Tag Archives: Peace talks

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).

Colombia – The Politics of Peace Talks and Presidential Elections

On May 25th, Colombia will go to the polls to elect a new president. The race is primarily between two candidates: Juan Manuel Santos of the Partido Social de Unidad Nacional, and the candidate of the right-leaning Centro Democrático, Óscar Iván Zuluaga. The latest polls suggest that there is very little between both candidates.

However, this election is a somewhat complicated affair, and provides a good insight into Colombia’s insider-outsider political system. The current incumbent, Santos, was formerly defense minister during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe. Uribe, the former two-term president who left the traditional Partido Liberal Colombiano to form his own vaguely populist party with appeals rooted in security, became the first Colombian ex-president to win a seat in the Senate this March. Uribe, a consummate insider, has risen to the highest political offices in Colombia by cleverly portraying himself as a political outsider, who rails against corrupt and inefficient political elites.

Centro Democrático was only established in January 2013 to compete in the legislative elections this March and its platform, “no to impunity”, was largely centered on opposition to peace talks Juan Manuel Santos is conducting with the FARC in Havana. In fact, Uribe and Santos have had a rather acrimonious public falling-out. The candidate of Centro Democrático, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, was formerly Minister for Public Credit during the Uribe presidency, and a former cabinet colleague of the current incumbent, Santos. With me so far?

Well, it gets more complicated. The backdrop to this election campaign is the peace talks Santos’ government has been conducting with the FARC and on Friday, it was announced that negotiators have now reached agreement with the guerillas on three of the five issues on the agenda: agricultural reform, FARC political participation and most recently, drug production and trafficking. Only victim reparations and transitional justice remain to be agreed upon.

Zuluaga, who has vowed to suspend the peace process, which he and Uribe believe represents national treason, has gradually managed to pip Santos in the polls. However, the presidential campaign has taken a rather dramatic twist. Earlier this month, Andres Fernando Sepulveda, an adviser to Óscar Iván Zuluaga, was arrested and accused of intercepting the emails of President Santos and Luciano Marin, the chief negotiator for the FARC in the peace talks. Zuluaga’s campaign manager, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, also quit after broadcaster, RCN, claimed they had been offered confidential information about the peace talks. Zuluaga has always vehemently denied any knowledge of Sepulveda’s activity. But today howver, news magazine Semana, has published a video apparently showing Zuluaga discussing illegal interceptions with Sepulveda.

With just a week to go until voters go to the polls, this throws everything up in the air. What effect, if any, this will have on Colombia’s somewhat incestuous political system remains to be seen. Regardless, remember to check back here next week for the election results.