The UN in CAR: Double Down, Don’t Draw Down
Recent reports that France has ended its military operations in CAR, despite the deterioration of the security situation, raise concerns that the international community may be beginning to lose interest in resolving the political and humanitarian crises in the country.
The UN and France have spent billions of dollars rebuilding the country from scratch after a civil war toppled longtime President Francois Bozizé’s government in 2012 and displaced hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. In December 2013, France launched Operation Sangaris to prevent the spiraling violence between Muslim Seleka forces and the Christian anti-balakas militias and by April 2014 had reestablished control over the capitol and other large cities in conjunction with the newly formed UN peacekeeper force, MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, from the French).
The UN installed a transitional government to run the country after the collapse of the Seleka rebel backed government that replaced Bozizé. There was a quick movement to rebuild the country’s institutions, which had also collapsed during the fighting, until a new democratically elected government could be elected.
In elections held in December 2015 and February 2016 Faustin-Archange Touadéra, a former mathematics professor, won a landslide victory. Unfortunately, Touadera lacks leverage to negotiate any form of ceasefire with the armed rebel groups due to a lack of national forces. Save for two battalions of soldiers trained by the EU (which won’t be ready to fight until later this year), the entire national army is still under a UN arms embargo and unable to engage in security operations. The security of the government controlled zones of the country is ensured by MINUSCA which in most major cities does not have enough peacekeepers to protect the civilians.
The alliance of militias formerly known as the Seleka rebels at this point are more a fractious coalition than a united front, have called for the country to be portioned and rejected the authority of the government in the northeast part of the country. At the same time, the anti-Balakas are demanding that they be assimilated into the army and given veto power over government decisions before they lay down their arms—clearly unacceptable terms from a group with a history of atrocities against Muslims.
With the government unable to make headway in its peace negotiations, the security situation in the country has begun to deteriorate. The coalition of Seleka rebel militias have been emboldened by the withdrawal of French forces and are now battling amongst themselves for control of the country’s lucrative diamond mines and natural resources. Recent violence between Seleka factions in the town of Bria left over 115 fighters and 15 civilians dead.
Touadera’s fledgling government lacks control over large swaths of the country, meaning peace in the country cannot be restored until the rebel groups either agree to disarm or are defeated militarily,. Rebel leaders have been fighting for so long in CAR that they have become mafia-esque warlords, exploiting and extorting locals through their control of roads and population centers. The lack of security, political uncertainty and constant violence has wrecked CAR’s economy and will seriously inhibit future development of the country’s economy, despite the abundance of natural resources.
Pulling peacekeeping forces out of the country, like France recently did , is at this point both premature and counterproductive. The international community was forced to intervene in CAR because the sectarian violence between the Selekas and anti-Balakas had created a massive humanitarian disaster. The current CAR government cannot survive without international support. Even the presence of 12,870-strong MINUSCA peacekeeping force is unlikely to be a significant deterrent for the Seleka groups in the northeast because the bulk of the peacekeeping force is stationed in Bangui.
What is needed to resolve the current security crisis in CAR is a force akin to the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), which helped fight the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2013. Unlike previous UN peacekeeping missions which were given strict reactionary mandates that precluded them from going on the offensive, the FIB was given a mandate to take the offensive against rebels and play an active role in establishing security. Consisting of elite units from South African armed forces, the Malawi Defense Force, and the Tanzanian Army, the FIB helped the Congolese army force the unconditional surrender of the M23 rebel forces and brought relative peace to the eastern part of Congo for the first time in decades.
Unfortunately, the MINUSCA disarmament negotiations with both the anti-Balakas and the Selekas are currently at a standstill and a recent uptick in violence points to the scary prospect of a return of wide-scale fighting. Without the French forces in the country, the anti-Balakas and the Selekas do not believe that MINUSCA on its own is capable of reigning them in. It therefore imperative to shake up the situation and either provide the MINUSCA peacekeeping force with an offensive mandate or create a whole new offensive UN mission similar to the FIB in order to show that the international community is still committed to supporting the UN-backed democratically elected government. Furthermore, reestablishing control the large swaths of the country outside of the capital will ease the refugee crisis in the country and help the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons return to their homes as well as the tens of thousands more waiting in refugee camps outside of the country.