John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Djotodia Goes But Chaos in the Central African Republic Remains

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
January 16, 2014

Anti-balaka militiamen pose for a photograph on the outskirts of the capital of the Central African Republic Bangui, January 15, 2014. (Siegfried Modola/Courtesy Reuters) Anti-balaka militiamen pose for a photograph on the outskirts of the capital of the Central African Republic Bangui, January 15, 2014. (Siegfried Modola/Courtesy Reuters)

This is a guest post by Emily Mellgard, research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program.

Michel Djotodia’s long held political aspirations came to an ignominious end last week when he resigned as the Central African Republic’s (CAR) chief of state and went into exile in Benin. Prime Minister Nicolas Tiengaye also stepped down.

The 135 members of the Transitional National Council (TNC), many of whom were appointed by Djotodia, were flown to the Chadian capital N’Djamena to attend a summit of the leaders of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). The Central African Constitutional Court and ECCAS have charged the TNC with selecting the new leadership of the CAR. They have fifteen days. Whoever is selected as interim president will be ineligible to run in the next elections. Alexandre Ferdinand Nguendet, the head of the TNC, is expected to be among those who put their names forward. Full elections are to be held by February 2015.

There were celebrations in the capital Bangui on the announcement of Djotodia’s resignation. Their rapid degeneration into violence and score settling, however, highlights that little has changed.

While the TNC deliberates, the majority of Central Africans continue to struggle with the consequences of government failure. Violence, chaos, poverty, and disease are rife. Nearly one million people have been displaced by the current round of fighting, over two million (half the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance, and over one thousand have been killed. Ex-Seleka (“Alliance”) and rival anti-balaka (“anti-machete”) militias, as well as local vigilantes scour the country. A tent city has sprung up in the shadow of the camp for the France’s 1,600 peacekeeping troops outside Bangui as residents flee continued violence. The camp grew more than five-fold from mid-December and currently shelters over 100,000 people. Others are disbursed throughout the country, fearful of returning home. Doctors Without Borders says hygiene is a “disaster” and “epidemics of all sorts” are highly likely.

Nguendet’s recent statement that “the anarchy [is] over” is false. Whatever the culmination of the current discussions within the TNC, any successor government will be hard pressed to reverse the state failure. While politicians, and even some militia leaders, appear to be fully engaged in wrangling for their own power, the CAR continues to implode.

David Smith, a regional expert, suggested in South Africa’s Daily Maverick that a UN transitional administration, such as was set up in Kosovo, might be the best option to ensure long term national stability and reconciliation in contrast to another short term political stop-gap. With the growing concern of a potential repeat of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the international community and the African Union should give serious consideration to Smith’s suggestion. In addition to Kosovo, Namibia is a successful African precedent for a UN transitional administration during its transition from South African rule to full independence in 1990.

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  • Posted by Jim Sanders

    Central African Republic’s new interim leader Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet recently stated, in the wake of Michel Djotodia’s stepping down, that “The chaos is over, the pillaging is over, the revenge attacks are over.” As this piece suggests, it isn’t really.

    In his November 2003 New Yorker piece, “Gangsta War,” George Packer stated about Ivory Coast’s war that it had “degenerated into looting and massacres by bands of loosely controlled, generally underage fighters,” and to the young and poor in much of Africa, such wars are part of “what it means to be a young African living in the modern world.”

    Ten years later, to the month, Borzou Daragahi, writing in the Financial Times about Libya, observed that while it was expected that Libya’s militia members would join the new army and police, this didn’t happen. “The young men liked their guns, which became wedded to their identities—they were the source of respect denied them under the regime.”

    While Africa’s progress toward democracy and market economies is fashionably trumpeted, especially perhaps in the financial press, where “booming” middle classes are seen as an inducement to western investment, many ordinary Africans have been left behind—left to lives of privation and little hope.

    Youth figure prominently in this group. A whopping 60% of African youth are unemployed, according Amini Kajunju of The Africa-America Institute. Until that figure declines, it is premature to assert that ‘the chaos is over’.

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