Like the people in the Central African Republic, the EU wishes to see peace and security in the country. For this to happen, state authority must be extended throughout the country in accordance with rule of law and human rights principles; the EU Advisory Mission supports this objective. The Mission has now reached Initial Operational Capability - a result of the preceding operational planning, led by the CPCC, the headquarters of the civilian CSDP Missions, in Brussels. Paulo Soares, a senior officer of the Portuguese Gendarmerie (Guarda Nacional Republicana) is the first Head of the Mission. He shares in this interview, from Bangui, his personal views on the upcoming activities of the Mission.
Paulo Soares, you worked previously in the Central African Republic in the EUTM RCA, an EU training mission for the Central African military. What were your personal experiences during this time?
To begin with, it was my first experience with a military mission for the EU. This was a great reminder about my first experience as a Portuguese army officer between 1985 and 1987.
Secondly, it was also a return to Africa, after living and working in Mozambique for four years in my previous career, which made it much easier for me to adapt to the realities and needs of this country. Even though Africa is a very diverse continent with a multitude of cultures, this previous experience from Mozambique had prepared me to be open to ways of thinking and acting that are different to my own.
Cooperating with the Central African authorities proved to be extremely easy. It was based on a mutual trust, and we all were aware of how much remains to be done and inspired by the will to promote change. Furthermore, it was evident that the constant involvement of these authorities and the society as a whole were essential to achieve structural reform.
Another great experience of this period was the close cooperation with the international partners present in CAR, notably with MINUSCA/UNPOL, the UNDP, EUDEL, as well as the Embassies of France and the USA. With these partners relationships were established beyond those of mere coordination work, which translated into a real added value in our joint work in the support for the development of the security sector.
Last but not least, I would like to highlight the close ties that developed with the colleagues of the EUTM RCA. I can say that I always obtained unconditional support from my colleagues, which made me feel privileged to belong to a such a dedicated team.
What takes you now back to Bangui?
While advising the Central African authorities in the framework of EUTM RCA, the needs of the security sector became clear to me as well as the privileged partnership of the European Union in this sector. With this in mind, all the work carried out by the EUTM RCA's Interoperability Cell during the nine months I served in the country, left me with a strong conviction to continue supporting its development. I believe that we need to ensure more and better security for the population and further enhance the already excellent image of the European Union in the country.
I feel honoured that I have been selected as head of the latest civilian CSDP mission (the 11th) and I am aware of the enormous responsibility and the challenges ahead.
The EU agreed to establish the civilian CSDP Mission in the Central African Republic in response to a request from the Central African government after the peace agreement in 2019. Before deploying to Bangui you were regularly in touch with the Central African authorities. What were the main topics?
The Central African authorities have always expressed their wish for the deployment of a civilian mission from the European Union, with the characteristics and size that the EUAM RCA will have.
Secondly, local authorities expressed their regret to see some of their interlocutors from the Interoperability Cell of the EUTM RCA leaving which deprived them of valuable support for their reform efforts in the security sector. In a way, EUAM RCA is going to continue and widen the work that has been initiated by the EUTM Interoperability Cell. For my part, I have always assured local authorities that the EUAM RCA is already up and running despite the fact that it has not yet been deployed to the Central African Republic because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have emphasised that the Mission was doing everything in its power to leave as soon as possible.
In the meantime, the Mission has already established working relations with Central African counterparts on the ground. I believe that these regular contacts with the Central African authorities have significantly increased the mission's credibility in the eyes of our counterparts. The unprecedented speed in which the SOMA was concluded proves both, the expectations, and the trust the Central Africans put in our mission.
The Mission's main cooperation partners will be the EU Delegation in Bangui, the EU Military Training Mission in CAR, as well as the UN and its MINUSCA Mission. During the preparation phase, what were your first experiences when reaching out to the main cooperation partners?
To answer this question, I would like to highlight that the EUAM RCA is not completely unknown to our international partners in CAR. For instance, we exchange with the international partners every week through our strategic adviser on public security, a French Gendarmerie officer who was already working for the EUTM RCA Interoperability Cell. This level of cooperation has greatly facilitated the integration of the new Mission in the international support frame for the CAR, being seen from the very beginning as an equal partner. I am convinced that once on the ground we will further deepen and develop this already fruitful cooperation.
