THE UN AND THE DISAPPEARING STATE OF THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
By René Wadlow
In a November 19, 2013 statement to the United Nations (UN) Security Council, the Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, warned that communal violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) was spiraling out of control and backed the possibility of an armed UN peacekeeping force to complement the civilian UN staff, the Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA).
The UN faces a double task in the CAR. There is the immediate problem of violence among tribal-based militias in the absence of a national army or central government security forces. The militias basically pit the north of the country against the south. In addition, there are other militias from the Democratic Republic of the Congo which use the CAR as a “safe haven” and live off the land by looting villages. There are also segments of the Lord’s Resistance Army, largely from the Acholi tribes of northern Uganda who also use the CAR as a safe area looting as they move about.
In the absence of a standing UN peacekeeping force, UN peacekeepers would have to be redeployed from the eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, an area also torn apart by fighting among different militias and an incompetent Congolese national army. Although the UN forces have been in the Congo for a number of years, it is only in the last couple of months that they have had a mandate to be active in a military way and have started to make an impact on the security situation. By deploying UN troops away from the Congo, there is a danger that the security progress made will fade away.
The longer range task of the UN, the peacebuilding effort, is to create a national administration which provides services beyond the capital city, Bangui. This is the aim of the BINUCA, but its work is largely impossible in the light of the ongoing violence. The challenge is “State-building” which was not done during the colonial period by France.
The area covered by the current State had no pre-colonial common history, but was incorporated into French Equatorial Africa when it could have been as easily part of the Belgium Congo or added to Uganda as part of British East Africa.
Oubangui-Chari as it was then known was the poor cousin of French Equatorial Africa (AEF) whose administrative center was Brazzaville, Congo, with Gabon as the natural resource base. The Cameroon, although legally a League of Nations Mandate, was basically part of AEF. Oubangui-Chari was used as an “exile post” for African civil servants considered “trouble makers”. French colonial administrators also considered Oubangui-Chari as a posting in exile, a place to get away from as soon as possible. Schools were few, and secondary school students were sent away to Brazzaville.
There was only one political figure of standing who emerged from Oubangui-Chari, Barthelemy Boganda (1910-1959). He was the first Roman Catholic priest ordained in 1938. After the Second World War, he was elected to serve in the French Parliament as a member of the Catholic-influenced MRP Party, although he was stripped of his priesthood for going into politics and also for marrying his legislative assistant.
Boganda advocated keeping the AEF together as a federation of independent States knowing that Oubangui-Chari was the poorest of the AEF States and most in need of help from its neighbours. Unfortunately, he was killed in a plane crash on the eve of independence, and with him disappeared all enlightened leadership.
However, his stature in the political life of Oubangui-Chari was such that political power passed on to two cousins, David Dacko, first President of the independent Central African Republic and then Jean-Bedel Bokassa in 1965 who changed the name of the country to Central African Empire and ruled (or misruled) as Bokassa 1er. His dreams of being a new Napoleon was ended in 1979 by a French military intervention after Bokassa had too visibly killed young school children who were protesting.
Since Bokassa, all pretext of a unified administration has disappeared. General Kolingba, Ange-Felix Patassé, followed by Francois Bozizé were considered “Head of State”, but the State had no visible administration. Bozizé was overthrown in March 2013 by Michel Djotodia and his Seleka (alliance in the Sango language) militia. The Alliance has now been dissolved by Djotodia but replaced by nothing. A fact-finding mission sent by the UN Human Rights Council concluded that “both the forces of the former government of President Bozizé and the non-State armed group Seleka committed serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the conflict”.
Creating order from disorder is a difficult task, especially as the pre-colonial tribal structures no longer function. There were very few inter-tribal mechanisms to settle disputes in any case. The State-building process merits close attention. Somalia remains a good example of the difficulties. The UN faces real challenges in the Central African Republic and requires help from national governments and NGOs.
René Wadlow is the President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.