Central African Republic: It’s not all about the money

Amidst deepening insecurity, the government is focused on the upcoming Donors Conference. But will more international funding help solve the crisis?

Ministers in the Central African Republic's government have been looking ahead to the donors conference. Credit: UNICEF/Pierre Holtz.

Ministers in the Central African Republic’s government have been looking ahead to the donors conference. Credit: UNICEF/Pierre Holtz.

Post-election benefits haven’t lasted long in the Central African Republic (CAR). Since President Faustin-Archange Touadéra took office at the end of March, there is again widespread instability throughout the country.

In the capital Bangui, there have been targeted killings, protests against the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA and clashes between militias. In the north and east, fighting between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka combatants − the two groups that have been responsible for many of the clashes over the past few years − has resumed, with dramatic consequences for the town of Kaga Bandoro and areas surrounding Bambari. And in the west, a new rebel group called 3R is spreading insecurity. Dozens have been killed and thousands of new internally displaced people are now in need of humanitarian assistance.

The government has blamed delays in the redeployment of the national army (FACA) on the international arms embargo, and in its absence it is MINUSCA that is responsible for trying to contain armed groups and protect civilians.

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Within CAR’s government, the efforts of elites over the past few have mostly been focused on preparing for the Donors Conference planned for 17 November in Brussels. This meeting is considered crucial to assure the funds needed to get the country back on track, and in the meantime, many urgent issues − such as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR), security sector reform (SSR), and justice and reconciliation − have been put on standby, while waiting for donors’ money.

Ministers’ offices have been working on ambitious shopping lists to submit to the country’s main donors, such as the European Union and World Bank, as well as on proposals for new independent committees to guarantee transparency in the management of the funds.

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Into the comfort zone

The CAR has never been a favourite country of international donors. Its humanitarian appeals have typically gone unfunded, and development funds have always been disbursed reluctantly. However, assuming that greater international financial attention is the key to solving the CAR’s problems would be a mistake.

In fact, the country’s leadership at present doesn’t even seem to be showing an interest in changing the status quo. The government on one side and rebel groups on the other appear to have reached a comfortable standoff where each can survive and possibly even grow. Certain powerful figures that lost influence with the fall of President François Bozizé in 2013 have regained it, and the lack of any signs of change amongst the CAR’s political elite makes improvements in governance unlikely, despite some top-down efforts.

Meanwhile, the north and east of the country are firmly under the management of ex-Séléka factions, which govern the area, collecting taxes and exploiting resources. Under this arrangement, neither side has a good reason to open a dialogue and accept compromises that could limit their current and future benefits.

Breaking the impasse

This impasse needs to be broken if the CAR is to move forwards. But how?

On the one hand, it is possible that international diplomacy and the promise of greater funds could change the parties’ calculations along with their willingness to engage in dialogue on the most urgent national priorities.

International intervention, however, can only be part of the process, but there are a few new elements in CAR’s context that could also help break the deadlock.

Firstly, the 2015-16 elections brought to Bangui a few new members of parliament from the most remote areas of the country. This could offer the government a precious resource in preparing and launching negotiations with the warlords. Committed to their regions, these new MPs could represent a key asset to improve understanding of local dynamics and facilitate dialogue with rebel leaders. If empowered to do so, they could move the DDR process out of Bangui and give it a chance to survive.

Secondly, there appears to be a strong and relatively new desire amongst CAR’s population for the return of national security forces. Despite FACA’s (Forces Armées Centrafricaines) traditional weaknesses and misconduct, its redeployment is seen by many as a preferable option to remaining at the mercy of armed groups. The army’s return will not solve the country’s insecurity and impunity, and it is still far off amidst various ongoing disagreements. But posting some contingents in key towns could help generate hope in the population, creating an illusion of change and producing a knock-on effect.

Finally, it is notable that ex-Séléka factions have never looked so divided in their ambitions as now. Over the last few months, there have been growing tensions and localised clashes over territory. A gathering in Bria aimed at agreeing a new chain of command and representation has dragged on. And the rebels’ strategy of blaming any violence on uncontrolled elements is increasingly undermining the image of strength the group would like to project. These divisions and challenges could lead ex-Séléka fighters to engage in another desperate attempt to seek external support and re-launch offensives, but they could alternatively represent an opportunity for the government to open negotiations with certain factions.

Today, CAR is at a crossroads. The country’s leadership can follow the well-known path of expecting a political and financial turning point to come from outside the country and gamble everything on the Donors Conference. Or, they can finally put efforts into national negotiations aimed at finding agreed, sustainable and locally-driven solutions.

Enrica Picco is an independent researcher on conflict and humanitarian issues in Central Africa. She has been involved in humanitarian work for more than ten years, mostly with MSF. She was a contributor to the book Making Sense of the Central African Republic (Zed Books, 2015). Follow her on Twitter at @EnriPicco.

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