French soldiers in CAR, courtesy french ministry of defense

The Central African Republic is Once Again on the Verge of Total Meltdown

Following a few months of relative calm, tensions have once again flared up in the Central African Republic. The new wave of violence and insecurity was triggered by the killing of a MINUSCA peacekeeper on October 7 in the capital Bangui. The deteriorating security situation in the capital, Bangui, highlights the fragile peace deal brokered by regional and international partners in Brazzaville in July, and increases concerns that the an election calendar planned for early 2015 may be too aggressive.

As in previous flare-ups of tensions in the CAR, the October 7 incident – where the first UN peacekeeper was killed since the deployment of the mission – a tit-for-tat cycle of violence has once again engulfed the country. The UN estimates that several hundred people have been wounded, and at least 6,500 displaced, in the last couple of weeks.

The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross have called upon the armed groups to respect the neutrality of the humanitarian actors, and allow safe passage for medical staff and emergency personnel, lest even more people die. The violence in Bangui has once again created a sense of insecurity among the population, as many roads have been blocked by militias. The volatility of the situation and how quickly it escalated highlights how tenuous the Brazzaville peace deal is, despite the increased presence of peacekeepers. Denis Sassou Nguessou, the UN-appointed mediator for the Central African Republic, convened a high level meeting to discuss this recent escalation of violence in Bangui over the weekend.

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that neither of the two opposing groups – the Muslim Seleka and the Christian Anti-Balaka – have a strong, respected leadership. Splinter groups and groups operating independently – outside of the sphere of influence of the official Seleka and Anti-Balaka negotiators – can easily derail the peace process, as evidenced by the recent violence that has gripped Bangui.

It’s easy for the conflict in the Central African Republic to fall off the radar. Indeed, with at least 25 million food insecure people in the Sahel, and massive crises in West Africa, ebola, the Middle East and elsewhere, what’s happening in the CAR barely registers on the international community’s radar. The ongoing suffering in CAR, though, is real and palpable, and even though violence had more or less subsided over the course of the last few months after the Brazzaville peace conference, the recent surge in tensions highlights how quickly violence can be triggered and sweep through communities.

Recently, the head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa Abdoulaye Bathily suggested that even if the current February 2015 timetable for elections can’t be observed, they should be held within a few weeks of that time frame. That will be a tall order. Indeed, the transitional government – with its limited democratic mandate – doesn’t have the strength or authority to support a strong political, social and economic reconstruction.  As Veronique Barbelet from ODI points out in a recent piece, “painting a positive picture of fragile situations never ends well.” An arbitrary elections calendar should be eschewed. Instead, focusing on ramping up the UN peacekeeping mission so it’s at full capacity, and ensuring that the humanitarian needs of the population are met, should be the priority. Without security, a genuinely democratic process will elude the CAR, and only create the foundation of dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement for the next crisis to fester.