Central African Republic: Experts Weekly - Will the Central African Republic's New Unity Government Hold?

21 February 2013

Negotiations between Seleka rebels and President Bozizé led to the establishment of a new power-sharing government. Think Africa Press asked a panel of experts about its prospects.

In December 2012, the Seleka rebel alliance in the Central African Republic (CAR) managed to capture a number of significant cities and large swathes of the country. As the insurgency got ever closer to the capital Bangui, President François Bozizé's called for military assistance. None came from former colonial power France, though hundreds of troops from other African countries did step in to protect the capital.

With few options for either side, the government and the Seleka alliance entered into negotiations in Libreville, leading to the Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement. This agreement allowed Bozizé to finish his term as president, but required him to appoint a prime minister that had been chosen by the opposition and form a government that included rebel figures.

Think Africa Press asked a panel of experts: "Will President Bozizé's new unity government hold? And what are the prospects for CAR's stability?"

Alex Vines, Africa programme director at Chatham House:

Although weakened, President Bozizé continues to hang on for the time being because he agreed to the 11 January power-sharing agreement with the rebel coalition Seleka.

Whether he can continue to do so until 2016, when his term ends, is uncertain. He has agreed that he will stand down then, but members of the government of national unity are claiming that he has acted in ill faith and is trying to marginalise them. Seleka's leader, Michel Am Non Droko Djotodia, was named first deputy prime minister in charge of national defence.

Senior rebels were also appointed to the communications and forestry ministries, and the mining ministry was given to Djono Ahaba, a former housing minister who is close to the insurgents.

Representatives of opposition political parties were appointed to the ministries of public works, education, telecommunications, health and farming, but Bozizé's supporters were appointed to many important portfolios including economy, international cooperation and foreign affairs.

Such an unwieldy cabinet of 32 will be difficult to maintain, but Seleka's forces are divided and not a match for the foreign troops, including Chadians and South Africans, that protect the capital, Bangui. Bozizé's best chance to see his term out is that he continues to enjoy their backing and that the opposition and rebels remain divided. A better option for the country, however, would be for Bozizé to call an early election, and offer the Central African Republic a fresh start.

Tendai Marima, freelance journalist and post-doctoral researcher in African Literature:

As a man who came to power through a coup d'état and survived many attempted overthrows by appointing loyalists to replace him and signing peace deals with fighting rebel groups over the years, François Bozizé is now faced with the tough challenge of working alongside an opposition force which has just waged a one-month rebellion against him.

In a bid to ensure he retains more control, the power-sharing government between Bozizé and rebel-backed Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, includes about ten new posts which have mostly been awarded to Bozizé's allies. It is a bigger government than what the Seleka coalition had proposed and there have been complaints from various sections of Seleka that they are under-represented and that the government is skewed in favour of Bozizé.

Dissatisfaction with the new appointments in government has led to some Seleka officials threatening to pull out of the inauguration recently. Discontent has also filtered down to the ranks as just three days after the announcement of new government, the city of Mobaye was taken over and occupied by rebels until this Sunday.

Initially, the rebels said they thought the national government had been called off so had retaliated, but they occupied Mobaye for almost two weeks despite the Libreville Agreement, which was meant to ensure the rebels withdraw and cease to occupy towns and villages.

Incidences like this and others in the northern and southern parts of CAR, show clearly that it's going to take some time before this new coalition government can take effective control of the country and restore order. CAR is slowly recovering from the effects of the rebellion and it is up to those in 'big government' to ensure this new coalition government is accepted by those at grassroots level.

At this point, it's still too early, and the political situation still too unpredictable, to definitively say whether the coalition government is likely to last its one year lifetime. It depends on how the balance of power plays out between Tiangaye's rebel-backed faction and Bozizé's wary old guard; the more Bozizé tries to exert control over the unity government, the more likely he is to meet resistance from the rebel coalition.

However, there could be room for some level of negotiation and co-operation within this new, fragile unity government, and it's going to be interesting to see if and how it survives until legislative elections which, in accordance with the Libreville agreement, have to be organised within 12 months.

Roland Marchal, Research Fellow at CERI, specialising in sub-Saharan economies and conflicts:

Firstly, the Libreville agreement was concluded very quickly. As such, it is more a framework than a fully detailed political settlement. In particular, there is no discussion of how CAR's state actually functions, the relationship between the cabinet and the president, and the power to appoint civil servants and military officers.

The mandate of the government of national unity is so wide that one could expect it to last not only one year, but maybe three or even more. Peace agreements are successful not because their text covers all possible points, but because trust among the various parties grows so as to make peace irreversible.

This is hardly going to be the case in CAR for a number of reasons. President Bozizé, now with a better perspective, sees the many weaknesses of his divided opposition and will use all means still available to exacerbate the tensions between various factions, and portray them as backed by foreign states.

He has the support of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) force, which remains despite the Libreville agreement, and has full support from the UN Special Representative Margaret Vogt and the African Union Special Envoy.

The opposition will quickly face the limits of the presidency's goodwill, and therefore either focus on elections without investing much in their ministerial responsibilities, or enjoy the advantages of their new positions. The authority of the prime minister is diminished by the president's ability to sign decrees and appoint high-ranking civil servants. This dysfunctional state will consolidate itself, at the very moment it should make it clear that it aims to function for all, not only parts, of the population.

Secondly, CAR today is a divided country, and it will likely remain so for some months. The Seleka coalition is split by many allegiances, and the consensus is weak on whether the unity government is sufficient to maintain a conclusive end to conflict. Seleka will also be reluctant to give up territories and cities simply because some of its cadres now have official positions - it needs more.

If the opposition has no option but to stay in the current political mainstream, it will expect important resources to reward its fighters and keep its military structure ready for a (not unlikely) counter-offensive backed by the SANDF. With political cooperation so fragile, a crisis similar to that which occurred just after Bozizé took power in 2003 is not impossible, due to the varying backgrounds and motivations of Seleka fighters.

The political and security stalemate may become even more obvious in the north, where the population has been expecting new state investments and greater security. Significantly, the military status quo may come to be used as an argument to leave the predicament of the north's population unaddressed, delegitimise Seleka's current leadership, and drive new factional splits.

History could thus repeat itself, while politics in Bangui would remain business as usual. SANDF, the Central African regional peace-keeping operation MICOPAX, and French forces have a clear responsibility in that they are defending a state of affairs that is unfair for populations outside the capital and, intentionally or not, allow Bangui politicians to once again become lost in their own disputes without much thought for the rest of the country.

James Wan is the Senior Editor for Think Africa Press. He is a British-born Mauritian and has particular interests in China-Africa relations, human rights and social theory. You can contact him at james.wan@thinkafricapress.com and follow him on Twitter @jamesjwan.

Liam Anderson holds a Master's degree in International Affairs: International Security from Sciences Po. His interests include post-conflict stability and state development.

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