Tag 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.


[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.

Francophone Africa – Important election year ahead

Francophone Africa will see six presidential elections take place this year, many of which in countries emerging from crisis and violence. Legislative and local polls are scheduled in five and six countries, respectively. 2015 will thus be a bellwether of democratic development trends in Central and West Africa over the next several years. Will democratic gains be consolidated in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which last time saw significant election-related violence in contested presidential polls? Will presidential and legislative races in the Central African Republic (CAR) finally bring peace and stability following the March 2013 coup? Will Burkina see a complete renewal of its political leadership through upcoming national and local polls, following the ouster of Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014? How will debates around presidential term limits evolve in Togo and Burundi (and the two Congos scheduled to have presidential polls next year)?

Table 1: 2015 elections in Francophone Africa

Country Presidential Legislative Local polls
Benin April (TBC) March (TBC)
Burkina Faso October October TBD
Burundi June May May
Chad TBD
Cote d’Ivoire October
Guinea Conakry June (TBC) TBD
Mali TBD
Togo March

As indicated in Table 1 above, the Togolese will be the first to kick off the Francophone presidential contests, in March – preceded by their Anglophone brethren in Zambia (January) and Nigeria (February). Faure Gnassingbé will stand for a third term, as presidential term limits were eliminated already in 2002 under his father’s rule. Without the reintroduction of term limits, which opposition parties are clamoring for, Faure – who is only 48 years old – could well top or even surpass his father’s 38 year rule. The opposition may feel validated by the findings of a recent Afrobarometer polling of Togolese across the country. The survey found that even among the president’s supporters, 78% of those interviewed are in favor of presidential term limits.

In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza will similarly stand for a third term using a technicality – that he wasn’t directly elected the first time – to justify his candidature. The fragile peace in the country could be threatened by shrinking political space and the apparent collapse of the powersharing agreement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords, following opposition by Tutsi-led Uprona to Nkurunziza’s third bid for the presidency. According to Afrobarometer (Figure 2), a slight majority (51%) of Burundians agree with the opposition on the desirability of term limits.

In Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, presidents who came to power five years ago in highly contested polls marred by violence, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, will stand for a second term – Alpha Condé in Guinea and Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire. In highly polarized political environments, characterized by deep mistrust between supporters of the incumbents and their leading rivals, the independent election commissions have a huge responsibility for the organization of well administered polls that can build confidence in the credibility of the electoral outcome. In both countries, continued dialogue between government and opposition can help build consensus around the electoral calendar and abate tensions.

In CAR, hope is high that the upcoming presidential poll can help bring stability to the country. However, there is concern among some Central African civic and political leaders that the transition process is overly driven by the international community, which is pressuring for a compressed election calendar – with presidential polls to take place in the middle of the rainy season, in July. Greater ownership of the transition and electoral process by the Central Africans will be important for ensuring the legitimacy of the newly elected leaders of the country.

In Burkina Faso, interim president Michel Kafando has recently announced coupled legislative and first round presidential polls in October, with the presidential run-off to take place in November, if there is one. These will be the most competitive elections in nearly three decades. Some Burkinabe are worried, however, that the military maintains undue influence over the process, following the nomination of Lt. Col. Isaac Zida as prime minister. Zida was second in command of the presidential guard and appointed as transition leader by the military in the days following Compaoré’s ouster, though he was forced to rapidly relinquish power to a civilian by significant domestic and international pressure.  The transition roadmap is unclear on the relative distribution of authority and responsibilities between president and prime minister and some civil society activists are quite cozy with the military. So it will be important for independent-minded civil society groups to maintain an active monitoring of the transition process, and for political parties to remain united in their effort to push for transparent, credible polls.

All in all, 2015 promises to be an interesting election year. The stakes are high for the individual countries discussed here, and their election outcomes will influence the prospects for strengthening democratic institutions and practices across the continent.

Central African Republic – New interim head of state after Djotodia’s resignation

On Friday, January 10th, interim president Michel Djotodia stepped down along with his prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, under pressure from regional powers and France. This despite an official communiqué from the presidency only two days prior decrying “insinuations” of such an imminent move as “destabilizing.” The joint resignation was the outcome of a two-day regional summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) held in Ndjamena, Chad, to address the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) that has displaced close to a million people.

Djotodia had been unable to stem mounting violence after ousting then President François Bozizé in March 2013 with the help of an alliance (Seleka in the local language Sango) of northern militia groups and with support from Chadian and Sudanese fighters, all predominantly Muslim. Local self-defense groups – the anti-balaka (or anti-machete) – have sought revenge against looting and killing by uncontrolled Seleka fighters, in the process attacking innocent Muslims. As a result, what started as a rebellion by northern ethnic groups against perceived marginalization took on increasingly religious overtones, as Muslims in retaliation were attacked and treated as “foreigners” by anti-balaka militias.

Poor relations between Djotodia and his prime minister, Tiangaye, contributed to government paralysis. Tiangaye had been appointed in January 2013 by Bozizé to head a unity government, as part of the Libreville ceasefire-agreement aimed at ending the Seleka rebellion.  The agreement didn’t hold as Seleka accused Bozizé of not respecting its terms. Tiangaye, a renowned human rights activist and leading opposition figure, stayed on as prime minister in the new transition government formed by Djotodia after the latter’s ousting of Bozizé. Relations between the two quickly soured, however.

Last week, to force a solution, President Idriss Deby sent a plane to Bangui on the first day of the ECCAS-summit to pick up all 135 members of CAR’s National Transitional Council (CNT) and fly them to Ndjamena. There, the council members worked through the night into Friday on a revision to the transitional constitution that would allow for a change in leadership. Upon return to Bangui, the chair of the CNT, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, assumed the role of interim head of state for a maximum of 15 days, while the CNT meets to elect a new president for the transition period under the supervision of Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, mediator in the Central African crisis. On Sunday, calm was gradually returning to certain neighborhoods of Bangui. Meanwhile, Djotodia has left for exile in Benin where is wife is from.

Names of potential candidates for the transition presidency are already swirling around, including the names of former ministers, civil society leaders, army officers or even Nguendet himself. Whoever is elected as new, interim president with responsibility for organizing transition elections, will face a deeply divided country where the presence of the state has all but disappeared outside of Bangui. The 1,600 French and 4,000 African peacekeepers already deployed could be further supplemented by an additional 1,000 EU forces to help restore security in the country.