To lift from the crisis "there must be a global strategy" (Interview)

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Muslims fleeing from the nation, clashes between former Seleka rebels and Anti-Balaka militias, heightening humanitarian emergency, UN sanctions against former president François Bozizé, a government reshuffle and the closing of the Chadian border. Fourteen months from the military coup the Central Africa Republic (CAR) cannot find peace, but the multi-faceted crisis is attracting always less international media attention, especially since the United Nations approved the deployment of a peace mission, though not before autumn.

MISNA contacted Thibaud Lesueur, a CAR expert of the International Crisis Group (ICG), to have a clearer picture on the current situation in the country and next developments, not only military.

Reports of clashes and attacks on a vast-scale continue arriving from the ground. The UN Security Council approved the deployment of a peace mission, starting in September. But what will occur in the meantime?

In Bangui the situation improved as a direct consequence of the flight of all Muslims, therefore the relative calm in the city is a result of the exit from the scene of one of the communities involved in the violence, rather than the success of some peace strategy. In the rest of the nation, there are still the same protagonists and causes of tension boiling in the pan, in particular the central areas and northern regions, both on the border with Chad and Cameroon. It has become even more difficult to identify with precision those responsible for the violence. Both the Anti-Balaka and Seleka have divided into at least two factions with different and unclear agendas.

In this still unstable scenario, there is undoubtedly need for a consistent international military intervention. After the initial resistance of the US and Russia, the UN Security Council go-ahead arrived. Excellent news, though in reality it resolves nothing. The MISCA African Union peacekeepers and French forces of Operation Sangaris need reinforcements immediately and autumn is not soon enough. Being realistic, considering the time to organize the contingents, train both the military and civil forces, the UN mission will not be operative on the ground before the end of 2014.

Meanwhile, the attacks, violations and destruction will continue, especially to the detriment of the civilians, in a nation where too many weapons are circulating and where peaceful coexistence is a mere memory. As things stand, Bangui authorities have no control over security and do not have the sufficient financial or logistic means to reform the army and police. This sector, and not only, is entirely dependent on the international community that is acting slowly. In addition to this are the political interests and power games, which have drawn the first criticism against the transition President Catherine Samba Panza, due to the exponential presence in her administration of people from her birth region Bambari. Panza must also take into account the difficult balances to be handled between the Anti-Balaka and Seleka, as also the incompetence of some ministers. This is why she has announced a, now necessary, government reshuffle.

What are the other issues that need to be addressed for an end to the crisis?

An armed response is merely a pawn of the multi-faceted moves required for such a complex and vast scenario such as that in CAR. Progress has been marked in the response to the humanitarian crisis, thanks to the involvement of new agencies, governmental and non. Nevertheless, insecurity on the ground and insufficiency of funds stressed by the NGOs and UN are also slowing down humanitarian and medical interventions.

Financial support to the state, both on a budget and infrastrucural level, is beginning to arrive: the European Union, International Monetary Fund and World Bank have resumed cooperation with Bangui. The money is needed to pay civil servants and rehabilitate the public administration. Then there are elections that need to be organized: a titanic job given that there is no longer a voter register and there is not sufficient security to begin a census. It will be difficult to go to the polls in February 2015, if not impossible.

Looking ahead, the International Crisis Group expert insists on the need for a “joint global strategy” toward the stabilization of the Central African Republic (CAR). In other words, according to Thibaud Lesueur, “a thorough job is necessary to tackle the crisis at the roots and rebuild a state”.

What should a global strategy to lift from the crisis consist in?

Middle and long-term solutions must be found: an aspect that no one, or nearly, has worked on. In the former French colony, the economic collapse, unemployment especially among youths and wide poverty have been at the root of crises for the past decades. These long-standing problems have been fertile grounds for the formation of armed groups, in particular in the remote and depressed northern regions. The nation must be raised from the ashes, so it will therefore be a long and difficult job.

The economy must be revived focusing on once flourishing sectors – lumber, cotton, coffee – to create jobs. The youths could initially be involved in the realization of public works, such as rebuilding roads and other infrastructure. Prime objectives must also include agriculture and animal rearing, able to feed families and ensure the population’s food self-sufficiency. The authorities then need to relaunch CAR’s industry: in the 70′s there were around 250 local industries in respect to today’s 25. Ending the insecurity will allow businesses to be relaunched, which are vital for the national economy, in particular exports and the diamond sector. The diamond embargo imposed by the Kimberly Process is still in force: a necessary measure, but it deprives the nation of entires and jobs, while the contraband continues, based on reports, only on a small-scale toward Cameroon and Sudan.

Are the withdrawal of N’Djamena troops, the closing of the Chadian border, as also the UN sanctions against Bozizé, Seleka’s second in command Nourredine Adam and the coordinator of the Anti-Balaka militias Levy Yakété decisions that could change the situation on the ground?

The official exit from the scene of Chad’s troops – who in part are still grouped in north-east CAR – was inevitable. Both in Bangui and central and west CAR, the population feels a visceral hatred toward N’Djamena’s forces, who committed serious violations against civilians. Their withdrawal was therefore welcomed with releif by the people.

Seeing the situation from a Chadian view point, President Idriss Deby Itno was tired of the repeated accusations against his troops. Despite his decision, the future participation or exclusion of Chad in a UN mission remains in question.

In regard to the closing of the border with CAR, presided by Chadian troops, it is a security measure to avoid the Seleka rebels from moving to southern Chad and destabilizing also this oil-rich strategic area. Politically Deby doesn’t enjoy significant consensus in the southern regions, reason for which he is very attentive of security in the area and the local dynamics, both institutional and economic.

In regard to the sanctions against the three Central African figures, in reality is was a long-awaited measure as a key strategy in lifting from the crisis. Eleven figures were actually supposed to be sanctioned based on a list drawn up by Paris, but was vetoed by other nations, including China. Meanwhile, former president Bozizé has moved around to various African nations – Cameroon, maybe Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya – and currently his whereabouts are unknown. The sanctions (travel ban and asset freeze) have more a symbolic value and are a political message to other protagonists of the CAR crisis, but in fact will not have any decisive impact.