The Implementation of the Khartoum Agreement in the Central African Republic in the Wake of High-Risk Elections

Abstract

While legislatives and presidential elections are over, the 2019 Khartoum agreement seems harder and harder to implement. Indeed, rebel groups still hold a large part of the country, whereas the government is struggling to restore State authority all over the national territory. The situation is even more tense since former President François Bozizé is suspected of plotting a coup from the North of the country, in order to retaliate to the rejection of his presidential bid, by the Constitutional court. Those suspicions are corroborated by the coalition announcement made by the leaders of the country’s three main rebel groups. In such a context, the possibility of bringing back a lasting peace in the Central African Republic appears more and more remote. The Central African Republic’s army and its international allies, especially Rwanda, Russia, as well as the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), should strengthen their efforts in order to take back control all over the territory.

 

Introduction

In December 2012, a coalition of armed groups – mainly Muslims – known as Seleka, launched an offensive in the Central African Republic, before capturing Bangui, the country’s capital. A subsequent coup was staged, still by the Seleka, in March 2013 (Violence in the Central African Republic, 2020), leading to the toppling of François Bozizé, the then president, who was replaced as head of state by Michel Djotodia, the Seleka’s leader. The Seleka committed numerous exactions on civilians, especially Christians, increasing ethnic and religious tensions, resulting in the creation of Christian militias’ coalition, named anti-balaka, in order to retaliate against abuses perpetrated by Seleka fighters.

The anti-balaka started carrying out attacks against civilians, particularly Muslims, causing the displacement of several people to the North, a Seleka-controlled territory. Despite the fact that Michel Djotodia disbanded Seleka forces soon after he seized power, many ex-Seleka fighters, as expected, plunged the Central African Republic into a state of disarray by launching counterattacks (Ibid.).

 

A Light of Hope

If the election of Faustin Archange Touadera, in 2016, as President of the Republic, brought back some hope, his efforts to restore peace, notably through disarmament, were boycotted by most armed groups (Ibid.). Thereby, albeit Bangui is under government rule, President Touadera is powerless outside the capital, since almost 80 per cent of the territory is controlled by militias, a situation that proves the extreme fragility of this country.

In response to the crisis, the United Nations Security council (UNSC) established the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic -MINUSCA- (Resolution 2149) in April 2014, a peacekeeping force that included troops from the African-led international Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) and French ones (opération Sangaris), both already deployed on the field.

The aims of the MINUSCA’s nearly 14,000 peacekeepers on the ground are, among others, to protect civilians, assist authorities in the preparation and the delivery of peaceful presidential and local legislative elections, and disarm militia groups. However, the MINUSCA meets some difficulties in the fulfillment of its mandate, mainly due to reluctance to use military force and lack of infrastructure (Violence in the Central African Republic, 2020).

Nonetheless, for the last polls, the MINUSCA made a substantial contribution to the organization of free, fair and secure elections, notably by driving rebel out the city of Bambari, after they seized it. Besides, this United Nations mission has deployed troops, in order to disperse rebel militias who had taken control of roads leading to the capital Bangui. Therefore, the head of the United nations mission joined words with deeds, since he asserted earlier that “the MINUSCA will use all means at its disposal to retaliate against violence perpetrated by the MPC, the 3R and the anti-balaka”.

It is worth noting that thus far, this United Nations mission had never prevented militias to commit violence and exactions (Ibid.) on large swathes of the Central African Republic territory.

In order to find a way out to the crisis plaguing the country for years, the government and 14 armed groups signed a political agreement (The Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation) on 6 February 2019, in Bangui, dubbed the Khartoum agreement because it was negotiated in Khartoum, to bring back peace and reconciliate the nation. This peace settlement is the sixth since the beginning of the political crisis, in 2013. If the talks were brokered by the African Union (AU) and backed by the United Nations (UN), countries like Cameroon, France, Angola, Gabon, Congo, Chad, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia, have also played a role to the peace initiative (Samasumo, 2019).

