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CAR: Understanding the conflict for lasting peace

CAR: Understanding the conflict for lasting peace

Global conversation

Desolate ambience greets you on touch down in Bangui’s M’Poko International Airport, in the Central African Republic. For years since 2013, visitors were greeted by the sight of tens of thousands of people living in rusty planes and tattered tents. A refugee camp that had taken over the airport and had become a defining image. Dynamics of conflict: ethnic politics and the culture of violence.

The government would however raze the camp in December 2016, saying that peace had been restored to adequate levels in the city. The displaced residents were offered between 50,000-100,000 Central African francs (CFA) so they can return to their homes.

Violence has escalated in the Central African Republic has escalated since France, it’s former colonial power, ended its peacekeeping mission last year. The election of President Faustin-Archange Touadera in March 2016, who replaced acting president Catherine Samba-Panza, had raised hopes of reconciliation.

The country plunged into chaos in March 2013, when muslim Seleka rebels overran the capital and ousted President Francois Bozize. Rebel leader Michel Djotodia took over government, suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament in a coup condemned internationally. But in january 2014, he resigned over criticism that he failed to stop sectarian violence. Catherine Samba-Panza takes over as interim leader.

The CAR is a country of 622,984 km², has not known peace for close to a decade now, with a large chunk of its territory occupied by over 15 armed groups.

All the factions claim to defend legitimate interests. The coalition Patriotic Central African Movement and the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic, control parts of the North; the Central African Peace Unit had operated in Bambari, about 400 km east of Bangui, the capital, before the UN peacekeepers dislodged them last February to the south of the city, as part of the disarmament process.

In order to comprehend why and how such episodes of violence happen, we need to better understand the dynamics underlying conflict in CAR. Unfortunately, CAR remains an under-researched country. Even though there has been a succession of conflict in the last twenty years, little has been done to understand the causes and dynamics of this violence.

Furthermore, previous attempts to maintain peace in CAR have failed, as demonstrated by the last episode of conflict starting in 2012. One of the reasons why peacebuilding strategies have failed in the past is the lack of understanding of the conflict.

In the wake of a recent eruption of violence in the Central African Republic, ReliefWeb’s Arnaud Pont explores the factors underlying recurring conflict and makes practical valid suggestions for an alternative approach to peacebuilding in CAR.

Dynamics of conflict: ethnic politics and the culture of violence

Political elites in CAR often use violence to access power, and instrumentalise ethnicity by encouraging the use of negative stereotypes. For example, when Bozizé and others started to use stereotypes such as ‘foreigner’ in politics, they knew that it would have a strong impact on the public, mainly because of the ancient fear of foreign invasion that remains in people’s memories. This fear has recently resurfaced due to violence from Congolese and Chadian mercenaries.

Referring to a ‘culture of violence’ is not to suggest that Central Africans are culturally violent, but rather to point to the impact of the failure of the state and its institutions to provide adequate security and justice. This failure has led to the creation of armed groups which have replaced the state and have become legitimised.

The impact of this culture of violence, with its high levels of impunity, has been to modify the compass that individuals have to determine what is normal and what is not when using violence. The culture of violence often explains why there are high levels of violence in post-conflict settings as it bring skills, experience and a strengthened propensity to use violence in the future.

Mob justice against witchcraft is a good example of the result of a weak state and a normalised culture of violence, and it today the normalised way of administering justice, even though it involves a crowd killing an individual. Furthermore, individuals who with no previous experience of violence, such as the youth, have a strong capacity and propensity to use violence simply because they have been exposed to such a culture.

With a better understanding of the dynamics of conflict we can envision different ways of approaching peacebuilding strategies to discover sustainable solutions.

Envisioning solutions: integration

Evidence from other contexts shows that integrating armed groups into the state security system can be an effective long-term strategy to reduce violence and increase stability. Given Anti-Balaka’s involvement in the violence in CAR, any attempt to integrate them might seem dangerous or unrealistic. But the idea proposed here is not to dismantle existing Anti-Balaka structures and to integrate some elements into the existing armed forces, as has been the case in previous failed DDR and SSR processes. Rather, it is to integrate the existing Anti-Balaka structures into the security apparatus at village level.

The state has never been and is still not able to provide security to its population across the country. Groups such as Anti-Balaka have developed in this context and their presence and actions have become legitimised by the population. It is this legitimacy that explains why trying to disarm and reintegrate them is doomed to fail, as has been the case of previous DDR programs. (Literature on informal institutions provides useful information on this topic).
As an integrated part of the state security system, Anti-Balaka members could be trained, not only in security topics, but also on human rights and international law. As free agents, there is a high probability that they have no idea of the meaning of such concepts. Secondly, the groups and their members could be controlled. A lack of control is one of the main problems regarding these groups as they do not have a centralized leadership.

Control could be used to sanction deviant behaviors while an income provided by the state could offer the incentive not to join illegal groups or partake in illegal activities. We should not forget here that the lack of economic opportunities for the youth is one of the main root causes of past and current conflicts in CAR.

Perhaps, groups could be integrated into the state security system from both sides of the conflict, which could encourage reconciliation and provide an avenue for peacebuilding activity. Such an approach could provide an alternative solution to failing DDR processes. Although there are many constraints, and of course not all individuals could be integrated into the system, in the context of CAR where the succession of conflict, the failure of DDR and the current situation calls for a solution, this approach may be provide a way to deal with the conflict which should be explored further.

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About the Author: Victor Musiyo is a multilingual journalist (English, French and Swahili) based in Pointe Noire, Republic of the Congo, Kenyan by nationality. Currently working with Africanews, Africa’s first pan-African media house. His style leans towards Pan-Africanism, cutting across cultural, political and tech movements around the continent.

Uninfluenced by political interests, he works with over 85 professional journalists and technicians from multiple African countries, to serve the African audience, driven by an uncompromising journalism.