President Touadéra’s chilly political climate evokes greater uncertainty in the Central African Republic

  • A conduit of domestic and regional actors inspired by colonial grievances have caused turmoil for Touadera personally and politically. 
  • Insurgency threats are being coupled with Touadera’s plutocratic governance. 
  • Chilly political environment highlights the need for conflict resolution.
Source: jeuneafrique

Why is Touadéra’s heat level chilly?

Answer: Touadéra’s chilly presidential election faces colonial age challenges in his pursuit to establish stability and appease interests.

In order to comprehend the visceral breadth of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s chilly consolidation of power, it is imperative to outline the particular intricacies of the Central African Republic’s (CAR) democratic degradation. The central African nation has a relatively short independent history as it formed part of the former colonies of the French empire. Imperial systems of governance, especially in the region, had an overwhelming exploitative nature which essentially rid the local population of any sovereignty. Therefore, democratic projections in many of the nations within the region are ultimately voided of societal capacities. Because of this, the existence of democratic backsliding -which has led to the current state of affairs within the CAR- lies on contemporary and historical events that have shaped societal consolidation; events like the colonization period and its eventual spur of internal conflicts. The CAR; bordering regions like the Sahel and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is heavily influenced by a wider trend of regional instability. Aspects like a resource curse entails the existence of a weak state, corrupt central government, and the marginalization of minority groups.  As a result, the CAR is arguably the poorest nation in the world. 

Contemporarily, around 200,000 people have been displaced as violence has reached the streets of the nation’s capital, Bangui. Furthermore, the current crisis -triggered by opposition during the run-up to the presidential election victory by Touadéra- comes after a period of relative stability cemented by circumstantial developments. It is notable that contested electoral cycles are common vis-a-vis other African nations– emphasizing a notable trend. Moreover, the circumstances included gradual reinforcement of a depleted military force, presence of a hefty UN peace-keeping force, and the hope that the continuation of relative stability through the re-election of the president would lead to a form of societal reconciliation. Unfortunately, the underlying conditions of relative instability and marginalization reached a threshold where retribution comes in the form of a rebellion. The escalations of hostilities reached a crescendo where the armed rebellion bounded together -stopping voting in about 40% of electoral districts and ultimately triggering an ongoing state of emergency. 

Is it even possible for Touadéra to overcome the country’s abrasive colonial past that has undoubtedly scared CAR’s societal factions? As a former French colony, it has been blighted by conflict and instability since its inception as an independent nation in 1958. The exploitation of the CAR -then known as Ubangi Shari- proved to be extremely costly to imperial France and especially the population within the colonial territory. The fundamental conditions of the socio-economic factors which burdened the local population led to the death of around 50% of the population over the 50 year rule. Touadéra therefore must grasp the historical proclivities of a phantom nation whose socio-political institutionalization, or lack thereof, are exploitative in nature. 

What is driving Touadéra?

Answer: The specificities of the colonial period and the Civil War have protracted the conflict and sullied democratic legitimacy, emphasizing the need for external actors’ assistance.

Touadéra’s ambivalence towards his decision on whose support he will commit to has been counter-intuitively fueling instability, leaving his presidency hanging in the balance. The capital is being safeguarded by a combination of UN/France backed, Russian, and Rwandan forces which demonstrates that the result of the conflict has a certain level of geopolitical significance. The abhorrent standards of living inside the Republic have rid Central Africans of hope for stability and have essentially collapsed any remnants of a conducive society. Overall, civil unrest could result in a potential breaking point in the already existing humanitarian crisis. The president’s options limited to a military solution are dubious. Is it worth fighting insurgencies with fire or employing contemporary non-aggressive measures of conflict resolution? 

As a result of the current geopolitical context, Russian presence through Paramilitary forces and diplomatic ties defies the conceptual project of the West towards the region. The militarization of the CAR is therefore a matter of high priority for Russian foreign policy plans which could change the tide towards the gradual escalation of armed clashes and ensue in a proxy-war-type conflict. In addition, it subsequently adds a geopolitical flair to the degree of mediation by foreign actors in a modern scramble for Africa. If such is the case, there are only two options for president Touadéra; persevere with its former colonial projections of democracy or develop a pragmatic relationship with a more conducive -in terms of allowing a certain decision-making-autonomy- alternative. Russian activity arms Touadera with the more pragmatic approach at acquiring the badly needed competencies to quell insurgency. Touadéra is making his dependence on Russia a part of his main policies in deterrence through the use of force rather than the diplomatic tools which have previously been unsuccessful.

