Stability is not a term one would use to describe the Central African Republic – particularly in light of the recent conflict which has engulfed the country. Last December, the Séléka rebel coalition challenged then-President François Bozizé’s grasp on power and eventually ousted him in March 2013. At first, the international response to the humanitarian and human rights crises that have ensued was muted. Eventually, over the summer, the African Union launched an International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), with an authorized force strength of 3,600, to help protect civilians and provide security throughout the country. MISCA, which may not be operational until 2014, replaced the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX) in August 2013, which had been in CAR since July 2008 with 400 soldiers. Former colonial power France, which abstained from preventing Bozizé’s collapse earlier this year, has 400 soldiers in the capital city of Bangui to protect their interests, and is in the process of deploying 1,000 more. Finally, the UN Security Council is also considering authorizing a peacekeeping mission for CAR, but it would not be able to deploy for at least two to three months – even with a speedy UNSC Resolution. Therefore, the French and AU forces would have to act as a stopgap measure until the UN would be able to put boots on the ground.
The question is, after this crisis has been unfolding for almost a year, why is an international response only coming together now?
- Perhaps the international community was inundated by the response to the crises in Mali. Note that France’s Opération Serval commenced in January, accelerating the deployment timelines for the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) from September to mid-January. The Séléka rebel coalition that eventually toppled Bozizé commenced their rebellion around mid-December 2012, agreed to a ceasefire in mid-January 2013, and entered Bangui to overthrow Bozizé for failing to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire at the end of March 2013. If you think about it, the time period between the initiation of the Séléka rebellion and the current rumblings of an international response has been more or less dominated by the French intervention in Mali, the AFISMA deployment, transition to the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and Mali’s presidential and legislative elections. And now that Mali is in a better pace than it was last year at this time, the international community now has the bandwidth to turn to the next pressing crisis on the continent – the Central African Republic.
- Perhaps the humanitarian toll has risen too high. Approximately one-tenth of the country’s population, or 460,000 people, have become internally displaced fleeing the communal violence between Christians and Muslims (15% of the population), and over 220,000 people have become refugees in neighboring countries. Recent Human Rights Watch reports have documented the destruction of over 1,000 homes between March and June 2013. (See satellite images of ‘what war crimes look like from space’).
- People are starting to say the “T-word.” As the Central African Republic continues to spiral into anarchy, there is speculation that terrorist groups, like Nigeria’s Boko Haram, could set up shop in the country. Although such reports are unconfirmed, the mere presence of an unstable territory may make it an attractive safe haven for terrorist or criminal actors with regional or even global agendas.
- People have started using the “G-word.” Whether genocide is – or is not – occurring in a given conflict, using the “G-word” is supposed to trigger an obligatory international response. My personal view is that the term genocide tends to be overused, and as a result, genocide has been conflated with “mass killing,” and more generally “human rights abuses” or “crimes against humanity,” thus distancing it from its true meaning. Therefore, whether or not genocide is actually occurring in the Central African Republic, any response would have to be measured against the international community’s failure to respond to allegations of genocide in places like Syria and Sudan’s Nuba Mountains.
In any event, the true reason for the recent focus on the conflict in the Central African Republic, albeit belated, may be a combination of two or more of the aforementioned factors. Now, as with regional and international attempts to respond to previous crises in Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we shall see if the international community can put its money and military might where its mouth is.
This is a month overdue, but in case you missed it, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Commander, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) General David Rodriguez held an online press conference on U.S. Foreign Policy and Security Cooperation in Sub-Saharan Africa. You can find a video with closed captioning on YouTube and remarks on the State Department’s website. U.S. Embassies in Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia held watch parties and sent in questions for Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and General Rodriguez to answer. I also tuned in and submitted a question on how the Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 23 on Security Sector Assistance, announced in April 2013, would affect security assistance in the AFRICOM Area of Responsibility (AoR). In my opinion, PPD-23 had gone under the radar for several months, and I was genuinely interested in how the policy directive may or may not be influencing the evolution of U.S. security assistance in Africa. Oddly enough, it was the only question from the chat room that wasn’t answered during the session.
