French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, during a wide-ranging interview with French media, spoke about the current situation in the Central African Republic. “There is a need for Central Africans themselves to find their own reconciliation, which is extremely challenging given the long, complex histories of hatred and distrust” that exist as part of the fabric of the nation, Le Drian explained. From the French perspective, the involvement of regional leaders in supporting the peace process and organizing peace talks in Brazzaville will allow for a cease-fire and a reconciliation process to take root.
When pressed by journalists about an exit strategy for France in the CAR, Le Drian said that UN troops will “arrive starting September 15”, with a political-military peacekeeping role in the context of an evolving democratic process. Le Drian, quite comfortable with France’s role and accomplishments since its involvement in the crisis in December 2013, told the press that Operation Sangaris – the French mission in the CAR – helped “avoid mass massacres”, pacified Bangui, de-enclaved Cameroon, and is working towards restoring security in the eastern part of the country. Of course, the reality on the ground suggests that in spite of these major advancements, there is still widespread insecurity and chronic violence, as well as a complex and devastating humanitarian situation affecting the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees.
As the peace talks begin in Brazzaville, the common ground that is meant to emerge appears out of reach. While CAR’s transitional government is represented and actively participating, the two critical groups – the Seleka and anti-balaka – are not only at odds with each other, but also internally divided and lacking a strong, unified voice to represent their interests. Short-lived CAR head of state Michel Djotodia, who lead the Seleka to power in early 2013 – but was forced to step down less than a year later under international pressure – was re-elected in absentia last week as head of the group during a general assembly in north-eastern town of Birao in CAR. Djotodia deputies and Seleka “founding military commanders” Nourredine Adam and Mohamed Dhaffane, were also re-affirmed as leaders of the movement, according to a spokesperson. The general assembly in Birao saw not only the re-election of Djotodia, but also the appointment of a 26-person political bureau for the group, and its renaming: Seleka is now the “Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic.”
As Djotodia remains in exile in Benin and has not been formally invited, and many Seleka leaders – including Nourredine Adam – are under UN travel bans, Dhaffane is representing the group in Brazzaville. On the anti-balaka side, their national coordinator Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona is representing the group in Brazzaville. But in spite of his title, Mr. Ngaïssona is not speaking on behalf of the various, disparate, unorganized and independent anti-balaka factions across the CAR. Even if the Seleka and anti-balaka are able to negotiate during these talks, it is unclear whether all fighting factions in CAR will follow their lead and respect whatever agreement might emerge. As the meetings began this morning in Brazzaville, inter-communal violence once again shook the streets of Bangui, as Seleka and anti-balaka fighters fired shots in the capital city.