The African Union (AU) is gravely concerned about the deteriorating security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) following violence that has forced thousands to flee after the overthrow of President Francois Bozize last March, says Erastus Mwencha, deputy AU chairman.
He rejected criticism that the AU has yet again failed to implement proactive measures to address recent violence. Mwencha underscored the importance of stabilizing the country and protecting civilians to enable a newly elected government to focus on economic development.
"We want to make sure that we stabilize the country and that we are able to have humanitarian reach out, to provide security so that we can bring law and order to stabilize the country," said Mwencha. "Concurrently, we are moving in not just with peacekeeping but also civilians and legal capacity so that the country can start to function as a state. Once it is done, it is then up to them to look at the fundamental issues that bring about this crisis."
Mwencha hailed France's decision to send about 1,000 troops to boost its military presence in its former colony to help end the escalating security situation.
"The African Union is grateful for the role that the French forces have played in keeping the situation at least from getting worse than what it is at the moment," said Mwencha.
"Our hope is that this [situation] can be contained as much as possible until the African forces arrive," said Mwencha. "It is very clear that the country is on the precipice of a major crisis, which is worrisome. And the sooner we can bring in a stabilization force so that [the country] can go back, have elections, and bring in a government that can help it maintain law and order, the better."
The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) plans to transition its forces in CAR to an AU-led mission of about 3,600 troops known as MISCA, in December.
Mwencha said the AU is working with member countries and international partners to help stabilize the CAR so it can begin a return to constitutional rule.
"The AU is working with ECCAS to deploy the African Mission to Central Africa, MISCA, with a force which will take over from the ECCAS force and also the French," said Mwencha.
But critics say the African Union, ECCAS, and their member states have failed yet again to prove that they can resolve conflicts on their own without relying heavily on from former colonial powers, including France.
They said heads of state and government did not take steps to prevent the security situation from escalating in spite of repeated warnings from the United Nations and other international human rights groups. Mwencha disagreed with the criticism.
"When this crisis started both [ECCAS] and the African Union were very proactive,' said Mwencha. "[We] resisted and requested for intervention to make sure that the Seleka [rebel] coalition [would] not come into town. But when they did, of course the African Union suspended CAR and immediately also created a contact group, which led to the process where forces were deployed by ECCAS."