The core of the Mission's mandate is to provide strategic advice to the Central African Ministry of Interior and Public Security and to the Internal Security Forces. Thus EUAM supports the long-term establishment of coherent and accountable security services, under full national ownership. What is in your view fundamental in this process?
Personal and direct contacts with the Central African authorities are the key for a successful mission. Building relationships of mutual trust will lay the groundwork to the development and implementation of our mandate, requiring from all mission members but especially from our strategic advisers sensitivity, the capacity to listen but also persistence; without these qualities it might become difficult to achieve our objectives.
Another essential factor for the success of the Mission is the awareness that the reform and development of the security sector and the internal security forces (ISF) will depend on the level of local ownership and buy-in. Nothing can be imposed, and a sustainable reform process requires the full commitment of the local authorities.
Security Sector Reform aims to develop security services that work within the framework of the rule of law and focus on citizens' security needs. This is always a long-term process. What do you expect the Mission will be able to achieve in its first year?
During the first year it is essential to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the realities of the security sector in the CAR. In addition to the gendarmerie and police, the existing coordination patterns with the other key players in the country needs to be clarified, including the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Justice, the prison system, Customs, Water and Forestry as well as the Civil Protection.
After this initial phase, the next step is to assess, together with the Central African authorities, their planning needs. Then we can start to enhance our interlocutor's capacity to reform the security sector through tailormade strategic advice. It is therefore essential that during the first year of our mandate, the security sector of the CAR is fully on-board with the need to revise the ISF Programming Law.
To launch a civilian Mission to the host country ground demands a multitude of steps and preparations: extensive operational planning, logistics, diplomatic accreditation, the recruitment of the right personnel... What was in your personal view the main challenge?
First, the operational planning to launch the Mission was extensive. This planning was undertaken in Brussels and led by the CPCC, the operational headquarters of the 11 civilian CSDP Missions. My sincere thank goes to the entire Planning Team, led by Ms Birgit Loeser as Acting Civilian Operations Commander, that worked very hard for the Mission to reach now Initial Operational Capability.
Now to the situation in the Central African Republic: The country is perceived as a country far-away, with a fragile security situation and a struggling health sector. This work environment is even for a CSDP mission challenging. I am therefore grateful for the contributions made by Member States which put forward, even during the current pandemic, a number of highly qualified and motivated candidates. And I would like to highlight the professionalism, excellent team spirit and dedication of the staff that has joined the Mission so far. However, in order to implement its mandate, the EUAM RCA will require even more support from member states in the future.
CSDP Missions have fully implemented the safety precautions to protect staff and local populations from the Corona virus. You and your colleagues will now spend the first 15 days in Bangui in quarantine. How did the pandemic affect the preparations for the launch of the Mission? If staff should fall ill, who will provide the medical care in Bangui?
The COVID-19 pandemic affects us all in our daily lives in Europe and the situation will be no different in the process of launching this new mission. The decision to send an advance team to the RCA will allow the quarantine requirements to be respected while simultaneously the team can continue its work. The objective is to fulfil as soon as possible all the necessary conditions for the Council to declare the initial operational capability (IOC) of the Mission and its consequent launch.
To this end, the advance team includes staff to guarantee the necessary security conditions, as well as logistical and IT means. It was no less important to ensure that the strategic advisers who have been working on the drafting of the mission implementation plan (MIP) since the beginning are also part of this team. This allows us to place each of them with our key Central African interlocutors, namely the Ministry of the Interior, the National Gendarmerie and the Central African Police.
The team will be accompanied by medical staff to provide immediate medical support on the ground if needed. We have also made preliminary agreements for medical support with partner organisations, which will be formalised after our arrival to the CAR. In addition to these arrangements, the Embassy of France has also assured us of its medical support.,
We have also made arrangements for a MEDEVAC to evacuate mission members in case of an emergency.
Dear Paulo, we wish you and your advance team all the best for your first weeks in Bangui.
Thank you very much.