The scramble for the Central African Republic Posted by 5 Pillarz

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Shafiul Huq of Revolution Observer describes how western powers like France and the US are meddling in the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic.

The Cen­tral African Repub­lic has recently caught the atten­tion of the world media. Yet, the cri­sis there is not a new one and the coun­try has been beset by coups and rebel­lions since its inde­pen­dence from France in 1960.

Although the recent unrest is often por­trayed as a local con­flict between Chris­tians and Muslims, it has deeper under­ly­ing causes and is play­ing out within a wider context of exter­nal pow­ers vying for influ­ence in Africa.

Francois Bozize and Michel Djotodia

The cur­rent cri­sis has its roots in years of rebel­lion against the for­mer pres­i­dent Fran­cois Boz­izé who was ousted in a coup last year. Boz­izé him­self came to power via a coup in 2003 with the help of Chad. He faced rebel­lions against his rule right from the very begin­ning of his term in office. He was infa­mous for being cor­rupt, not secur­ing the basic needs of peo­ple and for the abuses committed by his troops in quelling rebel­lions.

He signed peace agree­ments with the rebels a num­ber of times but they never resulted in last­ing peace. It was within two months of the last agree­ment signed in Libre­ville in Jan­u­ary 2013 that he was ousted in a coup after rul­ing for a decade.

Michel Djo­to­dia

Michel Djo­to­dia

Upon oust­ing Boz­izé from office in March last year, Michel Djo­to­dia, the Mus­lim leader of the rebel coali­tion group, Seleka, became the pres­i­dent. Atroc­i­ties commit­ted by Seleka fight­ers and the emer­gence of the Chris­t­ian anti-balaka militias mas­sacring Mus­lims brought Djo­to­dia under increas­ing pres­sure from the Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of Cen­tral African States (CEEAS), and par­tic­u­larly Chad, to resign, which he did in Jan­u­ary 2014.

France

Under the pre­text of try­ing to curb the vio­lence, France and the African Union deployed troops in Cen­tral African Repub­lic, but atroc­i­ties against Mus­lims contin­ued unabated despite the pres­ence of for­eign troops that were pur­port­edly there to pro­tect the people.

France’s mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in the CAR is noth­ing new. The CAR is of great inter­est to France due to its strate­gic loca­tion and vast min­eral resources, especially ura­nium which is a major resource for nuclear energy in France. In order to main­tain con­trol over this vitally impor­tant African state, France has con­tin­u­ally med­dled in the country’s pol­i­tics. For exam­ple, French para­troop­ers overthrew Bokassa and restored Dacko in power in 1979.

Also, France launched airstrikes on rebel held areas in sup­port of Boz­izé dur­ing the Bush War. Many peo­ple were killed and hun­dreds of thou­sands, mostly Muslims, were displaced.

The US

France also uses other states and regional bod­ies in Africa to manip­u­late events in its favour. For exam­ple, we saw how the Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of West African States (ECOWAS) inter­vened in Mali once the French-backed for­mer pres­i­dent Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted in a coup led by the US-trained Cap­tain Sanogo. ECOWAS pres­sured Sanogo to hand over power to an interim government while France rushed to inter­vene mil­i­tar­ily to bring things under its con­trol again before new elec­tions took place.

Events in the CAR seem to be tak­ing a sim­i­lar course. France has used the influence of its ally and regional heavyweight, Chad, to lead the CEEAS to pressure pres­i­dent Djo­to­dia and Prime Min­is­ter Tian­gaye to resign. Chad was also a key player in bro­ker­ing the Libre­ville agree­ment between Boz­izé and the rebel groups. Also, as was men­tioned ear­lier, it was with Chad’s help that Boz­izé car­ried out the coup in 2003.

While France tries to main­tain its influ­ence in its for­mer colonies, the US stance over African issues has often been con­tra­dic­tory to France’s. For exam­ple, the US has actively tried to stop or at least delay French inter­ven­tion in Mali so that elections could be held under the coup-leader Sanogo. Then US ambas­sador to the UN, Susan Rice, even dis­missed French plans for Mali as “crap”! But France pushed through a res­o­lu­tion in the UN to allow it to inter­vene in Mali prior to elec­tions.

CAR borders Chad and Mali.

CAR borders Chad and Mali.

Sim­i­larly, we are see­ing the US at odds with France over the CAR, albeit a bit more sub­tly this time. In a press state­ment, Vic­to­ria Nuland, the State Depart­ment spokesper­son, con­demned the “ille­git­i­mate seizure or power” by Seleka rebels and Djotodia’s “self-appointment as president”. Yet she stopped short of call­ing the oust­ing of Boz­izé a coup and, con­tra­dict­ing her­self in the same press statement, she hoped for elec­tions to be held under the interim gov­ern­ment that was iron­i­cally headed by Djo­to­dia, the same per­son she had just criticised.

When Djo­to­dia and Tian­gaye were forced to resign due to pres­sure from Chad and CEEAS, the US threat­ened to impose tar­geted sanc­tions on “those who further desta­bi­lise the sit­u­a­tion, or pur­sue their own self­ish ends by abet­ting or encour­ag­ing the vio­lence”. It also called on the CAR neigh­bours to stop efforts to esca­late ten­sions from within their territory.

France, on the other hand, has called for a quick replace­ment of the resigned leaders, Djo­to­dia and Tian­gaye. The French Defence Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “The national tran­si­tion coun­cil… must imple­ment a pro­vi­sional alter­na­tive because the aim is to hold elec­tions before the end of the year.”

Though France has said that its mil­i­tary involve­ment in the CAR will be a short one, it will most likely stay as long as it needs to ensure a gov­ern­ment of its choos­ing is installed. This will prob­a­bly be some­thing sim­i­lar to Mali where the French were pro­claim­ing to the world that it was going to be a short mis­sion, yet French mil­i­tary pres­ence still con­tin­ues in Mali more than one year since the intervention.

Sources

Revolution Observer

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