François Bozizé. Picture: REUTERS
François Bozizé. Picture: REUTERS

It is with fear and loathing that many Africans greeted developments in the Central African Republic (CAR) this week. In scenes that hark back to SA’s own diabolical misadventure in the country eight years ago, rebels marched on the capital Bangui intent on overthrowing the recently re-elected government of President Faustin Archange Touadera.

This time though, it was not elite SA troops holding the line, rather a combination of Faca (the Central African Army), the Rwandan-backed UN Peacekeeping force and Russian mercenaries.

By Wednesday afternoon the fighting had escalated to the south-western and northern stretches of Bangui, and the bloodletting had begun.

Despite substantial progress in the silencing of the guns, as was so beautifully articulated in the Lomé declaration, the CAR has remained a basket case generally, but also with respect to the transfer of power in the impoverished nation of 4-million people.

Since independence in 1960, the predominant method of transfer of power has been via rebellion and coups. The most legitimate elections were arguably the 1993 election of Ange-Felix Patasse. He would be deposed by his own general 10 years later, François Bozizé, whose own hold on power was enabled with the help of SA’s military.

In a controversial deployment, then-president Jacob Zuma sent 200 soldiers to the CAR in January 2013 as a rebel coalition, known as Seleka, marched on Bangui. The deployment and subsequent unsuccessful defence of the capital cost the lives of 15 South Africans and hundreds of rebels.

After the Seleka seized power, the country backslid into one of its most atrocious periods, prompting first French military intervention and, later, a larger and more permanent UN peacekeeping operation.  

December’s voting was marred by violence and irregularities that have called into question the legitimacy of the elections. Touadera’s hold on power, like almost all of his predecessors, is tenuous. Government forces have rarely controlled more than a third of the country in the last 20 years, and remain under-resourced and poorly trained.

This has meant that the country’s presidents must always rely on foreign assistance to thwart violent overthrow — relying on France, Chad, SA, China and Libya in the past and, more recently, Russia and Rwanda.

Bozizé — a cruel and despicable ruler — would live in exile before returning to Bangui in December 2019 to organise his campaign. Mere weeks before last month’s election the country’s constitutional court ruled that he was ineligible to run given that he had a litany of charges against him, including allegations of torture and assassination that prevented him from meeting the “good morality” requirement.

But what else was to be expected from the man who had come to power through and been deposed by violence, other than to resort to his old playbook? He has since been accused by the UN of lending the various rebel groups his “political support”, which coincided with attacks intent on disrupting and undermining the elections. This has since escalated into a full-frontal lunge for power.

The AU and UN in the past demonstrated a willingness to adapt, as seen with the adoption of a proactive offensive doctrine employed by the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) that was deployed in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The doctrine shifts the impetus from passive peacekeeping to more pre-emptive military operations. Much of the success seen in containing the myriad rebel groups active in the region has been underpinned by SA military power acting under the authority of the UN.

The AU and UN should consider employing the FIB in the CAR. It should also consider a more forceful doctrine for the arrest and capture of leaders accused of serious crimes like Bozizé, whose only response to due process has been to incite violence and bloodshed.

Perpetually traumatised civilian populations living in countries such as the CAR are the products of destabilising influences like Bozizé and his ilk that make a mockery of the Lomé declaration and the silencing of the guns. He, and others like him, must be brought to book.

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