Posted by Nathalia Dukhan on Feb 13, 2017 | Enough Project
In its final report for 2016 released in December, the U.N. Security Council’s Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic (CAR) confirmed that the trafficking of arms and natural resources continues to be central in the perpetuation of violence in the country.
Recent fratricidal fighting between ex-Séléka armed factions has been motivated by a competition over the control of revenues sources, mainly diamonds and gold, and the control of strategic roads. Panel coordinator Ruben de Koning, indicated that “highly lucrative ventures enable FPRC to maintain confrontational posture vis-à-vis the government.” Despite repeated warnings that reveal the economic motives behind the violence, CAR’s government and the international community have not taken appropriate measures.
Trafficking of arms and natural resources by armed groups
Since August 2016, violence has grown more severe and widespread in CAR. The Panel observed that the renewed violence within ex-Séléka factions and between Anti-Balaka and ex-Séléka appeared to be localized and largely driven by internal power struggles and competition over control of territory.
State authorities have been continuously challenged by the various armed factions, particularly the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC), Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC), Rassemblement Patriotique pour le Renouveau de la Centrafrique (RPRC), Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC), and Retour, Réclamation et Rehabilitation (3R). These armed groups have set up a de facto authority and a parallel administration extorting the population, detaining people illegally, levying taxes, and imposing curfews and checkpoints. The UPC controls arms trafficking routes coming in to the country from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the FPRC controls routes coming in from Chad and Sudan. In CAR’s eastern region, the Lord’s Resistance Army has continued “the looting of gold, diamonds and money and the poaching of elephants for their ivory.”
In areas controlled by Anti-Balaka, particularly in the eastern part of the capital Bangui, militias have maintained illegal checkpoints in order to tax fishers and traditional boats transporting goods and passengers on the Oubangui River. The Panel noted that “such illegal taxation drives up the prices of goods and is associated with physical assaults on, and the torture and raping of, passengers.” In CAR’s west, “…[A]nti-[B]alaka members seek to extort money from (Muslim) returnees by imposing their services as security providers.”
Leaders of armed groups’ business deals
Former President Michel Djotodia’s business interests in Bangui: In its 2015 final report, the Panel cited the role of Mahamat Nour Binyamine, reportedly in charge of collecting rent for buildings and houses owned by former President Djotodia, who was president of FPRC until the recent ex-Séléka General Assembly in Bria. In July 2016, Binyamine reportedly brokered the sale of a plot of land in Bangui belonging to Djotodia to a private contractor. On August 29, the contractor wired a total of FCFA 25 million ($50,000) to Binyamine’s account. The Panel noted that “Djotodia’s assets in the United States have, however, been frozen since 13 May 2014, when he was sanctioned by the United States, and Binyamine, as an American resident, could be transacting or holding funds on behalf of Djotodia in the United States.”
Abdoulaye Hissene’s gold business: The Panel revealed that Abdoulaye Hissene, one of the key leaders of the FPRC and former collector of diamonds and gold, resumed his business activities when he was Minister Councilor on Youth and Sports under former President Catherine Samba Panza. In September 2014, Hissene reportedly concluded a sale and purchase agreement with an Indian investor for 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of gold for a total of $9.9 million. The Panel stated that it had no evidence that the gold was delivered but it highlighted that “Hissene had no mineral export license, either as a cooperative or a buying house, and did not declare taking out the sample for assaying.”
An Anti-Balaka leader’s artisanal mining license: Nice Demowance, who remains under the command of Maxim Mokom, a prominent Anti-Balaka leader, renewed his artisanal mining license. The Panel noted that Demowance is still in command in the Amada Gaza sub-prefecture “where combat between [A]nti-[B]alaka and armed Fulani continues, including over mine sites.”
Licit and illicit diamond trade
In September 2016, the Kimberley Process (KP) declared the sub-prefectures of Boda, Carnot, and Nola to be compliant zones. The KP considered there to be sufficient presence of state authority, free movement of people and goods, and no systematic presence of armed groups. Since the decision to partially lift the suspension of diamonds exports, three parcels have been exported, originating from mine sites within the sub-prefecture of Berberati, which was the first to be declared compliant in March 2016.
The illicit diamond trade, however, has continued to flourish. Cameroon continues to be the main diamond trading hub for trafficked diamonds from CAR’s western region. From areas controlled by armed groups in the east like Bria, hardly any stone officially reaches the export companies in Bangui. Yet, many dealers are registered here, selling some diamonds to each other to appear legitimate but taking or selling the larger share fraudulently abroad. The Panel recommends their licenses be withdrawn because this practice goes against the mining code.
In its 2016 mid-term report, the Panel revealed a financial deal between a company called FIT Protection (FIT-P) and the armed group MPC. FIT-P has allegedly been recruiting ex-Séléka security agents to protect investment and oil exploration undertaken by the Chinese company, PTIAL International Petroleum. De Koning has said that, “This company engaged FPRC leaders, who are still part of the rebellion, and diverted wages from guards hired from their ranks.” He further states that “while President Touadera has in the media questioned the security arrangement, the current defense minister is yet to revoke the company’s authorization to carry arms his predecessor issued in April last year.”
Economic predation is at the heart of the system of permanent instability in CAR. The free circulation of arms and ammunitions has allowed all sorts of trafficking and fueled tensions and competition between armed groups. Leaders of armed groups can also conduct business deals in total impunity. Recognizing economic predation as a key motive for the violence is crucial.
- Read the full U.N. Panel of Experts report.
- Click here to read Enough’s report, “The Bangui Carousel: How the recycling of political elites reinforces instability and violence in the Central African Republic.”