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The AU’s African initiative vs. Russian/Sudanese mediation in the CAR

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On 19 September 2018 the Peace and Security Council (PSC) is to discuss the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), where the African Union (AU) launched its African initiative in early 2017. This is supported by the CAR government. A parallel effort by Russia and Sudan, however, is creating confusion, and the roles of these various initiatives should be clarified.

The situation in the CAR remains extremely volatile in spite of numerous efforts by the international community to bring about lasting peace in the country.

The election of Faustin-Archange Touadera as president of the CAR in March 2016, following a transition period led by Catherine Samba-Panza (2014–2016), elicited new hope for a peaceful and prosperous CAR.

One of Touadera’s main challenges, along with repairing the shattered social fabric, is to deal swiftly with the recurring problem of armed groups.

In the face of continued violence after several collapsed peace deals initiated and/or supported by different actors, the AU officially endorsed the African initiative for peace in the CAR in January 2017.

The AU officially endorsed the African initiative for peace in the CAR in January 2017

The AU and its partners (the Economic Community of Central African States, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, Angola, the Republic of Congo, Gabon and Chad) adopted a new Roadmap for Peace and National Reconciliation in the CAR in July 2017, with the aim to promote dialogue towards securing the disarmament of armed groups and a return to peace.

However, since then the implementation of this roadmap has been confronted with the difficult reality on the ground in the CAR. In addition, there are parallel initiatives, with the latest being an initiative by Russia, a new player in the CAR, which hosted peace talks in Sudan last month. Russia signed a military cooperation agreement with the CAR earlier this year and Sudan and Russia have been strengthening their bilateral ties since the end of 2017.

Uncontrollable armed groups

Armed groups in the CAR have changed over the past 20 years, and their number has been increasing since the crisis that began in 2012.

From about half a dozen major armed factions in 2008, today there are officially 14 such groups in the country. The peace agreements signed between 2008 and 2017 are illustrative of this changing landscape in the CAR.

From about half a dozen major armed factions, today there are officially 14 such groups

This multiplicity of politico-military groups can be explained by the general chaos that followed the March 2013 coup d’état, and the emergence of opportunistic ‘entrepreneurs of violence’ who seek to fill the vacuum resulting from the absence of the state or governing authority outside the capital Bangui.

The ex-Seleka coalition disintegrated in August 2013 (and was not homogeneous to begin with) and the Anti-Balaka had been constituted in a disparate and decentralised way.

The disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme in the CAR faces the dilemma of dealing with the fragmentation and proliferation of armed groups and identifying their actual leaders.

The other main issue preventing disarmament is the disagreement between the government and armed groups regarding amnesty, with Touadera’s government strongly opposed to an ‘amnesty for all’.

A failure to bring offenders to justice in preceding crises has also contributed to the CAR’s instability.

The trouble with concurrent peace initiatives

The AU-led African initiative has been consulting various national and international stakeholders since November 2016. This approach aims to include all actors who can contribute to the return of peace to the CAR and to merge all other peace initiatives, whose duplication has all too often spoiled peace efforts.

Although the other initiatives, including that of the Community of Sant’Egidio, were successfully combined under its banner, Russia’s arrival on the CAR terrain has complicated matters.

Russia’s arrival on the CAR terrain has complicated matters

Because peace initiatives can include or exclude certain actors, they tend to legitimise initially marginal(ised) actors or exclude important ones. Even more problematically, concurrent peace initiatives offer these actors two arenas in which to air their grievances, to the detriment of making headway in a single process.

The Russia/Sudan parallel peace process presents such a challenge and is without doubt a thorn in the side of the AU-led initiative.

Russia’s involvement

Russia became officially involved in the CAR in December 2017, when it secured an exemption from the United Nations (UN) Security Council to re-arm the CAR’s newly trained security and defence forces. Touadera had sought Russia’s help during a trip to Sochi in October 2017, where he met Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov. In May 2018 Touadera met with President Vladimir Putin.

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Since December 2017 the Russians have become involved in a range of activities in the CAR. Officially they provide weapons and training to CAR security forces and have become part of Touadera’s close security apparatus.

They were also seen to take part in the peace process as early as April 2018, stepping in to negotiate with armed groups in the town of Kaga-Bandoro. A July 2018 midterm report by the UN Panel of Experts on the CAR notes that Touadera’s new national security advisor, a Russian national, is one of the individuals conducting peace negotiations with armed groups.

It appears that the CAR authorities knew about Russia and Sudan’s initiative in Khartoum

It thus appears that the CAR authorities knew about Russia and Sudan’s initiative in Khartoum, while also still supporting the AU’s process.

The AU invited 14 armed groups to the negotiating table in Bouar from 28 to 30 August. Yet during the same period Russia and Sudan summoned the top leaders of five of the 14  armed groups to Khartoum. The government’s overt support for the AU’s initiative and tacit agreement with Russia’s involvement thus raised concerns over the viability of concurrent peace processes.

The Bouar meeting produced a consolidated report of the armed groups’ demands, which the AU special representative in the CAR presented to the president on 31 August.

Interestingly, the ‘Entente de Khartoum’ resulting from the eponymous meeting contains similar demands from the leaders of the armed groups present in the Sudanese capital, namely the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, or FPRC (Noureddine Adam), the Anti-Balaka (Maxime Mokom), the Conseil National de Défense et Sécurité – the FPRC’s armed wing (Abdoulaye Issène), the Mouvement Patritotique pour la Centrafrique (Mahamat Al-Khatim) and the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (Ali Darras).

Following these meetings, it was unclear which of the two initiatives is the most viable, although the Khartoum conclave consisted of the most prominent armed groups’ leaders, who created a common platform, the Rassemblement Centrafricain (RCA). The RCA now appears to be yet another unified front against/in discussion with the government.

It would seem as though the Russian initiative has taken over from its African competitor

It would therefore seem as though the Russian initiative has taken over from its African competitor. On 6 September Valery Zakharov, the Russian advisor to Touadera, explained the merits of the Russian approach to some 20 CAR members of Parliament, signalling that the president approved of Russia’s initiative.

It should also be noted that the Entente de Khartoum makes reference to the African initiative and that the CAR government responded by ‘taking note’ of the Khartoum process while reaffirming its commitment to the African initiative.

At the very least, since the CAR authorities were well aware of the Russian initiative, this shambles does not bode well for the desired dialogue in the CAR. In addition, it calls into question the modus vivendi of the African initiative, which is to remain the sole initiative for national reconciliation and peace in the CAR in order to do away with the multitude of counterproductive peace initiatives.

For the peace process to advance, the CAR government will have to unequivocally clarify its position vis-à-vis its Russian partner’s initiative and the AU-led mediation. One will have to be subsumed under the other.

© September 2018 – Peace and Security Council Report

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