understanding the objectives and consequences, and they have not been told that they will fight against the Government of the Central African Republic.
This description of the situation from a direct participant in the fighting against the central government shows that the current escalation of tensions in CAR is largely artificial.
Since December 2020, the Central African Republic has witnessed an escalating confrontation between opposition fighters and the government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.
On the eve of the presidential elections scheduled for December 27, a number of militias declared their unification in the "Coalition of Patriots for Change" (CPC) and tried to raise an uprising and even seized several settlements. The authorities of the CAR and the UN said that former president François Bozizé, whom the judicial authorities of the CAR removed from the elections, was behind the revolt
Bozizé, who had come to power in 2003 in a coup d'état, was previously accused of genocide and is under UN sanctions. The opposition "Coalition of Democratic Opposition" COD-2020, from which Bozizé had been previously nominated for the presidency, called for the elections to be postponed.
A number of media outlets cited the alleged lack of dialogue in CAR society as the reason for the uprising. However, the fighters' confessions are more likely to show that they were simply used. They did not feel disadvantaged or seek any kind of dialogue at all.
"It follows that the people of the Central African Republic are being recruited and manipulated by the warlords not because of a lack of dialogue, but because of the interests of those who will benefit from the conflict in the future," Bangui Matin said.
The real face of the 'opposition' in the CAR
The situation in the Central African Republic is still very difficult. A few days ago the world media reported about another attempt of the militants to storm the capital. However, so far it and most of the territory of the country are under the control of the government troops. They are supported by the UN peacekeepers (MINUSCA) and the Rwandan troops, who arrived at the call of the Central African government. Russian instructors were also present in the country to train the CAR troops. However, AFP says that Moscow allegedly plans to withdraw the 300 specialists who arrived in CAR on the eve of the December 27 elections.
The current president of the CAR is in fact the first head of state in 20 years to be elected by direct popular vote in compliance with all necessary procedures. According to the Central Electoral Commission of the Central African Republic, he received 53.9% of the vote in the December elections and thus won already in the first round.
But this victory in a democratic election is yet to be defended by President Touadéra in the face of armed blackmail by bandits.
According to a young man shown on CAR television, he was recruited by the guerrillas at a very young age near the town of Kaga-Bandoro. This is further evidence of the use of child soldiers in African conflicts and a stain on the reputation of ex-President Bozizé, who does not shy away from collaborating with groups who allow themselves to do so.
According to a militant interrogated by the CAR gendarmerie, in his region the 3Rs were originally made up of members of the Peuhl (Fulani) ethnic group, a cross-border people living in most of West Africa and the Sahel. Although the Fulani fighters were initially supposed to defend their settlements, they quickly switched to looting villages and other illegal activities. The militant also said that his group had been active for years in the areas of Dékoa, Sibut, and Kaga.
As Bangui Matin notes, the actions of the group to which the militant, questioned the day before by the CAR gendarmerie, belonged took place in the places where Russian journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguev and Kirill Radchenko were killed in 2018.
" These armed elements could be involved in the case of the assassination of the Russian journalists killed on the Sibut-Dekoa axis," notes Bangui Matin.
According to the official version of the Russian investigation, the journalists were killed during an attempted robbery. Western media connects the murder of journalists with their investigation of Russian PMCs activity in the CAR. The same is stated by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a critic of Putin's regime and former head of Yukos oil company. Also in Russia, there was a version put forward about the involvement of French intelligence and Khodorkovsky himself in the killing of journalists.
On the eve of the attack, the army of the Central African Republic liberated the outskirts of the town of Sibut, where the journalists had been killed.
The 3R group is responsible for numerous murders and robberies. In particular, they killed 46 unarmed civilians in the Ouham-Pendé prefecture in 2019. The group's head, Sidiki Abbas, is under UN and U.S. sanctions
The CAR has remained a dangerous country for foreigners for years. Back in 2014, the murder of French photojournalist Camille Lepage shocked the journalistic community. Above all, however, it is the population of the republic that mostly suffers from the ongoing civil war. No one can even count the number of killed civilians. Thousands have died in a war that has been raging for 10 years with only minor breaks between factions and the central government. The chances of restoring order came under President Touadéra, and his election is a chance that change in the CAR will take place peacefully and democratically, and that the blackmailing of the militants will no longer influence the country's politics.
Resolute action against the militants by the CAR army is so far the only way to avoid another slide into chaos. However, there are obviously internal and external forces interested in the opposite. They are the ones behind the actions of the militants, who have gone from looting and killing to trying to take over the capital. If the Central African Republic can meet this challenge, the country will have a chance for sovereign and democratic development.
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