The European Union has recently been criticized for not doing enough to promote the cause of democracy in the Central African Republic (CAR). This country, which is located right in the very heart of Africa, has been drawing the attention of the international community because of an armed insurgency by rebel forces who attempted to use force to disrupt the presidential and parliamentary elections held on December 27, 2020.
The Central African Republic has been under fire from armed groups for two months, ever since the CPC (Coalition of the Patriots of the Central African Republic) launched numerous attacks on key cities including the capital, Bangui, aimed at aborting the elections.
According to Yao Agbetsi, an independent UN expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, the CPC routinely violate human rights and committing crimes against the civilian population of the Central African Republic as residents have subjected to extortion, robbery, rape, and abduction. CPC fighters also regularly press-gang children into their ranks and use them as human shields.
When the CPC announced their intentions on December 17, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra issued a call for aid to neighboring countries, and to international partners. Even though the government of the Central African Republic hoped for peaceful elections, the National Army was prepared to defend the security of the country.
Touadéra, who was first elected president in 2016, started to reform and reconstruct the army to strengthen the position of the democratically elected government and end the CAR’s perennial cycle of violence.
The CAR’s bilateral partnership in the security sector with the Russian Federation was one of the achievements of the Central African government, which helped to give a boost to the national defence forces (the FACA).
The comprehensive training of new recruits and military personnel, which was provided by Russian instructors known as the Officer’s Union for International Security, enabled the FACA to professionally respond to the attacks launched by the armed groups despite the fact that the national army of the CAR was under-equipped compared to the rebels.
The UN arms embargo, which was imposed on the country in 2013 to tackle the problem of illegal arms trafficking, is one of the most important issues in the current armed conflict in the republic. According to reports by various military experts, the arms embargo failed to deliver on its function as the main influx of illegal weapons enters the CAR from Angola, Chad, and Sudan through illegal supply routes, which allows the CPC fighters to supply themselves at will.
The UN Security Council had discussed the prospect of lifting the arms embargo several times, but the position of the CAR government, which advocates for a total lift, does not have the necessary support from their international counterparts, particularly from the European Union.
Another burning issue for Central Africans is the presence of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). The recent news of the possible increase in the MINUSCA numbers provoked wide discussion among the local population and security experts.
As Agbetsi reports: “UN personnel in the CAR (MINUSCA) showed their low efficiency in resolving the crisis in the country. More than 14,000 people of the MINUSCA contingent cost the international community about $1 billion a year and they do not contribute to the restoration of peace in the CAR”.
When the CPC started their insurrection, the allied forces of Russian instructors and Rwandan soldiers, together with the FACA, successfully repelled the CPC’s attempt to capture Bangui, the capital of the CAR, and launched a counter-attack. They retook town after town, thereby keeping open an important trade route from Bangui to Cameroon.
The question that arises from this development focuses on what the point is in having a huge and costly UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR when, in 2 months, the regular national army can accomplish goals that the MINUSCA was not able to accomplish in 7 years.
Agbetsi notes that the CAR’s allies, Russia and Rwanda, have provided effective military support in the fight against the rebels. It can be beneficial for the CAR to engage Russia more actively in solving its regional security problems.
The country desperately needs stability and security to protect its population from terrorism. At present, more than 2.8 million Central Africans—out of the country’s 4.9 million population—need humanitarian assistance. Recent election violence has forced more than 100,000 to flee their homes—half of which have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.