Roundup on the Rebel Conquest of Bangui, Central African Republic

On March 24, after months of rebellion and negotiations, the rebel coalition Seleka took control of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). For more background, see herehere, and especially here. This roundup attempts to capture key events and implications of the rebels’ capture of the capital:

  • VOA: “CAR Leader Flees; Rebel Chief Declares Self President.”
  • BBC: “CAR Rebel Head Michel Djotodia ‘Suspends Constitution’.”
  • Jeune Afrique (French) has a profile of Djotodia.
  • Al Jazeera: “CAR President [Francois Bozize] Seeks Refuge in Cameroon.”
  • Al Jazeera: “Looting and Gunfire in Captured CAR Capital.”
  • CSM: “Rebels Capture Central African Republic: Now Can They Govern It?”
  • Reuters: “Regional peacekeepers said that leader of the Seleka rebel coalition, self-proclaimed president Michel Djotodia, appealed for their help in restoring order after his own men joined in a second day of looting on Monday in the riverside capital Bangui.”
  • France24 reports that Seleka promises to hold elections after a three-year transitional period.
  • LA Times: “African Union Suspends [CAR] After President Ousted.”
  • IRIN: “CAR Coup Comes Amid Deepening Humanitarian Crisis.”
  • Statements by UN Secretary General Ban Ki MoonUS State Department, UK Foreign Secretary, and French President Francois Hollande.

Overview and Map of the Rebel Advance in the Central African Republic [UPDATED]

In a military offensive this month, the rebel coalition Seleka has captured at least six towns in the Central African Republic (CAR – see map below). This post gives some background on the situation.

One could start a history of conflict in CAR much further back, but the current cycle of conflict began with the presidency of Ange-Felix Patasse (1937-2011, ruled 1993-2003). François Bozizé launched a rebellion against Patasse in 2001 and took power in 2003. Chadian President Idriss Deby is seen as a key ally of Bozizé, who has been in power ever since. As president, Bozizé won elections in 2005 and 2011, but he too has faced challenges from rebels, notably a conflict in 2003-2007 with a coalition called the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR). An April 2007 peace agreement formally ended that conflict, made the UFDR a political party, and provided for the integration of rebel fighters in the army. Some rebels kept on fighting – a group called the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), for example, launched attacks in late 2009. RFI (French) reported that in August 2012, the CPJP, “the last rebel group active” in CAR, signed an agreement with the government to become a political party. The emergence of Seleka shows that rebellions in CAR are not, in fact, over.

Seleka is made up of “breakaway factions” from the UFDR, the CPJP, and another group, the CPSK, whose French name could be rendered “the Convention of Patriots for Salvation and Kodro” (I was not able to discover what “Kodro” means in this context). Seleka was, according to this French-language site, formed on August 20 of this year. Its demands include what it sees as proper implementation of the 2007 accords, including payments for demobilized rebel fighters and releases of prisoners. More on their demands here.

Seleka currently appears to control six towns: Ouadda, Sam Ouandja, Bamingui, Ndele (captured December 11), Bria (captured December 18), and Kabo (captured December 19). While Ouadda and Sam Ouandja are reportedly small, and Bamingui seems to be as well, the BBC describes Ndele as a “key northern town” and Bria as “a key mining hub in a diamond-rich region.” Together, the BBC says, Ouadda, Sam Ouandja, Ndele, and Bria form “a major route linking the CAR to Sudan, Cameroon and Chad.” Reuters does not assign Kabo any strategic or economic significance, but Reuters notes that taking Kabo, which is 400km/250m from Bangui, brings the rebels even closer to the capital. Many of these towns were battle zones circa 2006, and Ndele was a center of fighting in 2009.

The rebels’ advance seemingly owes partly to the advantage of surprise, but they also seem to have outfought government soldiers (and former rebels fighting alongside the government) in these towns. The BBC describes the battle for Ndele:

An army source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the BBC that the rebels captured Ndele after a surprise attack.

The town was poorly defended, as a detachment of troops was leaving Ndele and had not yet been relieved by other soldiers, the source said.

[…]

The army in Ndele was backed by a former rebel movement, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), which signed an accord with the government in 2011, AFP reports.

“The CPJP put up resistance, but they were routed by our men and forced to flee,” a rebel spokesman known as Col Narkoyo told AFP.

Seleka fighters also reportedly ambushed a government detachment attempting to retake Ndele on December 16. Chadian soldiers crossed into CAR on December 18 to assist the government in breaking the rebellion, but so far I have seen no reports of Chadian troops clashing directly with the rebels. Chad intervened militarily in CAR during the previous rebellion as well as at other points.

Humanitarian concerns are growing. The fighting has already displaced thousands of people.

UPDATE: See this Reuters piece, “Rebels Say Advance Halted, Ready for Talks.”

Below is my map of the rebel advance. Undoubtedly the locations of some of the towns are somewhat off, so take it as merely an approximation of the geography:

Africa News Roundup: Nigeria and CAR Elections, Ranneberger and Gration, Somaliland Fighting, and More

Nigeria: President Goodluck Jonathan wins the support of a major opposition party in advance of April’s elections.

Central African Republic: President Francois Bozize’s re-election is now completely official:

The constitutional court in the Central African Republic on Saturday declared President Francois Bozize the winner of elections last month which the opposition has denounced as fraudulent.

In a public session broadcast on television the court threw out complaints by opposition candidates, pronouncing the election properly conducted and Bozize the victor with 64.37 percent of the vote.

Kenya: Controversial US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger is stepping down, and President Barack Obama has nominated US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration to fill the post. I am planning to write more on this story during the coming week.

