If you’ve been following the news on the Central African Republic (CAR) over the past 13 months, you have probably seen many references to the country’s abundant mineral wealth, chronic instability, crushing poverty, sectarian (Christian vs. Muslim) strife, and allegations of genocide. Some of the recent analysis and media reporting goes beyond these clichés, so I thought I’d highlight them and explain why these pieces present the reader with a more complex understanding of recent developments in the country. Collectively, this reading list offers four things:
- These readings offer background on Catherine Samba-Panza, previously the mayor of Bangui, who was elected last week as the interim president of the Central African Republic. Beyond the fact that Samba-Panza is the first female to hold this position in CAR, these pieces offer insight as to why she’s different from previous leaders and what challenges she will face as she spearheads the transition to an elected government by February 2015.
- These readings offer a background of the events leading to and during the transition earlier this month, such as why Michel Djotodia (former leader of the Séléka rebel coalition that toppled former president François Bozizé last March) had to go and the process that dictated the selection of candidates for interim president.
- These readings offer a better understanding of identity in the Central African Republic beyond the Muslim/Christian labels, and gives the reader some perspective on notions of foreign-ness in the CAR and how they have come into play throughout the country’s history.
- Finally, these readings offer context on the historical and contemporary role of foreign – European AND African – influence on conflicts in the Central African Republic, which is critical for understanding the geopolitics of the region. Major headliners are France (bien sûr!), Chad, Libya, and South Africa.
So without further ado, here’s some of the good coverage I’ve read over the past few weeks:
- Central African Republic’s new president ‘a fresh start’ from the Institute for Security Studies
- Central African Republic: The Third Government in Thirteen Months Gets Under Way from the International Crisis Group
- Genocide-mongering does nothing to help us understand the messy dynamics of conflict in the CAR on African Arguments (by Louisa Lombard, who also blogs at Foole’s No Man’s Land)
- France, Chad, Gaddafi and the CAR: years of meddling should not be ignored now on African Arguments
- South Africa in the CAR: Was pulling the troops a catastrophic mistake? from the Daily Maverick (Last March, I had weighed in on the aftermath of South African casualties in the CAR with South Africa inspires a “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” in the CAR. Best title EVER, right?)
Si vous lisez français, the articles below offer background on the new interim president, and why her civil society roots and Chadian/Central African heritage may make her the right leader at the right time:
- Catherine Samba-Panza: «Maire de Bangui, j’ai toujours eu de bonnes relations avec tout le monde» (Q&A with Catherine Samba-Panza: “Mayor of Bangui, I have always had good relations with everyone”) from Radio France Internationale
- Centrafrique : 5 choses à savoir sur Catherine Samba Panza la nouvelle présidente de transition (Five things to know about Catherine Samba-Panza the new transitional president) from Jeune Afrique
- Catherine Samba-Panza, nouvelle présidente de Centrafrique: pourquoi elle (Catherine Samba-Panza, the new president of the Central African Republic: why her?) from Radio France Internationale
Over the past two years, the world has witnessed a redrawing of the geopolitical map of the Middle East and North Africa. The responsibility for regional security and stability – which Western governments once relied on the area’s authoritarian regimes to ensure – now falls to the transitional or newly elected governments that replaced the ousted old orders. Although in some countries the new leadership has succeeded in promoting a degree of stability during this transitional period, in Libya the turbulent social and economic forces that drove out the long-lived regime of Muammar Qaddafi have yet to settle. The rise of powerful militias that have filled the security void in Libya challenge the authority of the new government. Absent Qaddafi’s political and economic influence, Libya and its neighbors are at risk of a new wave of civil conflict and economic deterioration.
On October 16, CNA’s Center for Strategic Studies hosted a workshop to explore the repercussions of the Libyan Revolution — for Libya itself and for states in the broader Sahel region, particularly Mali. The workshop brought together noted academics and experts from the United States and abroad. The report summarizing the main themes of the workshop can be found here.
Last week in Mali, mid-level military officers led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo declared themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR) and deposed democratically-elected president Amadou Toumani Touré in a bloodless coup. Known as the “soldier of democracy” Touré had himself launched a coup in 1991 against the military regime of General Moussa Traoré. Touré, then stepped aside the following year, allowing elections to usher in two decades of multiparty democracy. Having retired from the military, Touré was elected president in 2002, and was due to step down next month at the end of his second term. Presidential elections scheduled for April 29 would have marked the third successful transition of power from one democratically elected Malian president to his successor, and the further consolidation of the country’s democracy. Yet the spillover from the fall of the Qadhafi regime in Libya gave elements of the armed forces a pretext to oust Touré from power.
Battle-hardened and heavily armed Tuaregs who had fought in the military of the late Muammar al-Qadhafi began to return to their countries of origin – Mali and Niger – in the summer and fall of 2011. For those well-versed in the conflict dynamics of the Sahel, it was only a matter of time before the impact of this Tuareg exodus would be felt in the region. In January 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) began to launch attacks in Azawad, a region encompassing the administrative regions of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu. Despite having fought two previous Tuareg rebellions (1962-1964 and 1990-1995) since independence, the Malian armed forces were caught off balance. In just over two months, the MNLA seized several northern towns and killed an undisclosed number of Malian soldiers, leading to the perception among lower ranking officers that Mali’s civilian government has mishandled its response to the conflict.
Touré has not been seen in public since last week’s coup, and much remains uncertain about the CNRDR’s seizure of power. However, there are three takeaways that are immediately apparent:
- The coup appears more opportunistic than it does rational. By seizing power a little over a month before scheduled elections, the military junta has precluded an alternative civilian approach to fighting the conflict in the north.
- As there have been no expressions of support from the upper echelons of the Malian armed forces, the coup may be a setback in terms of the military’s cohesion and effectiveness at dealing with the Tuareg rebellion. This may allow the MNLA to capitalize on the current state of affairs, and could similarly create a security vacuum for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to exploit.
- The rationale for the coup is in direct contradiction to the CNRDR’s stated objective to defeat the Tuareg insurgency and restore constitutional order. Due to the CNRDR’s unconstitutional actions, several countries and international organizations have suspended assistance to the Malian government until civilian rule is restored. Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. State Department suspended non-humanitarian assistance to Mali pending a resolution of events on the ground. According to Section 7008 of the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, the U.S. government restricts security assistance to the “government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.” Under this determination, it appears that Mali is now subject to Section 7008, making it illegal for the U.S. government to continue the International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) that Mali received, as well as Mali’s participation in the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). Ironically, although the CNRDR claims to lack adequate arms and supplies to confront Tuareg rebels, they have disqualified Mali from receiving security assistance from the United States and other key partners – without which it may actually be more difficult to reverse the momentum of the MNLA. This is significant, because it means that Mali’s return to civilian rule may be prolonged, which prompts the question of how long the CNRDR will be able to stay in power before it must resort to the use of force in order to quell civilian discontent.
Will the death of deposed Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi leave cracks in the fragile foundation of the National Transition Council? CNA research analysts Patricio Asfura-Heim and Lesley Anne Warner discuss a Libya without a dictator and what it means for the future. Produced by Randy Garsee.