14 November 2017

Central African Republic: In the Central African Republic, Peace Requires More Than a Bigger UN Force

opinion

The U.N. Security Coucil approved a resolution to extend the mandate of the U.N. Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) until 15 November 2018, also increasing the mission's troop ceiling by 900. Richard Moncrieff, Project Director for Central Africa, states that the Central African Republic needs more than just troops to meet the country's security challenges.

On Nov. 15, the United Nations Security Council will meet to decide on the fate of the U.N. mission in Central African Republic, known by its acronym MINUSCA. In stark contrast to the debate over the U.N. mission in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, which the U.S. pushed to reduce last April after citing its ineffectiveness and cost, few in New York expect cuts to the Central African Republic (CAR) mission.

To the contrary, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited CAR at the end of October and called for increasing the mission's authorized troop ceiling, currently just over 12,000, by an additional 900 troops. Adama Dieng, his adviser on genocide prevention, and Stephen O'Brien, the undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, both also visited the country in recent months and warned of the escalating violence and a distressing humanitarian catastrophe there. The troubling situation and the pockets of success the U.N. force has achieved so far have left the U.S. relatively favorably disposed to increasing troop numbers, despite serious concerns over allegations of sexual abuse by some contingents.

The U.N. mission is in an increasingly complicated position on the ground. Having made some gains in late 2016 and early 2017 by pushing armed groups out of some towns and deterring some attacks, the U.N. force has since appeared overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis as well as by its own rigidity. Poor mobility--the mission has two operational helicopters in a country larger than France--a lack of intelligence, and an unwillingness to react quickly when such intelligence is available have rendered it ineffective in the face of rising violence among competing militias.

This has put the U.N. under intense pressure in the capital, Bangui. When Guterres spoke to CAR's parliament on Oct. 27, government and opposition politicians managed a rare moment of unity, criticizing the U.N. for its passivity and, according to some, even complicity in the face of the violence. Aside from wanting a far more proactive posture from the U.N., the parliamentarians want to see CAR's national army up and running, despite slow progress on training and its history of incompetence and abuse. Guterres, sensing the mood, acknowledged that the army would start deploying soon. Unless his U.N. force can up its game, calls for ever greater--and ever riskier--deployment of the national army will increase.

The U.N. force certainly needs more troops, and the Security Council should increase the ceiling. It also needs greater mobility and a stronger willingness to react quickly and decisively. But these measures alone would still limit the U.N. mission to merely putting out fires. The U.N., and other international actors, also need to address the incentive structure that is driving the violence.

Central African Republic

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