South Sudan: Battles between rebels and South Sudan’s army killed over 100 people this week.

Somaliland: In eastern Somaliland, clashes between the army and a clan militia have killed dozens – and caused some army desertions. This is a story to watch, as Somaliland’s image of stability is a major component of its bid for international recognition. Should that stability crumble, hopes of recognition will wane.

Gabon: The Arab protests spread to sub-Saharan Africa.

The protests that are reshaping the Arab world weren’t supposed to spread south to sub-Saharan Africa. But for weeks, while scenes of Egyptians overtaking their capital have mesmerized global TV audiences — and brought the world’s most recognized names in TV news to Cairo — Gabonese protesters have been facing death and imprisonment in a series of anti-repression demonstrations consciously modeled off the Tunisian example.

Will historians talk about “global 2011″? Too soon to say, I guess.

What’s on your screen today?

Election Updates: Central African Republic and Niger

Following recent elections, officials in the Central African Republic have declared that incumbent President Francois Bozize won over the opposition:

The electoral commission says provisional results from January’s vote show President Francois Bozize has won re-election with more than 66 percent of ballots cast.

President Bozize came to power in a 2003 coup against Ange-Felix Patasse.  Mr. Patasse returned to the Central African Republic to contest this election and, according to provisional results, finished second with just over 20 percent of the vote.

Mr. Patasse’s campaign intends to challenge the results before the constitutional court.  An opposition coalition that includes a former prime minister and a former defense minister also intends to appeal the electoral commission’s results, calling the ballot a “masquerade.” President Bozize’s spokesman says his re-election is a great victory for the people.

In Niger, observers from the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed confidence in the integrity and transparency of the elections. The electoral commission, which announced that turnout had reached around fifty percent, has begun tabulating results. PNDS-Tarayya (Fr), the party of leading candidate Mahamadou Issoufou, is feeling optimistic about its chances of victory.

Bozize’s win in CAR puts him in the company of many other African incumbents who have either won re-election in recent months or are favored to win their re-election contests – President Omar al Bashir of Sudan (re-elected last April), President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria (expected to win this April), and President Paul Biya of Cameroon (expected to win re-election this fall), to cite three examples. Incumbency obviously brings massive advantages, and not just in Africa. In contrast, Niger’s election, given that no incumbent president is running (though many of the candidates are former elected politicians), is an open contest. It’s good to see observers expressing confidence in the vote there.

Once results become available from Niger I will post them here.

Fighting in the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic has, like its neighbor Chad, experienced serious rebellions and political instability in recent years. Via ReliefWeb, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre summarizes the last five years in CAR:

Armed conflict pitting government forces against various armed groups in northern areas of the Central African Republic (CAR) caused the internal displacement of more than 200,000 people between 2005 and 2008. Following the signing of peace and reconciliation agreements, their number fell to around 108,000, but since 2009 clashes between the army and a splinter rebel group, and attacks on civilians by the Lord’s Resistance Army have caused a new wave of displacement. As of November 2010, the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) was estimated at over 192,000.

Resurgent instability, this report continues, threatens two upcoming transitions: the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from Chad and CAR and CAR’s elections, scheduled for January 23.

It is easy to see why. Last month, the rebel movement Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) captured Birao, a town in northern CAR. Yesterday Chadian troops retook the town on behalf of the government of CAR, but the rebellion still makes observers uneasy: UN forces handed Birao over to the government of CAR on November 15 as part of their preparations to exit the country.

Meanwhile, the elections could be in danger: “Rebel clashes and problems over funding in the former French colony have delayed elections three times already, leaving [President Francois] Bozize in power beyond his initial mandate which ended in June.” The CPJP is actively attempting to derail the elections by detaining electoral workers. Other rebel groups are also hindering the elections directly through interference with logistical preparations, or indirectly through acts of violence.

What happens in CAR clearly affects its neighbors, starting with Chad, particularly because the instability is highest in northern CAR and near the borders with Chad and Sudan. If recent events are any indication, the lead-up to January’s election will see further incidents of violence in CAR, with a potential for spillover into Chad.

Birao, Central African Republic:

Quick Thoughts: Fighting in Chad, Elections in CAR and Burkina Faso, Algerian Driver Freed by AQIM

A few important items that I didn’t have enough material to write full posts on, but deserve mention nonetheless:

Burkina Faso

  • The government of Chad announced it has killed over a hundred rebels in two recent battles near the border with Sudan. Though regime and the rebels are talking, the violence makes me think a solution lies far down the road. I’m wondering whether the recent improvement in Chad-Sudan relations, and even the conclusion of the Sudanese elections, have the government in N’Djamena feeling more confident about going after rebels without fear that Sudan will interfere.
  • Two African countries are currently facing disputes over leaders who want to stay in power: in the Central African Republic, another postponement of elections and the lack of a precise date mean “that President Francois Bozize may still be head of state after the five-year mandate he won in a 2005 vote expires on June 11.” CAR, which borders on Chad, also has problems with rebels.
  • In Burkina Faso, meanwhile, “fifteen opposition parties…[have] formed a coalition to fight any constitutional changes aimed at extending longtime President Blaise Compaore’s rule.” Elections will take place in Burkina Faso in November.
  • Finally, AQIM has released one of its recent kidnapping victims: the Algerian driver of a French tourist the group is still holding. The pair were seized in Niger, but the Algerian was found in Mali, so authorities believe AQIM has the Frenchman in Mali as well. To make a blatantly obvious point, the release of the Algerian indicates that AQIM is almost entirely interested in the ransom it can get for European tourists. They may hold the French tourist for much longer, raising all the ongoing issues about ransom payments once more.

What are you reading?