[All links forward to french articles unless otherwise stated]
While an alliance of rebels, assembled under the name of Seleka (which means alliance in Sango, the national language), is marching ahead unhinged towards Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), demonstrations have been held since December 26, 2012 to request an intervention from the international community, specifically France, to stop the rebels’ progress.
Who are the rebels?
At the beginning of December the Séléka Alliance began its progression within the country. According to Alain Lamessi, contributor on Centrafrique Presse, it is a diverse group devoid of a clear political agenda:
Le Séléka est une coalition hétéroclite de factions rebelles dissidentes qui écument l’arrière-pays depuis quelques années déjà. (…) Pas de ligne politique conceptualisée, ni structurée, pas d’idéologie claire et cohérente, pas de revendications précises. Tout cela finit par convaincre que Séléka, dans sa forme actuelle, n’est pas et ne peut pas être une alternance crédible au régime de Bozize.
Seleka is a diverse coalition of dissident rebel groups that have been roaming the back country for some years. (…) No conceptualized nor structured political line, no clear and coherent ideology, no specific claims. At the end of the day, this ought to be convincing evidence that Seleka in its current form, is not and cannot be a credible alternative to the Bozize administration.
In reality, there are four main armed groups, which have been fighting in the North and East of the country for many years now, interspersed with peace agreements with the national government. A statement posted on the Central Press website, signed by Seleka on December 17, 2012, mentions three of these groups:
CPJP – General Nouredine Adam's Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace general Nureldine Adam
CPSK – Patriotic Convention of Kodro's Safety led by General Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane
UFDR – Union of Democratic Forces for Unity led by Michel Djotodia and backed Chadian rebels of the FPR, which will be discussed later.
This article mentions the last member to have joined the alliance: the FDPC – The Democratic Front of the Central African People led by Abdoulaye Miskine.
The group's recent claims are related mainly to non-compliance, according to Seleka, with a peace agreement signed in 2007 between the rebels and the government of President Bozizé. These claims include:
La régularisation des 15 millions de francs CFA par combattant selon l'accord conclu avec le Général François Bozizé afin de laver la Dignité centrafricaine de ce genre de revendications malencontreuses mais tout de même légitimes,Le versement sans condition de la somme négociée d'un million de francs CFA par combattant, somme débloquée mais encore détenue en partie par le Ministre délégué à la Défense, Jean Francis Bozizé,La restitution inconditionnelle des diamants et or, argent liquide et autres biens spoliés par le gouvernement en 2008,La libération de tous les prisonniers politiques tant en Centrafrique qu'à l'étranger,L'ouverture d'une commission d'enquête indépendante sur les crimes odieux de guerre et crimes contre l'Humanité perpétré par un détachement de la Garde présidentielle sur des populations civiles au village “Zakoumba” ou Soukoumba [fr] et l'incendie des maisons d'habitation ainsi que la mosquée centrale d'Akroub-soulback dans le Bamingui Bangoran
Regularization of 15 million CFA francs payment per fighter according to the agreement with General François Bozizé, in order to restore the dignity of the Central African Group and satisfy their claims, which are unfortunate but nevertheless legitimateUnconditional payment of the negotiated sum of a million CFA francs per fighter, amount released but still partly owned by the Minister for Defence, Jean Francis Bozizé,The unconditional return of diamonds and gold, cash and other property expropriated by the government in 2008,The release of all political prisoners in both Central Africa and abroad,The opening of an independent commission of inquiry on the heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by a detachment of the Presidential Guard on civilians in the village of “Zakoumba” and the burning of houses and the Central Mosque Akroubsoulback in Bamingui Bangoran
In 2007, the first two peace agreements were signed in Sirte, Libya, then in Birao with the FDPC and UFDR. In May 2008, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of Libreville would pave the way to an inclusive political dialogue between the government, opposition political parties, rebellions and civil society for sustainable peace.
The rebels of Seleka have been accused of exactions in the regions of the country they control. The Network of Journalists for Human Rights in Central African Republic (RJDH-RCA) in partnership with Internews agency put in place a Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform that lists the critical events in the country since March 14, 2012. Alleged accusations against the rebels have appeared in these reports. For instance, on September 3, the inhabitants of the town of Sam-Ouadja (northeast) complained of certain activities of UFDR:
Deux femmes soupçonnées de sorcellerie ont trouvé la mort les 28 et 30 mai à Sam-Ouandja après avoir été battues par des éléments de l’UFDR et deux autres femmes ont subi les mêmes traitements, mais ont survécu.
