After the Central African Republic descended into civil war, a UN operation, MINUSCA, was launched in 2014 to restore stability in the country. In the third of a three part series, Blandine Sixdenier, looks at the possible solutions to curb spiralling violence in the Central African Republic. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.
The steady deterioration of the security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) over the past months has triggered the country’s worst displacement crisis since the conflict began in 2013. Over 1.1 million Central Africans are now displaced both internally and externally, and half the population requires humanitarian assistance to survive.
The departure of French troops in October 2016, and the withdrawal of US and Ugandan forces from the South East of the country from April 2017, left the UN mission in CAR, MINUSCA, in charge of providing security across the country.
With less than 13,000 troops to stabilize a country of 5 million, MINUSCA has struggled to keep the peace and carry out its mandate.
“The working group strongly senses that the possibility of another armed conflict is likely, if foreign armed actors, along with local armed groups, are not effectively dismantled and suppressed” — explains U.N. human rights working group on mercenaries and foreign fighters
CAR is at risk of descending into a full-blown civil war, as 15 armed groups currently controll over 70% of the country. Besides MINUSCA, few alternatives exist to curb rising violence and guarantee humanitarian access to people in need.
BOOTS HALF FULL
When the Seleka took control of Bangui in 2013, the Central African army collapsed, and many soldiers joined anti-Balaka militias.
The process to rebuild the army, known as the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), started in 2014. MINUSCA, along with other international partners, screened over 2,300 FACA to verify they had not committed human rights violations, and excluded them if they had. In July 2016, the European Union launched a training mission to support the formation of a “modernized, effective, ethnically balanced and democratically accountable FACA”. 650 soldiers finished their training in May 2017.
The disarmament and demobilization process for former combatants and rebels started in August 2017. 560 ex-combatants are part of this process, 140 will be integrated into the army, the rest will rejoin civilian life.
Despite the progress, it will take years before the army is fully operational. The EU mission is expected to train around 1,800 soldiers by the end of 2018, but more will be needed to address the situation in CAR.
To complicate matters further, the army lacks equipment and weapons, due to an arms embargo voted for by the UN Security Council. In April 2017, the army chief of staff warned the FACA could only sustain a 30-minute fight due to their lack of ammunition.
AN IMPERFECT PROTECTOR, BUT A PROTECTOR NONETHELESS
Amid escalating violence, protecting civilians has become increasingly difficult for MINUSCA, and thousands have died during attacks by armed groups. Violence which was largely concentrated in the East and South East of the country, has now spread to the North West, further increasing the strain on MINUSCA’s limited manpower.
Since mid-August, several top UN officials have called for the UN Security Council to strengthen MINUSCA capabilities by sending additional forces. A few weeks ago, a leaked memo revealed that the head of MINUSCA, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, has requested an additional 750 troops.
“The capacities of MINUSCA in terms of men and equipment have to be strengthened” said President Touadera
On September 19th, the attendees of a meeting on CAR during the UN General Assembly, including top UN officials and donor countries, recognizedthe necessity to reinforce MINUSCA troops but did not communicate any number.
The UN is currently reviewing its mission in CAR and will vote to extend the MINUSCA mandate in November. Though the number of soldiers has been increased in the past, this year’s much needed rise in additional soldiers has been threatened by President Trump’s cut of the UN peacekeeping budget.
FORGOTTEN CRISIS. UNFORGIVING CONDITIONS
“Central Africa is at a critical moment in its history. We need the support of our friends; there are risks that we’ll be forgotten” said President Touadera.
With the emergence of humanitarian crises elsewhere, CAR is at risk of falling off the agenda of the international community — as has been the case before.
Funds promised during the Brussels conference in November 2016 have yet to be received, and despite increased humanitarian need, the response remains critically underfunded, with only 30% of the needs met.
In addition to a worsening humanitarian situation, the surge in violence has impeded aid workers and organizations. From January to July, aid organizations have been targeted in 215 incidents — delaying the delivery of aid and forcing charities to withdraw from certain areas.
CAR is among the most dangerous countries in the world for humanitarian organizations to operate. Since 2017, more than 10 aid workers have been killed, including 6 in August.
KEEPING THE PEACE(KEEPERS)?
With the national army years away from being operational, relying on international support appears to be the only option to restore peace and security in CAR.
France, CAR’s former colonizer, has intervened several times in the country, including in 2013 at the height of the conflict. However, a French intervention to halt violence is unlikely, unless Bangui and the Central African government are threatened.
“The only force capable of ensuring security is the United Nations” said President Touadera
For now, MINUSCA remains the only practical solution to protect civilians. However, for MINUSCA to maintain credibility and successfully enforce the UN mandate, its capabilities need to be strengthened, and the time to act is now.