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Central African Republic: Violence Marks Lead Up to Elections

The Central African Republic (CAR) is set to hold partial parliamentary elections on September 4, 2011. Tensions have arisen recently after an opposition party rally was marred with violence, as young supporters of President Bozizé‘s KNK party disturbed the scheduled meeting.

The country is still recovering from violent conflicts that started in the late 1990s during the regime of Ange-Félix Patassé. On 12 June, 2008, the Central African Republic became the fourth country to be placed on the agenda of the UN Peacebuilding Commission.

Opposition rally thwarted by violence. Image by centrafrique-presse blog

Opposition rally thwarted by violence. Image by centrafrique-presse blog

The rally was held to encourage a boycott of the elections; the opposition does not recognize the current electoral monitoring committee and demands a new one. Blog centrafrique-presse describes the violence at the rally [fr] as follows:

à l’arrivée sur les lieux vers 15h 30 heure de Bangui des organisateurs, des jeunes venant de Boy-Rabé soudoyés et rendus ivres morts par le KNK se sont infiltrés sur la place Marabéna et ont jeté des sachets incendiaires en plastique remplis d'essence, et comme nous avons éteint l'incendie, ils se sont mis à renverser le podium où devaient se tenir les dirigeants de l’opposition. Les forces de l'ordre pourtant présentes aux alentours ont refusé d'intervenir [..] le Secrétaire général du MLPC Samuel Stanislas ZOUMBETI a été blessé à la tête et aux pieds par jets de pierre ainsi que son adjoint Etienne MALEKOUDOU à la tête et à la mâchoire.

when they arrived at the rally site around 15:30 in Bangui, the organizers found youngsters from Boy-Rabe, bribed and rendered drunk by the KNK, had infiltrated Marabéna square. They threw lit plastic bottles filled with gasoline at the stage. When we extinguished the fire, they began to turn over the stage where the opposition leaders were supposed to speak. Policemen were present but refused to intervene [...] the Secretary General of the MLPC ZOUMBETI, Stanislas Samuel, had wounds to his head and feet, and his deputy Stephen MALEKOUDOU was hurt by a stone thrown at his head and jaw.

The blog afreekelections confirms that the opposition party MLPC called for a boycott [fr] of the parliamentary elections on September 4.

Radio Ndeke Luka on Journal de Bangui blog writes that there is a sad, empty feeling to the pre-elections period, because political campaigning activities are acutely lacking [fr]:

A Bangui, dans les arrondissements et quartiers concernés par le scrutin partiel du 4 septembre prochain, c’est l’indifférence totale de la part des électeurs. Du côté des candidats, on dit bien prévoir des meetings, mais rien pour le moment. Cette ambiance morose est aussi constatée à Bossangoa (nord-ouest).

In Bangui, there is a total indifference from the voters in the district and boroughs concerned by the elections. On the candidates’ side, we are told that there will be meetings held but so far, we have seen nothing. This morose atmosphere is also felt in Bossangoa (Northwest region).

Blogger Juliette Abandokwe asks a question that is often heard during elections on the African continent: “How much can we trust the results of these upcoming elections ?” [fr]

Personne ne s’attend à ce que François Bozizé ne quitte le pouvoir librement et démocratiquement. Les moyens à disposition sont multiples et bien connus de tous, et sont régulièrement utilisés lors d’élections en Afrique en tout cas.
« Comment peut-on organiser des élections, y participer et les perdre en Afrique ? » disait Omar Bongo.
Les petits moyens locaux viennent en tête de la parade en vue de la fraude électorale massive que nous connaissons dans les pays de la Françafrique, et qui se répète à chaque échéance électorale.
Le premier petit moyen est la manipulation du nombre des personnes qui auront le droit de déposer leur bulletin de vote. En République centrafricaine, Bozizé a décrété publiquement et devant les médias internationaux, que le recensement du corps électoral est un petit problème et qu’il peut se faire en un mois. Or, ce n’est que des fabrications de listes électorales qui peuvent être produites en si peu de temps[..] Les Centrafricains sont en droit de s’attendre à un recensement électoral fait ouvertement et dans les règles, par la voie officielle, et surtout sur toute l’étendue du territoire national, effectué par une commission électorale indépendante

Nobody expects Francois Bozize to relinquish power freely and democratically. The means available to stay in power are plenty and well known to everyone , and they are regularly utilized during elections in Africa anyway.
“How can we hold elections and lose them in Africa? ” asked Omar Bongo. Small local tricks are leading the parade for the massive electoral fraud that we all know too well in the francophone African countries and those tricks are reoccuring at every election cycle.
The first trick is the manipulation of the number of people who have the right to cast their ballot. In the Central African Republic, Bozize declared publicly before the international media that dressing the voters lists is a minor issue that can be achieved within a month. However, only manufactured voters lists can be produced in such a short time [...] The Central Africans have a right to expect that voter registrations are conducted in a transparent manner, within the official rules, throughout the national territory and by an independent electoral commission

Juliette Abandokwe also shines a light on the many arbitrary arrests that occur in the capital Bangui. She lists at least 11 people [fr]currently detained in Ngaragba prison.

Despite the unrest, the peace process is still in progress. A dissident branch of one of the opposition party (CPJP), has recently decided to join the peace building process [fr]. The leader of the branch, Mahamat Sallé, used to lead a group of 500 heavily armed men.

Radio Ndeke Luka writes that Sallé confided soon after signing the accord that the reason his group decided to take arms was to protect his ethnic group [fr]:

« la vraie raison qui a poussé à la création de son mouvement a été de défendre les intérêts de son ethnie en proie aux représailles de plusieurs groupes rebelles du pays ». Il interpelle le gouvernement sur cette question et lui demande de « veiller à la protection de ces êtres humains ».

“The reason why we created the movement was to defend the interests of my ethnic group that were being harassed by several rebel groups.” He asks that the government “ensures that his people stay out of harm's way”.

Fleury Korsany also adds that a mediation is underway to resolve another conflict at the border with Chad. A Chadian rebel group led by Baba Ladde is said to have crossed into the CAR [fr] and held quarters there for the past three years. The interplay between Chadian and CAR rebels has always had a major role in the political stability of the CAR.

Considering president Bozize's uncertain health, it appears increasingly important that the elections in the CAR proceed in a stable environment and with a credible monitoring process.  The UN Mission in Central Africa (BONUCA) representative M. Abou Moussa  states that it is imperative that the UN reinforces their effort to promote political dialogue [fr]  in the region.

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