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This is a guest post by Kyle Benjamin Schneps, a dual master’s degree candidate at Columbia University specializing in international security policy and global health initiatives. He is currently completing a graduate internship with the Africa Studies program at Council on Foreign Relations.
The beginning of 2013 saw the failure of a tenuous peace agreement and a renewed surge of violence in the Central African Republic (CAR). The conflict is between President Bozize’s government, based in the capital Bangui in the south, and a newly organized coalition of rebel forces, called Seleka, from the north (Seleka means “Alliance”). President Bozize came to power in 2003 after leading a military coup, and has since won elections thought to be far from free and fair. Fighting has become so pronounced that the U.S. State Department issued an official statement calling for all parties to respect the peace agreement signed in Libreville in early January 2013.
The problem with the Libreville peace talks, however, is that there was very little time or attention devoted to the intricacies of the conflict. The negotiations were mediated by members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), who conducted the peace talks with great reluctance, self-interest, and haste (the entirety of the negotiation and drafting took less than three days). Since its signing on January 11, 2013, the tenets of the agreement have either not been implemented or simply deteriorated amid renewed violence. Seleka claims it is fighting for the formation of a unity government, the release of political prisoners, and the expulsion of foreign troops that have been used to bolster the weak government army.
Furthermore, the Libreville peace negotiations—only attended by CAR officials as Seleka came within range of capturing Bangui—was just another last ditch effort by President Bozize to retain control of a country whose administration has long been propped up by international and regional peace initiatives that fail to understand how the country functions in reality. In fact, the 2013 peace initiative is merely a continuation of earlier mediation agreements in 2007 and 2008, the conditions of which similarly failed to be honored by Bozize and have become further sources of discontent among northern factions.
The United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) is “increasingly worried by the situation” as well. UNHCR says that both Seleka and the CAR army have seriously restricted humanitarian access to the 5,300 refugees and 175,000 internally displaced persons currently in the country. Additionally, over 30,000 civilians fled CAR for neighboring countries due to the conflict. Just as troubling is that, of the 168,000 children in conflict-affected areas who went to school before the conflict, 99 percent no longer attend. Furthermore, one in five of those children are being forcibly recruited into armed groups.
Conciliation Resources, a peacebuilding organization, has called on international actors to designate a clear plan for peace that includes (1) fair representation, (2) commitment to long term solutions, and (3) an independent monitoring mechanism. It will be interesting to see if international actors are willing to devote the time and resources necessary to mediating peace in a country that seems to be following in the footsteps of Mali, where civil conflict has drawn much attention and French intervention. It is possible that donor fatigue will be a factor as the international community’s patience wanes in the face of an increasing amount of such conflicts in western and central Africa.