Despite provocations from the militants and those supporting them, the authorities in the Central African Republic managed to successfully hold presidential and parliamentary elections on December 27.
According to a statement from the CAR National Election Authority, the incumbent president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, has already won the first round of the presidential election, garnering 53.9% of the vote. Voter turnout was 76.3% of the approximately 900,000 registered voters.
The elections in the Central African Republic on December 27 were actually held under conditions with martial law, and an armed conflict unleashed in different parts of the country by opposition members and their foreign sponsors.
Despite the peace agreement that was signed in Khartoum, armed groups with roots in the Muslim group Seleka and the Anti-balaka militia, which is mainly composed of Christian and animist followers of local pagan cults, still control two-thirds of the country. About 55,000 residents in the Central African Republic were forced to leave their homes just a week before the elections in the wake of military flare-ups in the country, and 2.8 million of the country’s residents need humanitarian aid.
Before the elections, a number of groups announced that they were withdrawing from the ceasefire. The main objective for creating the opposition coalition is to prevent Touadera, known for his liking for Russia, from winning in the first round. In the pre-election race, France did not hide the fact that it would prefer to see Karim Meckassoua, the former president of the CAR National Assembly (parliament), win the presidency.
Due to the fact that the situation on the eve of the elections was taking a blatantly unfavorable course, the UN post-haste decided to increase the number of peacekeepers stationed in the CAR by transferring two additional companies, and two helicopters, from South Sudan. This example was followed by other countries, and specifically Russia, which sent 300 military instructors to the republic to train CAR military personnel.
Despite the information campaign unleashed by the opposition, and a number of Western countries that support it, about the alleged presence of representatives from Russian private military companies in the CAR, there were none of them there: before this, there were only five employees from the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense, 14 officers as part of the UN mission, and 170 civilian instructors in the CAR training the country’s army at the request of its government – and this is common knowledge for both the UN Security Council and the international community. The UN Peacekeeping Mission – the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) – has been in the CAR for several years, and its mandate expires in November 2021. The number of “blue helmets” in the CAR is about 11,500 people, and most of them are military personnel from Rwanda. In September 2020, a platoon with the National Guard of Georgia was sent to the CAR to participate in the European Union Training Mission in Central African Republic.
On the eve of the elections, the CAR government accused the armed groups of uniting, and attacking the capital Bangui in an attempted coup. The rebels from the anti-government Coalition of Patriots for Change, which numbered about 9,000 people, tried to blockade the capital of the CAR and capture the city of Bangassou, located 750 km from Bangui.
On election day in the northern and eastern parts of the country, some polling stations were unable to start work due to the deteriorating security situation, and in some areas the rebels started shooting at polling stations, while in others peacekeepers had to help uphold the voting process with armored vehicles. However, in the capital of CAR itself and in some other areas, it was the other way around, with people lined up at the ballot boxes, despite the threats of the rebels and their calls for a boycott.
Attacks by armed opposition members continued after the elections, and the militants demanded that the results of these past elections in the Central African Republic be declared void, saying that they were “unfair” and did not fulfill the people’s interests. In early January, MINUSCA forces managed to repel an attack committed by rebels on the city of Bangassou (five militants were killed, and six were wounded) and organized patrols around the city.
According to observers, besides MINUSCA forces Russia has made a significant contribution to the success enjoyed by the elections in the Central African Republic by offering local authorities assistance in ensuring security for the voting process. Consequently, militants with radical groups have failed to intimidate voters, or organize manufactured incidents on election day. Russia has already been participating in brokering the peace process in the CAR for a fairly long time, which is taking place with permission and approval given by the UN Security Council. Russia diligently paid attention to creating a high level of security in the country, especially during the period of the elections, since voter turnout at the polling stations depended primarily on the level of security. It was this security that Russian instructors helped provide, in essence by forming a coherent structure in the CAR government’s army.
During its contacts with CAR leadership and representatives from various political parties in the country, Moscow has repeatedly reaffirmed its readiness “to continue to assist in implementing the Central African Republic leadership’s course to stabilize the situation” together with the UN Security Council and the African Union. In response, a number of candidates for the elections held in the country have expressed their liking for Russia. “Our Russian partners should not think that all other politicians in this country except for President Touadéra will chase the Russians out. No. These are interstate relations … If this is for training our armed forces, in order to equip them, then this is good,” stated one of the presidential candidates, ex-prime minister of the CAR Mahamat Kamoun. Another candidate in the presidential race, Martin Ziguele, also spoke about the desire to strengthen relations with the Russian Federation across all areas, including military cooperation; he particularly underscored that the CAR cannot afford to be a “battlefield” between Russia and France, and the country needs support from different forces.
The CAR authorities performed a significant amount of work to try to resolve the situation in the country and mitigate the armed confrontation, which has contributed to a high level of consciousness about, and involvement in, the voting process on the part of the country’s population. People came to the polling stations not only to choose a future president, but also to their country’s future prosperity, and to demonstrate the country’s increased level of maturity in recent years.
Moscow is not hiding its friendly relations with President Touadéra, whose re-election was not something that Paris or Washington wanted due to this circumstance. “France will not abandon the CAR,” said chief French diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian at the end of December, who back in the day used to direct the Ministry of Armed Forces for the Fifth Republic. “We can always intervene in very short time frames,” he added. The drive Paris has to regain its former influence in Central Africa is understandable. However, it is easy to guess that in the CAR France and Russia would do better to unite their efforts to jointly combat armed militants, strengthen security measures in the country, and foster the socioeconomic development of this African state, which is rich in minerals but has a very poor population that regularly encounters political instability since gaining independence 60 years ago.
Vladimir Odintsov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.