17 June 2014

Central African Republic: The CAR Crisis: Thinking Beyond Traditional Peacekeeping

Photo: UNHCR/F.Noy
A refugee family walking to see relatives in the Mbile refugee camp.

analysis

The crisis that has been occurring in CAR is certainly the most dramatic in its history: more than 600 000 Central Africans are internally displaced or sought refuge in neighbouring countries; according to the United Nations, 1.7 million live in a constant situation of food insecurity and 878 000 need immediate medical assistance; Muslim communities are fleeing Bangui and the western region, subsistence economy no longer exists and the de facto partition of the country, caused by the sectarian violence, is gradually becoming a reality.

Confronting the sick man of Central Africa, the international community recognizes the seriousness of the problem but seems unable to take the appropriate measures. This lack of mobilization results from a deep skepticism fuelled by the series of failed international missions implemented in CAR. Indeed, since 1998, several international peace operations have taken place but they have all failed re-establishing sustainable peace, although they were implemented in a far more favourable context than today. While France is starting to think about withdrawing some of its troops in September, lots of countries are wondering what could be the impact of a new peacepeeking mission.

If this mission, in the manner of former interventions, treats only symptoms of the crisis by providing a temporary security answer, it will likely be a new superficial stabilization mission and will not change anything to the flawed software of the Central African governance. However, if this intervention attempts to deal with the real causes of the crisis by improving public governance, reducing predation opportunities and boosting the economy, it will probably not be another mission-for-nothing. For this to happen, the sine qua non condition is a close partnership between the transitional authorities and the international community.

Dealing with causes instead of symptoms

To understand the security crisis that plagues CAR and to fine-tune an appropriate international response, looking back at the past twenty years is essential. Since the end of the 1980's, formal economy has been drastically reduced, foreign companies have gradually left the country and unemployment has become the common fate of most of the population. The economic collapse has dragged down a corrupt and ineffective state: only the NGOs and churches' have been providing social services to the population; territorial security has been delegated to neighbours States, to France and South Africa while donors have been providing funds to pay civil servants' salaries. In addition, the investment budget of the Central African State has only been reduced to what the donors were ready to give.

The ultimate state disintegration and the security crisis that has resulted from it are direct consequences of this governance system. This system has combined an economic predation by both the rulers and the warlords with the silent complacency of the international actors. The disappearance of the resources of the formal economy has been compensated by the illicit economic revenues (diamonds, gold and ivory trafficking, special accounts of the presidency, etc.). This dynamic of state disintegration through predation has enabled the armed groups to expand their territorial and economic sphere of influence.

To quell the ceaseless conflicts in CAR, deploying thousands of blue helmets will not be enough: it will also be essential to create jobs and rebuild the economy and the state . If international actors and Central African authorities do not combine peacekeeping with the fight against illegal trafficking, economic recovery and good governance, they are condemned to repeat the past failures.

A win-win partnership

A new element has emerged since January 2014; the recognition of the structural predation as a pillar of the crisis by both the Central Africans and the international actors. During closed-doors meetings, Catherine Samba Panza, the president of the transition, has asked the international community to commit more in the reconstruction of the political and economic system. Thus, there is a window of opportunity to change simultaneously the CAR governance system and the type of international interventions that have been so far implemented in this country.

Today, CAR needs to improve the financial public management and to reinforce the key state institutions (security and finances). CAR also needs to boost job creating activities and to re-establish control over the artisanal mining sites in order to dry up the financing of armed groups. This will not happen without a win-win partnership between the transitional authorities and the international actors: trust needs to be restored on both sides. Indeed, the government should reform its governance system or it will not get financial and political support from the international actors and the international actors should fulfil their political, financial and security promises or they will not be seen as reliable partners.

The coming peacekeeping mission of the United Nations must broaden its mandate and become the institutional vehicle for such a partnership. These joint efforts are the price to pay for CAR to recover a durable stability. Time has come to leave past errors from behind and to implement new ideas and strategies. The intervention in CAR must be rethought and the model of international interventions, whose limitations are now obvious, should be renewed. The key question is to know if the international organisations and the states trying to solve the CAR crisis will have the political willingness to think out of the box and reinvent a new model of intervention, more demanding in the short-term but more successful in the long-term.

Thierry Vircoulon is Crisis Group's Central Africa Project Director and Thibaud Lesueur the group's Central Africa Analyst. The International Crisis Group has just published a report titled "The Central African Republic Crisis: From Predation to Stabilisation".

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