14 April 2014

Africa: Not a Moment Too Soon - UN Approves Peacekeeping Mission for the CAR

Photo: Till Muellenmeister/IRIN
Anti Balaka fighters at Bangui´s estate PK9, waiting to attack Muslim IDPs convoys passing the road

A 12,000-strong UN force is a positive step, but there are still five months before it's deployed and questions remain over where the troops and funding will come from.

On 10 April, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted in favour of a resolution authorising a peacekeeping force of around 12,000 personnel to be deployed to the Central African Republic (CAR).

The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) will launch on 15 September and has mandate that will last for an initial period up to 30 April 2015. The mission will aim to provide civilian protection, support disarmament and ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian aid to the CAR, which has been ravaged by violence since late 2012. Tensions between Muslim and Christian communities have been high, and the Séléka rebels continue to clash with anti-balaka militias.

There are already around 6,000 African Union peacekeepers on the ground, but intercommunal violence has shown few signs of letting up. Under the UN resolution, these AU troops - operating as part of the African-led International Support Mission to the CAR (MISCA) - will be transformed into formal UN peacekeepers. However, it remains to be seen where the other 4,000 troops and 1,800 police as well as millions in funding needed for the mission will come from.

If the European Union's recent efforts to support peacekeeping missions in the CAR are anything to go by, the UN could face some challenges. In the EU's case, the launch of EUFOR RCA had to be delayed after key member states proved reluctant to mobilise forces or logistical support. It was only after several weeks of uncertainty and pressure from France that the European Council finally announced on 1 April that EUFOR RCA would finally commence. 1,000 EU troops are now due to arrive in the CAR at the end of April, where they will assist 2,000 French and the 6,000 AU troops who have been in the CAR since December 2013.

The Chadian vacuum

Although the approval of a UN mission signifies a positive step, there are still four months until the blue helmets are deployed. Given the ongoing violence, mass displacement and intercommunal tensions, this is a long time. The current peacekeepers have struggled to maintain order and the sudden withdrawal of 850 Chadian troops earlier this month puts further pressure on the already stretched mission.

Chad's decision to remove its troops came after mounting allegations that its soldiers had opened fire on civilians, killing at least 30, in a recent confrontation with anti-balaka force on the outskirts of Bangui. Some Central Africans are also suspicious of MISCA's Chadian contingent, believing it to be allied with the Séléka rebels, while Chadian troops have been accused of committing human rights abuses by Human Rights Watch and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In the end, angered by what the Chadian government claimed called a "gratuitous and malicious campaign that blamed them for all the suffering in CAR," it decided to withdraw its troops. The majority of Chadian peacekeepers have now returned home. Some contingents were said to have lingered in the north-eastern town of Kaga-Bandoro, creating a sense of unease amongst the local population, but town's mayor reported on 11 April that the remaining troops have now left.

Although distrusted by some, Chad's withdrawal comes as a blow to the peacekeeping mission. Its soldiers had proved useful in negotiating and disarming the Séléka in Bangui and parts of northern CAR. Because of its links to the Séléka, Chad was well-placed to mediate and in fact could still play an important role in ending the conflict. For the time being though, its president, Idriss Déby, seems to be fuming over the allegations made against his troops.

One organisation that seems to be standing in solidarity with him is the African Union. In a report issued after a meeting held by the Peace and Security Commission last week, the AU appeared to back the claim that the peacekeepers were ambushed by the anti-balaka.

As for filling the gap left by Chad's 850 troops, finding replacements might not take long, but with Séléka secessionist rebels threatening to go to war with the anti-balaka after the militias attacked their bases in the town of Dekoa, the AU needs to move quickly.

Time and money

Time is also of the essence for MINUSCA, though maintaining international support and funding will be crucial too, as a look back a previous UN intervention in the CAR suggests.

The previous UN intervention in the country was established in late 1997. The regime at the time, led by President Ange-Félix Patassé, was being rocked by widespread public discontent and had recently suffered three successive army mutinies over unpaid salaries.

Towards the end of 1996, Pattasé had requested the support from fellow African governments to help maintain stability. The results was the deployment of MISAB, an 800-strong force drawn up from a handful of African countries with logistical support from France. It was only when France announced it was preparing to pull out that the UN pushed for the establishment of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINURCA).

With 1,300 peacekeepers and a mandate to disarm rebels and provide police training, MINURCA proved fairly successful and managed to ensure security during the 1998 presidential elections. However, the mission was short-lived. After failing to raise the sufficient funds to sustain it, MINURCA disbanded in 2000, leaving the desperate Patassé to appeal to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Libya to send reinforcements. Patassé survived coup attempts in 2001 and 2002, but was finally ousted in 2003 by François Bozizé.

The circumstances and role of MINURCA were very different to the situation in the CAR today and the main aims of MINUSCA, but maintaining funding and sustainability will be crucial for MINUSCA if it is to be successful in the long-term as well as the short-term. It is understandable though that the short-term is the current focus. With the violence in the CAR showing no signs of abating, one million of the country's 4.5 million population displaced from their homes, and the humanitarian crisis deepening, the deployment of MINUSCA cannot come soon enough.

Tendai Marima is a freelance journalist and post-doctoral researcher in African literature. Find her on Twitter @i_amten.

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