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Storm Warning: The Disappearing State of the Central African Republic
by Rene Wadlow
2013-10-21 10:05:02
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On 10 October 2013, the United Nations Security Council in a resolution issued a “storm warning” calling for help to the Central African Republic and its UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA).

The skies have been so often cloudy over the Central African Republic since its independence in 1961 that the new dark clouds are hardly noticed.  However, there are currently danger signs, and storm warnings concerning the disappearance of all State structures may be more effective than post-conflict peacebuilding measures.  The issue which merits attention is if UN, African Union, and probably French civil servants can substitute for a national civil service which has melted away. However, a new multinational administration cannot be a permanent substitute for a national administration.  The challenge is “State-building” which was not done during the colonial period by France.

The area covered by the current State had no pre-colonial common history, but was incorporated into French Equatorial Africa when it could have been as easily part of the Belgium Congo or added to Uganda as part of British East Africa.

Oubangui-Chari as it was then known was the poor cousin of French Equatorial Africa (AEF) whose administrative center was Brazzaville, Congo, with Gabon as the natural resource base.  The Cameroon, although legally a League of Nations Mandate, was basically part of AEF. Oubangui-Chari was used as an “exile post” for African civil servants considered “trouble makers”. Leon Mba, first President of Gabon and prior a member of a French Communist Party cell, after being found guilty in an unclear criminal trial was sent as a civil servant to Oubangui-Chari.  French colonial administrators also considered Oubangui-Chari as a posting in exile, a place to get away from as soon as possible.  Schools were few, and secondary school students were sent away to Brazzaville.

There was only one political figure of standing who emerged from Oubangui-Chari, Barthelemy Boganda (1910-1959). He was the first Roman Catholic priest ordained in 1938. After the Second World War, he was elected to serve in the French Parliament as a member of the Catholic-influenced MRP Party, although he was stripped of his priesthood for going into politics and also for marrying his legislative assistant.

Boganda advocated keeping the AEF together as a federation of independent States knowing that Oubangui-Chari was the poorest of the AEF States and most in need of help from its neighbours. Unfortunately, he was killed in a plane crash on the eve of independence, and with him disappeared all enlightened leadership.

However, his stature in the political life of Oubangui-Chari was such that political power passed on to two cousins, David Dacko, first President of the independent Central African Republic and then Jean-Bedel Bokasa in 1965 who changed the name of the country to Central African Empire and ruled (or misruled) as Bokasa 1er.  His dreams of being a new Napoleon was ended in 1979 by a French military intervention after Bokasa had too visibly killed young school children who were protesting.

Since Bokasa, all pretext of a unified administration has disappeared.  General Kolingba, Ange-Felix Patassé, followed by Francois Bozizé were considered “Head of State”, but the State had no visible administration.  Bozizé was overthrown in March 2013 by Michel Djotodia and his Seleka (alliance in the Sango language) militia. The Alliance has now been dissolved by Djotodia but replaced by nothing. A fact-finding mission sent by the UN Human Rights Council concluded that “both the forces of the former government of President Bozizé and the non-State armed group Seleke committed serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the conflict”.

If there were not enough problems with tensions and violence among Central African Republic groups, the Lord’s Resistance Army, largely made from Acholis of northern Uganda uses part of the country as a “safe area” looting as it moves about.  Some areas are also used by armed factions from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Creating order from disorder is a difficult task, especially as the pre-colonial tribal structures no longer function.  There were very few inter-tribal mechanisms to settle disputes in any case.  The State-building process merits close attention.  Somalia remains a good example of the difficulties.  The UN “storm warning” may attract the attention and aid needed for the Central African Republic.


Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens

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