Two women suspected of witchcraft were killed on May 28 and 30 in Sam-Ouandja after being beaten by the elements of the UFDR and two other women were subjected to the same treatment, but survived.
On September 11, 20 people from the sub-prefecture of Kabo in the north, were robbed by suspected elements of the FDPC.
The Shadow of Islamism?
Two names seem to come up often when talking about the rebellion that is currently progressing towards the capital of the Central African Republic: Abdel Kader Baba-Laddé, former member of the Chadian forces and that of Chadian rebellion of which he was a leader for a long while, Popular Front for Recovery (FPR). The group claims to belong to the Islamist movement according to this article on RJDH-RCA‘s platform [fr], and wishes to unite all Islamic groups. Because of the porous borders between Chad and the Central African Republic, the FPR has at times occupied the north and north-central region. In September 2012, an agreement was signed between Chad, CAR and Baba-Laddé to end the rebellion and allow the return of its leader in his country, Chad. Baba-Laddé would be received with honors if all agree as this article states on September 5, 2012.
However, in a press release dated 21 December 2012, the RPF announced on its blog [fr] its total support to Seleka:
Le FPR, notre mouvement en opérations entre la frontière tchado- centrafricaine déclare à l'attention de l'opinion nationale et internationale ce qui suit :1- le FPR déclare ouvertement la guerre au gouvernement tchadien pour son implication directe contre le “SELEKA”, la coalition de la rébellion centrafricaine qui ne réclame rien que le légitime droit d'un peuple meurtri et martyrisé par le régime imposé en RCA par Deby lui-même;2- le FPR dès ce jour soutiendra militairement et politiquement la coalition UFDR, CPJP et CPSK afin que tombent les deux régimes fantoches;3- le FPR déclare par la même occasion que ses vaillants combattants révolutionnaires lanceront impérativement des attaques contre les positions de la milice de Deby dans leurs positions au Tchad jusqu'à la tombée de Ndjamena entre les mains de la nouvelle révolution;
The FPR, our movement, which operated at the Chad-Central Africa border states to the attention of the national and international opinion that:
1 – FPR openly declares war to the government of Chad for its direct involvement against “Seleka”, the coalition of Centralfrican rebellion that is claiming nothing less than the legitimate right of a people battered and tortured by the regime imposed in CAR by Deby himself;
2 – FPR from this day will support militarily and politically the coalition of UFDR, CPJP and CPSK so that the two puppet regimes fall;
3 – the FPR declares at the same time that his valiant revolutionary fighters will launch attacks against essential positions of the Déby's militia in their positions in Chad until N'Djamena falls into the hands of the revolution;
Some Central African officials also fear Islamist incursions in this region of Africa. The RJDH-RCA reported [fr] on July 2, 2012 that the Minister of Security and Public Order had referred to the Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram:
Le groupe islamique Boko Haram a été pointé du doigt par le ministre de la Sécurité et de l’Ordre public, Claude Richard Ngouandja, le vendredi 29 juin, au cours d’une audience avec le chargé d’affaires de l’ambassade du Nigéria et les représentants de la colonie nigériane en Centrafrique.
Compte tenu de la montée des violences du groupe Boko Haram, le ministre de la Sécurité et de l’Ordre public a invité les ressortissants nigérians au respect de la loi, en leur demandant de régulariser leurs documents de séjour en République centrafricaine.
The Islamist group Boko Haram has been singled out by the Minister of Security and Public Order, Claude Richard Ngouandja, Friday, June 29, during an audience with the chargé d'affaires of the Embassy of Nigeria and representatives of the Nigerian colony in Central Africa.
Given the increasing of violence from the group Boko Haram, the Minister of Security and Public Order urged Nigerians to respect the law, asking them to regularize their documents to stay in the Central African Republic.
If these trails are confirmed, it could lead to the opening of a second Islamist front in the South of Chad, and it would result in limiting the range of actions for Idriss Deby Itno, President of neighboring Chad, already taken up by his involvement in trying to resolve the crisis in Northern Mali.
Suspicious Timing of the Attacks?
