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Inside the 2013 Central African Republic Crisis

[Update:  President Bozizé has left the Central African Republic (CAR) and is now in Cameroon]

[All links forward to french articles unless otherwise stated]

As rebel leader Michel Djotodia solidifies his control as the new Central African Republic President [en] and the rebel coalition of Séléka announce their control of capital city Bangui, it is important to understand why the failure of the January 2013 Libreville peace deal [en] between the rebels and then-President Francois Bozize, was predictable.

The original Libreville peace deal, as signed in 2008, stipulated that the opposition that signed the deal would participate in the governing body.

As the Séléka rebels broke the original deal and advanced towards Bangui, France declined François Bozizé's request for army assistance last December to halt the rebels’ advance. This, in turn, forced the Central African President to sign the new Libreville agreements which now imposed a prime minister from the political opposition in a newly formed government. This new government had little chance to succeed because of several shortcomings: one of them is that multiple ministry positions were created to dilute the effective power of the prime minister, another reason is that the rest of the items on the agreement were not followed through (freeing of political prisoners and new census for the electoral lists).

Furthermore, since the signing of the Libreville agreement, the army of pro-Bozizé neighbouring Chad, has been fighting Islamist groups in Mali. Chad and its army has long been an instrumental ally for Bozizé [en] in reaching power and controlling the rebellion.  But Chad's commitment in Mali, stirred another rebellion against Chadian president Idriss Déby himself which wants to remove him from power. It became impossible for Chad to provide further support to Bozizé's army and weakened his grasp on power tremendously.

With this context in mind, let's look at the state of the CAR as the coalition of Séléka submitted a list of eleven demands to President Bozizé while regaining control of several cities.

The French government then called for an emergency meeting at the UN.

Rebelles en République centrafricaine via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Rebels in Central African Republic via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

On his blog,  Francis Laloupou writes about the challenging birth of a nation in his post Centrafrique, Etat zéro ( translation: Central African Republic, Ground Zero) :

Le premier président centrafricain, Barthélémy Boganda, disparu en 1959, quelques mois après son élection … avait dans un élan visionnaire … imaginé une parade aux prévisibles errements de son pays en militant, en vain, pour la création d’un Etat unique d’Afrique centrale comprenant la Centrafrique, le Cameroun, le Congo et le Gabon.

The first president of the CAR, Barthélémy Boganda, died in 1959, a few months after his election. He had a vision. He imagined a way to prevent the predictable mishaps of his young country. He tried in vain to create a single Central African state that would encompasse CAR, Cameron, Congo and Gabon.

He particularly deplores a history of power struggle between incompetent leaders:

… la Centrafrique aura mis en scène, aux yeux du monde, le spectacle de son inexorable déchéance. Une effarante descente aux abîmes, orchestrée par des régimes aussi indigents que caricaturaux. … Bokassa autoproclamé empereur avec la bienveillance de son compagnon de chasse Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, avant d’être renversé en 1979 par ce dernier … Afin d’éviter toute vacance du pouvoir, l’Elysée avait pris soin d’aménager une place au sieur David Dacko dans l’un des aéronefs transportant vers Bangui les soldats de l’opération « Barracuda ». Déjà, l’histoire bégayait en Centrafrique : Giscard d’Estaing réinstallait au pouvoir, en lieu et place de Bokassa, David Dacko, lui-même ancien chef d’Etat, renversé en 1965 par… Bokassa. Deux ans après, en 1981, David Dacko, qui n’a pas inventé la poudre, sera la victime d’un nouveau putsch portant au pouvoir le général André Kolingba

… The CAR has displayed in the eyes of the world a show of its inexorable decline. A frightening descent into the abyss, orchestrated by regimes as deficient as cartoonish. … Bokassa, the self-proclaimed emperor,  got the silent approval for his self-proclamation from his hunting companion french president then Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, before being overthrown in 1979 with a push from the same companion the latter. Indeed, in  order to avoid a power vacuum, the french president has arranged for mister David Dacko to take over. In fact, he was in one of the aircraft carrying troops to Bangui during operation « Barracuda ». History was already repeating itself in CAR: Giscard d’Estaing put David Dacko back in power instead of Bokassa; Backo was the former head of state who was overthrown in 1965 by, you guessed it, Bokassa. Two years later, in 1981, David Dacko who was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, fell victim of a new coup by General André Kolingba

Later on,  Laponou argues that elections in CAR were “democratic” only in name :

En 1993, la Centrafrique, à l’instar de nombre de pays africains, opte pour le multipartisme, et Ange-Félix Patassé accède au pouvoir à la faveur d’élections « démocratiques ».

In 1993, CAR, like many other African countries, opted for a multi-party system, and Ange-Félix Patassé came to power after “democratic” elections.

Sylvain Andzongo explains how many African leaders live in fear of being overhrown. He writes in a post BOZIZÉ, DEBY, SASSOU, OBIANG: Des putschistes dans la hantise d'être victimes de putsch (Bozize, Deby, Sassou and Obiang: the putchists who fear of becoming victims of coups):

Le 15 mars 2003, alors que soit ex-compagnon Ange Félix Patassé est en voyage au Niger, M. Bozizé rentre d'exil et s'empare de Bangui sans coup férir.

March 15, 2003, while his ex-companion Ange Félix Patassé is in holiday in Niger, Mr.Bozizé returned from exile and seized Bangui without resistance.

Joseph Akouissone highlights an important point in his blog post: Centrafrique: Annus Horribilis:

François Bozizé s’est emparé du pouvoir en Centrafrique avec l’aide décisive du gouvernement tchadien. Depuis, la République Centrafricaine vit sous la tutelle d’Idriss Déby, Président du Tchad.

François Bozizé seized power in CAR with the decisive help of the Chad government. Ever since, Central African Republic lives under the guardianship of Idriss Déby, president of Chad.

François Bozizé remained in power for the next ten years. Centrafrique-presse argues in the post:  Mine de rien, le soudard Bozizé fête ce 15 mars 2013, le 10ème triste anniversaire de son coup d’état (Without much ado, former soldier Bozize has now celebrated on March 15, 2013 the 10th anniversary of his sad military coup):

Il avait prétendu au début que c’était juste pour mettre de l’ordre dans le pays … Entre temps, il a organisé deux mascarades électorales en 2005 puis en 2011 qu’il a prétendu avoir gagnées et se prépare à briguer un troisième mandat après 2016 lorsque la rébellion de Séléka est venue faire vaciller son pouvoir en décembre dernier…
En dix ans de gestion du pays, Bozizé a mis la RCA sens dessus dessous ; la RCA est à feu et à sang. Il n’y a plus d’état, plus d’armée, plus assez à manger, plus de pays quasiment. La misère et la pauvreté sont le lot quotidien des fils du pays. Le territoire est mis en coupe réglée et dépecé par des bandes armées étrangères, ougandaises, soudanaises, tchadiennes, sud-africaines …

At first he claimed that it (the coup) was just to keep the country safe … By then, he has organized two fraudulent elections in 2005 and 2011 that he claimed to have won and prepares to seek a third term in 2016, although Séléka rebellion has shaken up his power…
In ten years of running the country, Bozizé has turned CAR upside down and the country is ablaze. There is no more state, no army, not enough food and nearly no more country. Misery and poverty are the daily ongoings of the country's children. The land is being fleeced and butchered by foreign armies from Uganda, Sudan, Chad, South Africa …

The civilian population remains the victim of this conflict. This Red Cross video presents the growing insecurities in the country:

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