Category Archives: Central African Republic

Grant Godfrey – Central African Republic: Can Legitimacy Last?

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

For more than a year after President Faustin Archange Touadéra’s surprise runoff victory, the Central African Republic has been consolidating its nascent democratic institutions, including new ones called for in the 2015 constitution.  These include a Special Criminal Court to investigate crimes committed by armed groups since 2003, a new High Authority for Good Governance and other bodies.  In contrast with previous governments and legislatures that resulted from flawed elections, no elections or coups d’état, Mr. Touadéra and the elected National Assembly appear to enjoy popular legitimacy—for now.

This legitimacy, however, is now undergoing its first serious test. A recurring theme I heard from Central Africans during a recent visit is that they expect their political leaders and the international community to put an end to the rising violence committed by armed groups in 14 of the country’s 16 provinces.  Moreover, they reject compromises that would legitimize the armed groups’ actions and mistrust promises of disarmament. Indeed, shortly after discussions on the disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDRR) process began in April, attacks on government and U.N. forces, civilians and rival armed groups intensified, displacing hundreds of thousands of persons. This likely reflects efforts by armed groups to maximize their territory and leverage not only for the DDRR process, but also against rival groups. Central African military forces are slowly being reconstituted, but with only one battalion that has been certified as trained, cannot defend the population by themselves. Even the MINUSCA forces, who earlier this year stopped sectarian fighting in Bambari, would be challenged to track down and defeat a plethora of armed groups in a territory the size of Texas. The challenges have led some observers to conclude that without robust investment in, and stronger military action by, MINUSCA, no peace agreement will be sustainable.  Nevertheless, multiple proposals for peace talks reflect national and international leaders’ desire to put an end to the conflict, and to claim credit for doing so: the National Assembly, the Community of Sant’Egidio and the African Union have each announced a peace initiative in the last six weeks, and these in addition to the ongoing DDRR discussions launched in April.

Armed groups reportedly seek amnesty for their crimes; the return of exiled leaders; and positions in a power-sharing government. Agreeing to such terms would run counter to the popular will, as expressed at the Bangui Forum and violate key features of the new constitution, which strips those who take up arms of political eligibility (Art. 19-20). The Sant’Egidio accord, for example, would allow armed groups to become political parties—an event the constitution anticipated and deliberately prohibited (Art. 20). The National Assembly’s recent resolution, on the other hand, indicates that the legislature will not sanction a peace agreement if it violates any constitutional provisions.[1]

Meanwhile, citizen-led efforts to restore peace, heal divisions and build resilient communities show that conflict in CAR is not inevitable.  The National Democratic Institute has been supporting citizen-led peace and reconciliation activities there since 2014.  Its Central African partners have helped 38 communities establish peace committees whose local initiatives have led to communities welcoming the return of IDPs and of state officials. These communities report that they are better able to resist the divisive tactics used to instigate or justify further conflict, such as spreading false rumors about sectarian attacks nearby.

Amid these optimistic signs, the fragility of CAR’s democratic institutions remains a top concern. Peace committees may build resilience, but this cannot itself stop aggression by new armed groups.  Politicians worry that while the CAR currently lacks the means to defeat armed groups, compromising with them could undermine the country’s recent democratic gains.  Leaders’ commitments to preserving these gains are likely to be severely tested in the coming months.

Note

[1] “La deuxième nouveauté [de cette initiative—NDLR] est que le processus de paix tout entier se déroule dans le cadre de la légalité constitutionnelle, et reste ainsi un processus républicain. C’est en ce sens que l’initiative insiste sur la nécessité que les négociations se déroulent dans un cadre défini par les institutions de la République et que leur résultat soit ratifié par une Loi, laquelle loi, cela est à souligner, serait susceptible de contrôle de constitutionnalité.” [Sic]. (Emphasis original).

Central African Republic – President-elect Touadéra’s surprising mandate

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC.

On February 21, the National Elections Agency announced preliminary results in the Central African Republic’s runoff election, which showed Faustin Archange Touadéra the runaway winner with 62.71 percent of the vote.  His opponent Anicet Georges Dologuélé accepted the outcome and announced he would not challenge the results in court, while also claiming that fraud was organized and widespread. The campaigns had each deployed 730 pollwatchers, trained with assistance from the National Democratic Institute, MINUSCA, UNDP and the NED. This provided a needed measure of confidence in the returns after the Transitional Constitutional Court had annulled the chaotic first round of legislative polls. While some problems persisted in the runoff, during which the legislative elections were re-run, Dologuélé may have concluded that it would be difficult to overcome Touadéra’s whopping 25-point margin of victory in court. However imperfect the process may have been, the next president will take office uncontested and with a popular mandate.

Touadéra will not, however, have many resources with which to fulfill his mandate. The list of priorities begins with providing security to the population but also includes building physical infrastructure and stronger state institutions. This will require re-establishing the country’s armed forces, which were dismantled during the crisis, and deploying state officials to—and maintaining them in—areas the government does not necessarily control. In many places offices, records, and communications may be destroyed. Reconciliation must be a priority, so that grievances over the recent conflict do not become the seeds of a new one. To face these challenges, the country will require significant international aid and support. Touadéra says that to obtain this aid, his government will have to attack corruption and strengthen accountability and the justice system.

Recognition of his accomplishments as prime minister (2008 – 2013) and as a university mathematics professor helped Touadéra gain a surprise win against Dologuélé. During his tenure, civil servants were paid regularly, through direct deposit to their bank accounts. The security and economic challenges of his tenure may have appeared minor, compared to the destruction and violence that followed the Séléka overthrow of former president François Bozizé. In addition to name recognition, Touadéra’s ability to build a coalition—most of the eliminated presidential candidates rallied to him, despite a first round finish behind Dologuélé with less than 20 percent of the vote—also played a key role. Touadéra also carried strongholds of former President Bozizé’s Kwa Na Kwa party, even though its leaders backed Dologuélé. Moreover, he achieved all this while running as an independent, and with a relatively small campaign budget.

To institute his platform of security, investment, reforms and social services, Touadéra will have to overcome a history of weak institutions and a fractured polity. The new National Assembly will hopefully enjoy more legitimacy than the last, which famously included numerous relatives of Bozizé and was chosen in elections that were widely perceived as flawed. The new constitution calls for the creation of a senate, to be elected by local governments in a country that has never held local elections. Before he can effectively address the country’s pressing needs, Touadéra will have to form a governing coalition out of the many parties and numerous independent legislators expected to sit in the new legislature, for which runoff elections are still needed in 95 (almost two-thirds) of the constituencies.

The country’s new political framework seeks to prevent the use of arms for political gain (Const. of the CAR, Title II, Art. 31), a recognition of how armed groups—and attempts to co-opt them—have disrupted past efforts to build sustainable democratic institutions. For armed groups to lose their influence, however, the new president and new institutions will have to deliver on their promises of security, reconciliation, accountability, and meeting people’s basic needs. Despite the magnitude of the challenges, the new leaders must show progress, and communicate it, quickly.  With hundreds of thousands of Central Africans still displaced and much of the country still at the mercy of armed groups such as Séléka, the Lord’s Resistance Army and anti-balaka gangs, the honeymoon is likely to be short.