Who is changing Touadéra’s temperature?

Answer: Touadéra’s political opponent Bozize continues to consolidate power, synthesize rebel motivations and narrow the current president’s already chilly options. 

Who exactly is influencing Touadéra on-the-ground? Well, former President François Bozizé returned to Bangui during the run-up to the elections after years in exile after being ousted in the 2013 Civil War. Unable to run for the December presidential elections due to war crimes charges and recent sanctions by the UN, Bozizé turned to the various rebel groups in the country for support, The conglomerate of rebel groups eventually came to fruition under the name: Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC). How did such a resounding force come to existence under the former president’s volition?  

  During his presidency Bozizé developed a strategy to obliterate the threat of insurgency by identifying the leader and bestowing authority upon him through a government position. This left the socio-economic conditions unmanaged and created a hierarchy that is false-dichotomous by allowing illegitimate actors to become prominent stakeholders. The crony tendencies between state and non-state actors reduces accountability and legitimizes corruption- essentially rewarding rebel groups for taking up arms. The resulting rise in rebel presence ultimately developed into civil unrest. 

By returning to Bangui with the intent to regain power -either using force by conniving with his former adversaries or diplomatically presenting his candidacy in the elections- Bozizé has established a direct threat to Touadéra’s rule and the interests of those keeping the latter in power. With rebel groups having control of almost two thirds of the state’s territory, rebellion is being used as a tool for extracting concessions. Bozizé could be benefiting from the receiving side of his de-escalation strategy from years back. He essentially relies on the persuasive nature of insurgency in leveraging a considerable government handout from Touadera.

The composition of actors surrounding the political conflict in the CAR all stem from its preceding major domestic conflict. The onset of the Civil War (2011-2013) materialised in an offensive by the now consolidated Seleka rebel group -composed of marginalized Muslim communities- which ousted former president Bozizé. The formation of the Anti-Balaka opposition rebel group -housing Christian and pro-Bozizé factions- developed into waves of sectarian violence producing crimes against humanity. It ultimately led to the partition of the country after mass mobilization of religious communities- Muslims to the north and Christians to the south. The filling of the resulting leadership vacuum was conducted by Western military intervention through the UN peace-keeping force named MINUSCA which ultimately materialized after the first presidential elections were won by Touadéra in 2015.

So how has Bozizé successfully utilized his former enemies to bestow upon his successor a similar ousting to his own almost 10 years apart? The reasoning behind his initial success in consolidating a powerful opposition goes beyond the underlying implications of the composition of different factions. Said implications are centered around the sectarian aspect of the Civil War which underwent religious and ethnic lines to a strict degree. This time however, it appears as if the ideological foundations are no longer a factor driving the rebel groups’ motivations and as such, they have all banded together. The unified nature of the movements provided a transparent portrayal of deep tearing in the overall societal fabric that ultimately calls for regime change, creating a rather chilly political climate for Touadera.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: An African conflict (or the avoidance of one) might not be a high priority to many right now, but the socio-economic impact it could bring for millions of people would be devastating in an already devastated region.

The fact that we are already seeing mass displacement and an extensive increase in human rights violations prove increasingly depleting conditions as the short and long-term norm. Unrest is so dire that even humanitarian aid has been repeatedly cut-off to the Central African Republic and the greater region. As a result, 60% of humanitarian operations have been halted. This can result in further calamity as nearly all services to the population outside the capital are provided by NGOs- ultimately deepening the humanitarian crisis. Spillover to the already war-torn neighbouring states is becoming a certain reality. If the conflict in the CAR is not dealt with and hostilities continue to rise, the idealistic post-colonial democratization project of Central Africa will be lost to a new era of scrambling for a piece of the African pie. 

Contemporarily, the exacerbating presence of rebel groups and the underlying fragility of the state is derivative of a developing pattern of core and periphery countries characterized by stagnant development. Touadéra and the CAR form part of a succession of failed-states that have been voided from the presence of forces conducive to societal development. Democratic consolidation, or the semblance of a status quo, looks far-fetched under the current struggle of actors plagued by personal interests and hesitant to compromise for the country. Yet hope persists in the reliance on civil society to make up for the geopolitical inability to develop the least favoured nation-states. Ultimately, Touadera must begin to heat up his chilly approval at home and begin acting on behalf of the Central African Republic, rather than in reaction to internal and external pressures such as Bozize if he wants the country to see any certainty in the future.