After almost eight years of conflict, the battered Central African Republic (CAR) held elections last December in the hope that they would open the door to peace and stability. However, it has been the opposite: the elections have generated new violence.
Since the beginning of January, a coalition of rebel forces surrounds and tries to suffocate Bangui, the capital of the country, and faces a depleted Army that has managed to resist thanks to the presence of United Nations forces and the support of Russian mercenaries and the military.
Rwandans. Some 200,000 people have fled their homes in two months, bringing the number of displaced persons and refugees from one of the worst and most neglected humanitarian crises on the continent to one million.
The trigger for this new outbreak of violence stems from the decision of the Constitutional Court, adopted at the beginning of December, to exclude former President François Bozizé, who ruled the country between 2003 and 2013, from said elections.
Thereafter, he reached an agreement with members of Seleka, the rebel group that ousted him from power after an armed rebellion, to create the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) and declare war on the Government, blowing up the 2019 peace accords.
“This shows that the Alliances in RCA are driven by power and personal interest and not by ideologies, ”says Paul-Simon Handy, an expert at the International Crisis Group (ICG). Since 2013, the main armed groups in conflict have been the Muslims of Seleka and the Anti-Balaka, with a Christian majority.
The elections, which were held in a climate of intimidation and violence, gave the victory to the current president Faustin Archange-Touadéra with 54% of the votes but with a low turnout due to the enormous problems of voting in large areas of the country.
After the announcement of their victory in early January, the rebels launched an offensive on Bangui that failed thanks to the defense of the city from the soldiers of the United Nations Mission for Central Africa (Minusca) and, above all, Russian mercenaries who For years they have supported the Government and Rwandan troops displaced to guarantee the security of the elections.
And it is that this country has become one more piece of the game board of a Russia that tries to gain weight in Africa and access its resources , which in the case of the Central African Republic are above all gold and diamonds.
“After his victory in 2016, Touadéra needed military support and weapons for his Army and for his own security. France tried, but Russia blocked this possibility in the Security Council, so the Central African president went to Moscow, which responded to this demand by allowing him to position himself in this country and, incidentally, gain ground in what Paris considers its backyard ” Handy says.
According to this expert, the Russian presence was carried out through military advice and mercenaries from the opaque private company Wagner, owned by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close friend of Vladimir Putin, who has also intervened in Syria, Libya and Ukraine.
In 2018 three Russian journalists who were investigating the presence of this security company in the Central African Republic were killed in an ambush without the investigation leading to anything . Two companies also linked to Wagner and Prigozhin have obtained concessions in the extraction of gold and diamonds.
In the rebel ranks, the presence of fighters from neighboring countries, especially Chadians, has been detected, but this does not necessarily imply that N’Djamena, an ally of France in the region, supports them. “There is a lot of speculation about it but no proof. It is clear that they have allies, but no one can be sure who for sure ”, says the ICG expert.
In addition to the 12,800 personnel of the Minusca, one of the most robust missions of the United Nations in the world, the RCA Army has benefited in the last six years from a European Union training mission in which they participate, in the currently, eight Spanish soldiers, according to the Ministry of Defense.
Faced with the impossibility of taking Bangui, the conflict has entered an impasse . The rebels try to suffocate the capital by cutting off all its accesses, especially the road that connects it with Cameroon and the port of Douala, from where most of the supplies come.
The Armed Forces with Russian and Rwandan support have launched a counteroffensive to break the siege, but the CPC is well established. “The prices of basic products have skyrocketed”, warns Fernando Galván, general coordinator of Doctors without Borders (MSF) in RCA, “we have pre-existing poverty, the armed conflict and the lack of access to basic services by the population.
It’s awful. In addition to violence, many people are dying from preventable causes such as malnutrition, diarrhea, tuberculosis, HIV or in childbirth. For example, all vaccination campaigns are affected ”.
Politically, the Constitutional Court has just annulled the result of the legislative elections in 13 of the 140 districts of the country while uncertainty remains about what to do with another 58, where the vote could not be held due to violence. Although the elections are seriously questioned, it seems difficult for them to be repeated as a whole.
“This is not realistic, the solution is through a national dialogue between the power and the opposition. In spite of everything, the Government has been legitimized by the ballot box ”, adds Paul-Simon Handy.