Today marks the third anniversary of the Central African Republic’s peace agreement. But this isn’t a moment for celebration. To the contrary, the rising violence and humanitarian needs raise the question: Is the country truly on a path to peace?
Over the last year, the Central African Republic (CAR) has experienced a sharp rise in violence and a proliferation of weapons—most dangerously, the new and increasing use of improvised explosive devices. The humanitarian crisis has reached levels not seen since the 2013-14 civil war. More than 1.4 million of CAR’s 4.9 million people are currently internally displaced or seeking refuge in neighboring countries. A staggering 63 percent of them require humanitarian aid and protection. Compared to last year, an additional 300,000 people are in severe need of assistance.
The government’s Central African Forces (FACA) and their Wagner group allies—a Russian private military group—have successfully pushed back the advances of some armed groups and recaptured large swaths of territory. But they, much like the rebel groups, have repeatedly been accused of atrocities and other grave human rights abuses, as well as violations of international humanitarian law, all with impunity. The country is witnessing such unprecedented levels of violence against civilians that Mankeur Ndiaye, who heads the United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping mission in CAR, stated that “[n]ever have violations of human rights and international humanitarian law equaled those recently committed” there.
Amid these worrying trends, peace remains elusive.
On February 6, 2019, the Central African government and 14 armed groups signed the Political Agreement for Peace and Stability (known as the APPR). Within months, however, all parties—including the government—had violated its terms. Problems began even before the agreement was signed. The negotiation process was flawed; the government excluded some militias and the country’s civil society organizations. Since then, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has overseen a limited and haphazard implementation of the accord’s provisions, one that excludes essential actors. Key ministries and civil society groups have been left out from organizing the return of displaced Central Africans; from disarming, demobilizing, and reintegrating fighters; and from reforming the security sector President Touadéra and the peace accord committed to creating an “inclusive government,” but he has failed to create a government that reflects the country’s diversity—especially by keeping out Muslims.
Alarmingly, Touadéra’s exclusionary practice go beyond the question of who should be part of the government. Authorities have fueled xenophobic narratives targeting the country’s Arabic speakers—labelling them as foreigners despite their presence in CAR for generations. Before the December 2020 elections, the government reneged on its promise by announcing that the Central African refugees in other countries— more than half a million, many of them Muslim—would not be allowed to cast ballots, as they had in 2015.Although the government cited a lack of constitutional obligation, many critics saw it as another way to bar Muslims from political life.
This pattern has been further entrenched by Russia mercenaries’ constant attacks on Fulani communities, one of CAR’s Muslim minorities. Government officials’ silence about these attacks suggests that they are complicit and that they, too, treating the entire Fulani population as insurgents. This type of marginalizing is what sparked the civil war and is part of what is keeping the country from finding real peace.
Yet diplomats in Africa and around the world don’t consider the peace accord a failure. These include the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and the European Union (EU), as well as the United States and the UN. But they’re wrong. Instead, the international community overstates the positives of how the country has recovered while remaining largely silent as the Central African government flouts its responsibilities.
Understandably, many Central Africans want the armed groups defeated and the state’s authority—and services—assured. The government is doing this, however at the cost of human rights, civilian protections, and democratic practices. Coupled with its flouting of the APPR, the government’s actions are unlikely to foster peace and will only inflame tensions, leaving civilians vulnerable to violence and in need of humanitarian aid.
The international community may be reluctant to admit it, but the country is not on the path to peace. The country’s democratic backsliding requires immediate attention. Diplomatic groups that actively pushed for the peace agreement—notably, the African organizations, the EU and the U.S.—must now recognize its fragility. They must publicly hold the government accountable for its failure to follow the APPR and for fueling tensions through its exclusionary practices.
Not all of the news is dire. International donors contributed 88 percent of the funding needed for emergency assistance in 2021—the highest funding level recorded yet.
But sustaining or even increasing aid, as the worsening conditions demand, will be a challenge. Nor is it enough. Other nations must become more politically engaged to get peace back on track. The United States, in particular, as CAR’s leading humanitarian donor, should step up its diplomatic efforts and rally other donors to keep telling CAR’s government the same thing: that it must fulfill its responsibilities under the peace accord’s terms and must refrain from achieving security at the cost of greater civilian suffering.
BANNER PHOTO CAPTION: Rwandan peacekeeper of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) stands guard as voting for Presidential elections is underway in Bangui, Central African Republic on December 27, 2020. Photo Credit: Nacer Talel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.