On December 27, 2020, the Central African Republic will hold regular elections for president and deputies to the National Assembly.
Among the many candidates for the presidency is the current president of the CAR, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who, according to preliminary estimates, has the greatest chance of victory and the mass support of the country’s population.
Unlike nine predecessors who came to power in the CAR in a wave of political crises and coups, in 2016 the former rector of the capital university and former prime minister of the CAR, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, won the second round of public presidential elections in the country with 62.71% of the vote. Thus, he actually became the first head of state in 20 years to be elected by direct popular vote in compliance with all required procedures.
Since the beginning of his presidency, the Central African Republic has significantly strengthened its position on the international stage, development of infrastructure in the country, and the appointment of women to managerial positions. Since 2018, the country has been rehabilitating the hydroelectric plant in Boali, and President Touadéra initiated the construction of five university campuses, making higher education more accessible to all CAR citizens, regardless of their region of residence. The most ambitious was the intensive construction of the road network inside the country, as well as the highway that will connect Chad, the CAR and Congo, which will not only ensure an effective cultural and commercial turnover between the three countries, but also guarantee direct access of the CAR to seaports. In addition, several airports were rebuilt and built in record time, some of which can serve not only domestic but also international flights.
The balanced course on multi-vector foreign policy taken by the current President Faustin-Archange Touadéra allowed not only to maintain the past close ties with the French metropolis, but also to attract investment and foreign specialists, primarily from Russia and China, to the country.
Refusing, unlike his predecessors, to create another military dictatorship, the current president of Touadéra sees the armed forces not as an instrument of strengthening the personal power of the president, but as a democratic body to protect the freedom, independence and territorial integrity of the state and to deter enemies in an escalating civil war. The Central African Armed Forces (FACA – Forces armées centrafricaines) were formed after the independence of the country in 1960, but today, according to various experts, they show a grave weakness in the face of threats to the country due to their heavy dependence on international support in terms of equipment and logistics.
Touadéra made significant efforts to strengthen the national armed forces and use them to bring peace to the Republic. In recent years, Russia has become the central partner of the CAR in the military sphere. With special UN permission to supply arms to the army of the Republic, Russian instructors also provide training for the armed forces of the country, which has largely allowed the president of the CAR to establish a peaceful settlement process in the country in a fairly short period of time. On October 6, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra visited for the first time the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, where officers and generals from 35 friendly states of Russia are trained. The President of the Central African Republic got acquainted with the training facilities of the academy, as well as with the process of training of foreign soldiers at the special faculty and expressed interest in training senior officers of the CAR defense ministry at the academy. Specific issues of increasing bilateral cooperation, in particular, military education and participation of representatives of the Central African Republic in international events held under the aegis of the Russian Defense Ministry were discussed in Moscow on December 4 by the Russian military authorities with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Central African Republic in the Russian Federation Leon Dodonu-Punagaz.
The signing, with the active participation of President Touadéra on February 6, 2019, of the Khartoum Peace and Reconciliation Agreements in the CAR sealed agreements between the government and the warring paramilitary groups Seleka and Anti-Balaka, marking the first significant and unprecedented step in the state’s history to restore order and security in the country and reintegrate ex-combatants into civil society. At that time, the parties agreed to work together to rebuild the country and overcome the crisis, and an inclusive CAR government was formed on the basis of the Khartoum Agreement. The executive body consisted of representatives of the signatory armed factions.
The United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINURCA), established in 1998 through UNSCR 1159, has also been used to maintain peace in the country. MINURCA is one of the largest UN missions, employing 11,650 peacekeepers. In mid-July, the UN mission in the CAR was attacked by fighters from the Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) group, resulting in the death of a Rwandan peacekeeper.
A joint delegation of UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Missions Jean-Pierre Lacroix, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Cherguy and head of the Central African Economic Commission Gilberto Da Piedade Veríssimo completed an official visit to the Central African Republic on November 2. The delegation held talks with the president of the CAR, religious leaders, representatives of civil organizations and armed groups. The main agenda of the talks was to discuss progress in implementing the peace agreement.
The UN Security Council decided to extend MINURCA’s work for one year at a meeting on November 12. Over the next 12 months, the mission will assist the authorities of the CAR in the organization of presidential, parliamentary and regional elections.
Six years after the start of the civil war and bloodshed in the CAR, there is sadly no end to the conflict in sight. However, for almost two years now, thanks to Russia’s Khartoum Peace Initiative, there has been a sharp decline in the intensity of violence in the country. The region is rich in strategic resources (oil and uranium) and minerals (gold, diamonds, tantalum, coltan, etc.), and the struggle for them will only get worse. Besides Chad and France, the traditional players in the struggle for the country’s wealth and thus directly affecting the internal political life of the CAR can now include DR Congo and Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda and the ever present United States, radical Islamist movements and large corporations. However, after February 6, 2019, all these players are forced to reckon with Russia’s presence and role in the region.
The struggle for influence between the countries of the Central African region (Chad, Congo, DR Congo, Cameroon, Rwanda) and the major powers (France, USA, China, Russia) is actively used by leaders of armed groups who seek support in case of a change of political power, whether by vote or coup d’état. Therefore, the fears of the CAR authorities for their own safety in the event of a change of political course are well justified. In a country that has had five military coups since 1960 – and many unsuccessful attempts due to foreign intervention – such a threat is very real. Any of the armed groups can become a tool in the hands of someone else’s dirty game.
Therefore, the democratic conduct of elections in the CAR becomes a serious test of maturity of the country, and the right choice by citizens of the future head of state will largely determine the possibility of a peaceful future for the CAR.
Vladimir Odintsov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.