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Time running out to save heart of Africa

The self-proclaimed president, Seleka leader Michel Djotodia, is either unwilling or unable to control his men.

The self-proclaimed president, Seleka leader Michel Djotodia, is either unwilling or unable to control his men.

Published Aug 19, 2013

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The International Crisis Group warns that widening instability is turning CAR into an ungoverned space, says Peter Fabricius.

Johannesburg - The UN’s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, warned the UN Security Council last week that the Central African Republic (CAR) was in danger of becoming a failed state if swift action was not taken soon to restore security.

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That must have been a case of typical British understatement. No doubt “failed state” is a relative term. But the CAR was by any reasonable measure already a failure before Seleka rebels overran the country in March this year, ousting President Francois Bozize – killing 13 South African soldiers in the process.

Since then, as the Security Council put it, there has been a complete breakdown of law and order and widespread human rights violations, mostly by Seleka rebels.

They are raping, plundering and murdering civilians with impunity. The violence has become even uglier as the largely Muslim Seleka from the north-east of the country also burn churches in the mostly Christian south-west.

The self-proclaimed president, Seleka leader Michel Djotodia, is either unwilling or unable to control his men and is at odds with Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, who is supposed to be guiding the country through a transition back to democracy and order.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) recently warned that the widening instability was turning the country into an ungoverned space at the heart of the continent. That security vacuum was providing an ever-safer haven for political or just criminal groups from the entire region. It said the nasty Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony, which has operated in the CAR for a year, was now expanding its operations.

The ICG warned that because of Seleka’s Muslim character, the CAR could become a convenient rear base for regional Muslim extremists.

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No one is doing anything effective to restore order. After the Seleka takeover, the Economic Community of Central African States (Eccas) held several emergency summits and decided a larger regional force was needed to restore order to allow the transitional process, which began before Bozize’s ouster, to go ahead.

And so the AU’s Peace and Security Council recently authorised a larger force, the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (AFISM-CAR), to replace Eccas’s Micopax peacekeeping force, which had failed to stop Seleka seizing the country.

But central African experts believe AFISM-CAR is “a typical AU fiction” and is likely to remain so for a long time. They say only Burundi, which is always trying to export its soldiers to keep them out of mischief at home, has volunteered troops and there is little appetite in the international community to provide the necessary funding, not least because of its preoccupation with Mali.

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The South African government was raring to return to the CAR after its humiliating retreat in March.

President Jacob Zuma’s office said at the time that the government would consider a formal request favourably to join the peacekeeping force Eccas was contemplating if it came.

But it is not so clear that South Africa will want to participate now as it has deployed more than 1 000 troops in the potentially hazardous Intervention Brigade sent to pacify the armed rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

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The ICG is concerned that now that the drama of the March coup has past, the world is once again forgetting CAR.

In a recent article, ICG researchers Thibaud Lesueur and Thierry Vircoulon called on the CAR’s squabbling leaders, the region, the AU and the international community to refocus attention and efforts on the CAR before this vortex at the heart of the continent spiralled out of control completely.

* Peter Fabricius is editor of Independent Newspaper’s Foreign Service.

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