 

Armed Groups Signatories to the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation

Armed groups

Leaders

Anti-Balaka/Mokom

Maxime Mokom

Anti-Balaka/Ngaïssona

Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona

Front Démocratique du Peuple Centrafricain

Martin Koumtamadji (aka Abdoulaye Miskine)

Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de       la Centrafrique

Nourredine Adam

Mouvement des Libérateurs Centrafricains

pour la Justice (MLCJ)

Toumou Deya Gilbert

Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique

Alkhatim Ahamat Mahamat

Rassemblement Patriotique pour le Renouveau de la Centrafrique

Herbert Gontran Djono-Ahaba

Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation (3R)

Sidiki Abass Soulimane

Révolution et Justice/Belanga

Bertrand Belanga

Révolution et Justice/Sayo

Armel Ningatoloum Sayo

Séléka/Rénové

Mohamed Moussa Dhaffne

Union des Forces Républicaines

Philipe Wagramale

Union des Forces Républicaines Fondamentales

Dieu Benit Christian Gbeya-Kikobet

Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique

Ali Darassa Mahamat

Source: International Crisis Group: Making the Central African Republic’s Latest Peace Agreement Stick

 

The Non-compliance with the Agreement by Armed Groups

As provided for in the peace agreement (Article 21 of the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation), several armed groups’ members were appointed to senior positions in the new government, though there are serious evidences of responsibilities for atrocities (World Report, 2020, 119) against some of them. Nevertheless, many of these militias keep perpetrating crimes and human rights violations against civilians, including the ex-Seleka and the anti-balaka (Central African Republic, 2019), and clashing each other (The Central African Republic at another turning point, 2020).

As example, the repeated fighting between the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (Popular Front for the Rebirth of the Central African Republic) and the Mouvement des Libérateurs Centrafricains pour la Justice (Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice) in the Vakaga prefecture (Ibid.).

Another example is the group Retour Réconciliation Réhabilitation (3R), responsible for the massacre of 46 civilians in May 2019, while its head, Sidiki Abass, was military advisor to the Prime Minister and also at the helm of the mixed special unit in the region under his control (The CAR’s peace deal under threat, 2019).

Abass resigned from his position, due to divergences with the Prime Minister and unclear role (The CAR’s peace deal under threat, 2019). It is worth noting that Abbas was not the only armed group’s ruler to step down from the government.

Besides, the government did not take back yet the part of the territory under militias’ control (Central African Republic, 2019) and it does not seem that the situation is going to change anytime soon.

In addition to the establishment of an inclusive government, the agreement also created mixed special units (Article 16 of the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation), which should include both the national armed forces and militias groups, under the former command (Making the Central African Republic’s Latest Peace Agreement Stick, 2019, 8). However, the setting-up of those special units remains below expectations (The Central African Republic at another turning point, 2020).

Thus far, the deal is under strain, since the objective to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate armed groups (Articles 4 and 5 of the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation), scheduled to end in January 2020, has not been met. On top of that, according to the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic, weapons are still pouring into the country (The CAR’s peace deal under threat, 2019).

Even if there is some reduction of violence (Heungoup, 2020) in the Central African Republic, that is clearly not enough to bring back peace and stability. All the more so that, it is hard to assert that this decrease of violence is mainly due to the Khartoum agreement.

It is highly unlikely that peace and stability can be brought back in this country through the Khartoum agreement, for three main reasons.

Firstly, as stated above, 80 per cent of the country is in the hands of militias. Therefore, there is a high risk that those groups attempt to keep control on territories they rule and disturb the mandate of the next president of the Republic.

The recent move of the three main rebel groups’ leaders make this hypothesis even more likely. Indeed, the Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC), the Retour, reclamation, rehabilitation (3R) and some anti-balaka militias, said to be favorable to former President François Bozizé, announced their alliance. The latter is suspected by the authorities of fomenting a coup, in retaliation to the rejection of his candidacy at the presidential election, by the Constitutional court.

Secondly, some armed groups prohibit access to the part of the country (Incertitudes sur la tenue de la présidentielle fin décembre en Centrafrique, 2020) under their control, as Sidiki Abass, the 3R head, who denies access to the region he rules to the army (Chambraud, 2020).

Thirdly, although the opposition deems that President Touadera is too indulgent towards armed groups, the political party of former President François Bozizé, is also said to be close to anti-balaka militias (Incertitudes sur la tenue de la présidentielle fin décembre en Centrafrique, 2020), as stated above.  In such a context, where even political leaders are playing an unclear game with those groups, it is hard to imagine that order will be restored in the country in a near future.

The fact that some prefects are dealing with militias groups, acknowledging their local role (Heungoup, 2020), is an illustration of the extreme fragility of the State.

The incoming President will have the task to regain control of all territories lost. This mission seems to be a tough one, because the legitimacy of this newly-elected head of state will likely be contested by militias groups and some members of the opposition, like former President François Bozizé, especially as more than 14% of polling stations did not open during Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections due to armed rebels who attacked voters and thwarted electoral staff from doing their job (Bate, 2020). Yet, the recapture of the entire national territory it is a prerequisite to restore peace and security in the Central African Republic.

 

Read More: Foreign Aid: A Curse or a Blessing for Sub Saharan Africa?