Anyway, if you look at the wording of PPD-23, it seems rather straightforward and, to be quite honest, mundane. According to PPD-23, the principal goals of U.S. security sector assistance are to:
- Help partner nations build sustainable capacity to address common security challenges.
- Promote partner support for U.S. interests, through cooperation on national, regional, and global priorities.
- Promote universal values, such as good governance, transparent and accountable oversight of security forces, rule of law, transparency, accountability, delivery of fair and effective justice, and respect for human rights.
- Strengthen collective security and multinational defense arrangements and organizations.
The policy guidelines for Security Sector Assistance are to:
- Ensure consistency with broader national security goals.
- Foster United States Government policy coherence and interagency collaboration.
- Build sustainable capacity through comprehensive sector strategies.
- Be more selective and use resources for the greatest impact.
- Be responsive to urgent crises, emergent opportunities, and changes in partner security environments.
- Ensure that short-term interventions are consistent with long term goals.
- Inform policy with rigorous analysis, assessments, and evaluations.
- Analyze, plan, and act regionally.
- Coordinate with other donors.
But going back to my earlier comment about the PPD being mundane, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what the PPD says isn’t as significant as what the PPD represents – a high-level forcing mechanism to 1) improve the way in which U.S. government agencies provide foreign (security) assistance and 2) clarify and expand upon what the government understands to be “security sector assistance.”
For example, on the first point, interagency and international donor coordination have always been implied when it comes to security assistance. Yet, the fact that there’s a high-level policy directive spelling out why this is important and in what sectors coordination should take place serves to force (or more realistically, will) this cooperation to improve.
On the second point, PPD-23 emphasizes that building partner nation capacity in the public safety, security, and justice sectors remains an area of focus to the Administration. You can see previous references to building partner capacity in the 2010 National Security Strategy under “Invest in the Capacity of Strong and Capable Partners.” However, note the expanded reference to the sectors the U.S. seeks to develop according to PPD-23: ” Security sector actors include state security and law enforcement providers, governmental security and justice management and oversight bodies, civil society, institutions responsible for border management, customs and civil emergencies, and non-state justice and security providers.” I have always believed that the 2010 NSS expands the concept of “security” when compared with previous National Security Strategies. Now, when compared with the 2010 NSS, it appears that PPD-23 has expanded the concept of Security Sector Assistance.
In any event, I look forward to seeing what any of this means for U.S. security assistance in Africa – if anything at all.
This weekend, I attended the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) 6th Annual Leadership Awards and had a blast meeting fellow DAWNers and supporters of DAWN. DAWN’s mission is to develop and support the next generation of African diaspora women leaders focused on African affairs by promoting the role of the diaspora in Africa’s development, diversifying the African affairs workforce, and advancing women’s leadership in the workplace. At the reception, DAWN handed out three awards:
- 2013 Mentor of the Year: Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art;
- 2013 Honoree of the Year: Ms. Mimi Alemayehou, Executive Vice-President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC); and
- 2013 DAWNer of the Year: Ms. Nina Oduro, founder and editor of AfricanDevJobs
The reception provided some very interesting food for thought, as I became involved in a sidebar on how the United States underutilizes its African-born, U.S.-educated population – many of whom maintain familial and commercial links with the continent – in its efforts to engage politically and economically on the continent. But I’ve digressed and shall leave it to a diaspora expert to expand upon how the U.S. could better leverage this talent pool.
The next day, DAWN held a conference whose theme was “Looking Ahead: Investing in Diaspora Leadership Today.” DAWN’s Founder and Executive Director Semhar Araia reminded participants that the African Union has recognized the African Diaspora as the “Sixth Region” of Africa. (The other five regions being North, South, East, West, and Central Africa). With this recognition comes the acceptance that the diaspora is more than remittances; it can also wield political and professional capital.
So in sum: I had a fantastic DAWN Weekend and really enjoyed meeting the truly talented women that contribute to this organization. As a relatively new DAWNer, I look forward to being a part of DAWN and DAWNers’ contributions to the field of African Affairs. (DAWN is a global organization and it’s continuing to grow, so if you’re not already a member, join today!)