From Amadou Sy, No Red Lines in Central African Republic: It’s Time to Act
On March 24, 2013, a rebel movement called the Séléka (which means “coalition” in the local Sango language) toppled the presidency of François Bozize. The Séléka leader and former civil servant Michel Djotodia proclaimed himself president while retaining the prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye.
Thanks in part to the subregional Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), a roadmap for an 18-month peaceful transition to presidential and legislative elections was established. A new Government of National Unity was nominated and a National Transitional Council has since served as the legislative branch. Implementation of the roadmap is being supervised by the International Contact Group for the CAR, which includes the ECCAS, France, South Africa, the United States, the African Union, the United Nations and the European Union.
The situation became quickly uncontrollable, however, with intra-Séléka fighting, violent actions by unidentified armed groups and rising tensions between the country’s Muslims and Christians.
Sadly, the ghosts of the country’s past appear to be returning. From its independence in 1960 to now, the CAR has only experienced 10 years of civilian rule, from 1993 to 2003. Excluding the current regime, 4 of the country’s 5 presidents since independence have been removed from power through unconstitutional means.
The consequences of the tragedy in the CAR are being felt in the region as 60,000 of its citizens have already fled to neighboring countries. The U.N. reports that some elements of the national armed forces, the Central African Armed Forces sought refuge in neighboring countries with their weapons, including Cameroon (where former president Bozize sought refuge), the Congo and the DRC. A new armed group in the CAR allegedly includes elements from South Sudan, an accusation denied by the Juba authorities.
As developments in Syria show, “red lines” are hard to define and even when they are crossed, it is difficult for the international community to agree on its response. But in the case of the CAR, it is clear that the number one issue today is the protection of the population. This was stressed recently by John Ging, director of operations for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, and by Adama Dieng, U.N. special adviser to the secretary-general on the prevention of genocide. The latter echoed the arguments behind the Responsibility to Protect when mentioned last Sunday at a conference I attended in Rabat, stating, “If as a state you fail to protect your own population, you lose your legitimacy. If as a state you fail to protect your population, it is the duty of other states to come and rescue them. The international community has to stand up and protect the population in the CAR.”