 

The Necessity to Step up Pressure on Armed Groups

Let it be clear. It is likely that armed groups in the Central African Republic did not comply to their part of the deal, since they have already signed several agreements and they did not respect them. So, maybe it is time for the government and its Allies to seriously think about a new strategy.

The will to integrate militias into the army and to create mixed units was a mistake, since it is wishful thinking to believe that the latter will not use their new position of power to commit more exactions and atrocities on civilians and to reinforce their grip on lands under their control. Besides, given their past actions against the population, it is highly unlikely that citizens see them as soldiers able to keep them safe, all the more so that it does not look like they are willing to protect civilians.

The government of the Central African Republic should regain all rebel-controlled areas. The African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN) through the MINUSCA and the government foreign backers, like Russia and Rwanda, should help it in this way.

Countries like Chad and Sudan could also play an important role in peace restoration in the Central African Republic. They should put some pressure on armed groups under their influence, in order to convince them to disarm, demobilize and hand over territories they run to the government.

To make this happen, N’Djamena and Khartoum can start by taking back their citizens fighting alongside groups in the Central African Republic (Making the Central African Republic’s Latest Peace Agreement Stick, 2019, 19) and preventing their nationals from joining those militias. Moreover, Chadian and Sudanese authorities should reinforce their borders, in order to prevent armed militias to acquire weapons from their countries. In fact, porous borders with Chad and Sudan ease arms’ acquisition by armed groups (Murray and Sullivan, 2019).

But, bad relations between Bangui and both N’djamena and Khartoum are an impediment to that process. Yet, Chad must play a peacemaker role, especially as this country is one of the guarantors of the Khartoum agreement (Making the Central African Republic’s Latest Peace Agreement Stick, 2019, 20).

Chad and Sudan should put aside their divergences with the Central African Republic, because the instability in this country could spill over into theirs and affect their own stability. Besides, the Central African Republic has every interest to build a strong relationship with its neighbors, considering that it needs to deal with them to stop the flow of weapons and fighters into its territory. The African Union (AU), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the United Nations (UN) should joint their efforts and help these countries in the resolution of their disagreements through diplomacy.

Russia could also use its influence to foster the return of peace in the Central African Republic. Moscow should help the government of Bangui to regain all parts of the country it lost. Russia can first use diplomacy by talking to militias’ heads and making them understand that they must demobilize, drop weapons and surrender territories under their rule to legal authorities. If those armed groups do not comply, Russia should strongly intensify its military support to the Central African Republic government, in order to back the latter in the reestablishment of the rule of law all over the country. The light-armored vehicles delivered by Moscow to Bangui in October will probably help in this way. It is worth noting that Russia and the Central African Republic signed a military cooperation agreement in 2018 (Violence in the Central African Republic, 2020).

The fact that Russia and Rwanda sent boots on the ground to secure the last elections and thwart rebel groups from preventing their holding it is a proof that both of them can play a major role in the restoration of State authority throughout the national territory.

The Central African Republic is currently under a 2013 United Nations arms embargo (Resolution 2127). Originally, the embargo banned all supplies of weapons to this country, except to the Central African Republic security forces, but the relevant UN sanctions committee had to give its approval in the first place. In September 2019, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) amended that embargo, replacing the necessity of the advance approval of the relevant UN sanctions committee, by a provision requiring that the UN sanctions committee receives an advance notification that gives details on weapons being supplied, their destination unit in the Central African Republic security forces and the place where they will be stored (UN arms embargo on the Central African Republic, 2020).

If the amendment of the embargo in September 2019 by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) could give a greater leeway for the Central African Republic government to resolve the security crisis, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should fully lift it, in order to strengthen the capacity of this country’s authorities to restore law and order.

Although the Khartoum agreement reject impunity, some armed groups’ leaders will not probably be held accountable for crimes they may have committed, because the justice system in the Central African Republic did not function properly (Making the Central African Republic’s Latest Peace Agreement Stick, 2019, 8). Authorities of this country should reinforce the judicial system and make it work effectively, in order to bring to justice those who have allegedly perpetrated felonies.

It is also possible to reintegrate militias groups into society, but this will only be possible if they decide to disarm, demobilize and accept the reestablishment of State authority across the land.

 

Conclusion

To sum up, the Central African authorities, their Allies, neighboring countries, the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), should do everything in their power to re-establish peace and security all across the country, particularly by putting pressure on armed groups, and persuade them to drop their weapons and demobilize.

 

Writer

Albert Lionel Zinda Soppo 

Geopolitical Risk Analyst

Master’s degree in International Relations specialized in Geopolitics and Prospective

Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS)

Twitter: @LionelSoppo
 

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