The 2008 agreements did not secure the sought after peace. The disputed reelection of François Bozizé at the head of the country in 2011 has aggravated the tense atmosphere. Some, like Alain Lamessi on Centrafrique Presse [fr], questioned the timing chosen by the rebels to launch attacks on the country's capital and attempt to overthrow the President:
Est-ce par hasard que cette rébellion s’active dans le Nord et le Nord-Est de la république Centrafricaine au moment où l’exploration du pétrole centrafricain paraît de plus en plus prometteuse?
Is it by chance that this rebellion is bursting out in the North and North-East of Central African Republic when the exploration of Central African oil seems suddenly very promising?
In recent months, the licensing of oil exploration has been underway. Africa Energy Intelligence, quoted by Centrafrique Presse, revealed in March and April 2012 that the South African company DIG Oil had been awarded two exploration contracts and that a Chinese company had also obtained such authorization. Cooperation with China had already strengthened with the announcement in August 2010 by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nyala in neighboring Sudan, Pr Abbaker Ali Idris, of the construction of a Chinese university in Central Africa. On November 13, 2012, the government announced the re-opening of oil exploration in the village of Boromata, located 120 km from Birao.
President Bozizé in his December 27, 2012 speech suggested that he was being attacked because he decided to grant oil exploration contracts to a Chinese company:
Pourquoi on les a poussés, car nous avons maintenant le Ciment, si on nous laisse tranquille, dans 2, 3 ou 4 mois, les Chinois vont exploiter notre Pétrole. Quelle faute j’ai commise ? Pas de prisonniers politiques actuellement, la presse est libre. Pourquoi ils ont commencé à violer, à tuer et faire du mal à la population centrafricaine ? (…) On leur a tout donné. Avant de donner le Pétrole aux Chinois, j’ai rencontré à Paris Total et leur ai dit de prendre le Pétrole, rien, j’ai donné aux Chinois et c’est devenu un problème sur moi. J’ai envoyé le Conseiller Maidou à Paris pour le dossier de l’Uranium, ils sont refusé. J’ai finalement donné aux Sud-Africains.
Why were they pushed, because we now have cement, if they leave us alone, in 2, 3 or 4 months, Chinese will harness our oil. What mistake did I make? No political prisoner at the moment, the press is free. Why did they start raping, killing and hurting the Central African population? (…) We gave them everything. Before giving oil to the Chinese, I met Total in Paris and told them to take the oil, nothing happended, I gave oil to the Chinese and it became a problem. I sent counselor Maidou in Paris for the Uranium dossier, they refused. I finally gave it to the South Africans.
Request for French intervention
Since December 26, protesters have gathered in front of the French Embassy in Bangui. They have been seeking help from France and his intervention to stop the rebels’ progress. A similar appeal was launched this Thursday, on December 27 by President François Bozizé to the U.S. and France. An approach that has not failed to elicit reactions in the African twittosphere. Alain Kiana [fr] for instance thinks that such an approach is not appropriate:
@jovial987: This is ridiculous, when you don't know how to manage your house anymore, it is easy to accuse others.
#Bozize his mediocre management is responsible for all this
Aaron W. M. [fr] continues:
#Bozizé F. is not a democrat. His power comes from a coup against #Patassé. He can only reap what he sow. #Centrafrique
Defense agreements bind France to the CAR. In 2006, 200 French militaries from the force Boali, created in 2002, had provided air support, and supported the defense lines of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) in the region of Birao. This is what you can read on the website of the French Minstry of Defence:
En vertu des accords de défense et de sécurité liant la France à la RCA et à la demande des autorités centrafricaines, les militaires français ont apporté à plusieurs reprises aux forces armées centrafricaines et à la FOMUC un soutien renseignement et logistique, un appui feu aérien, une aide à la planification et à la conduite des opérations visant à reprendre le contrôle du Nord-Est du pays occupé par des éléments armés rebelles.
Under the defense and security agreements between France and the CAR and at the request of the Central African authorities, French soldiers helped FACA and FOMUC with information and logistics support, fire missile support and assistance in the planning and conduct of operations to regain control of the North-East of the country occupied by armed rebels.
Later, France stated through President François Hollande that its forces were not there to protect a regime, but to protect its citizens and its interests in the Central African territory.
Following a meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in Ndjamena, Chad's capital city, on December 21, the Heads of State of the subregion recommended the opening negotiations in Libreville, Gabon, between the rebels and the government. If he is still in place and the time of these negotiations are held, will President Bozizé take the risk of flying to Libreville, leaving the country in the hands of Seleka?