Ed note. Our resident regional expert Carol Gallo takes us deep inside the troubles afflicting politics in the Central African Republic. Wonky political analysis to follow!
What Just Happened?
On Sunday March 24, a rebel coalition calling itself Séléka (“alliance”), numbering about 5,000, took the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), Bangui, deposing the government of President François Bozizé. The coalition’s leader, Michel Djotodia, declared himself president and said that the prime minister, civilian opposition leader Nicolas Tiangaye, would retain his position as decreed in a Janurary peace agreement.
Djotodia also pledged to name a new power-sharing government and lead the country in a three-year transition period. As rebels continued to ransack the capital after the takeover, including the looting of the offices of humanitarian organizations, regional peacekeepers said that he asked for their help in restoring order. The leader of the CPSK faction of Séléka declared that elections would be held within a year. While this may sound like a promising start, the coalition suffers from internal divisions and, as Professor Andreas Mehler of the German Institute for Global Area Studies warns, the rebels will be eager to make a good impression and thus to make grandiose promises.
In December 2012 the rebels took twelve towns and came close to taking Bangui, but were halted by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). An extraordinarily brief peace process in January 2013 led to an agreement being negotiated in Libreville, Gabon.
As Tumutegyereize and Tillon point out on the African Arguments blog, there was no time for the parties to discuss matters amongst themselves or engage in any kind of reflection on the substantive issues. This was especially relevant for the Séléka coalition, as it has been struggling with “internal contradictions” and disagreements. There was no time, in three days, for serious negotiations to take place; which means the level of commitment to the agreement had to be marginal.
While Tumutegyereize and Tillon also point out that in effect the Libreville talks did result in a ceasefire, which “opened a window of opportunity for dialogue,” that opportunity wasn’t taken. With both sides breaking the agreement, and both sides having attended the talks reluctantly, lack of trust in each other and in the process meant that a return to conflict was practically a given.
What Djotodia and the opposition can agree on is that civilian Prime Minister Tiangaye should keep his position. Perhaps that single commonality can be a springboard for discussions that will lead to a more peaceful transition. But Lombard writes that if this last round of violence is to make some contribution to redressing the failures of Bozizé and past governments, “… it will require Djotodia to step aside and a civilian leader to be brought in as head of state. Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye is the obvious choice. Djotodia shows no sign of doing that without massive pressure being placed on him.”