Events in the Central African Republic generally lie outside my radar, but major developments there are relevant to an understanding of events in Chad, Sudan, and for that matter Uganda and other countries in central Africa. Recent fighting in CAR thus merits some discussion here.
On Thursday, a rebel group called the Patriotic Convention for Justice and Peace (CPJP) attacked the town of Ndele in northern CAR, inflicting some casualties, temporarily gaining control of the town, and causing most of Ndele’s inhabitants to flee. The BBC calls CPJP a “fringe movement” but also says that “the events in Ndele offer another bleak reminder of the CAR’s fragility.” The fighting, coming on the heels of several kidnappings of French aid workers in CAR and Chad, highlights the difficulties regional governments have in controlling their territory and the difficulties international agencies face in delivering aid.
The army has retaken Ndele, but the political issues that drive the rebels remain unresolved. This fighting is the latest eruption of a conflict that began after 2003, when current President Francois Bozize took power. AFP explains CPJP’s position in the rebel network:
The CPJP is led by Charles Massi, who was a prime minister under Ange-Felix Patasse, the president toppled in a bloodless coup by General Francois Bozize in 2003.
Massi in May 2008 joined the Union of Democratic Forces for the Rally (UFDR) led by Zakaria Damane, who signed bilateral and then global peace accords with Bangui in April 2008 and June this year.
Massi then left the the UFDR for the CPJP, which has not signed any accords with the government.
He was arrested last May just over the border in neighbouring Chad and accused of attempting to destabilise the CAR but released by Chadian authorities a month later.
From that account, it seems to me that whatever other factors are driving the rebellion – regional tensions within CAR, for example – the power struggle between elites is a major reason for the fighting. Bozize, likely recognizing that, wants to solve the conflict through political means:
President Francois Bozize says he is pushing ahead with the [2008 peace] accord.
In an interview on state-run radio, President Bozize says a new structure is in place within local committees near former combatants and former rebels. If this demobilization takes hold, he says conditions will be in place to bring more investment and social development.
With the recapture of Ndele, President Bozize says the situation is now normal after rebels cut the route to the north. He says there is peace now, as illustrated by the October return of former President Ange Felix Patasse.
Mr. Bozize toppled Mr. Patasse in a 2003 rebellion and won election as the country’s president in 2005. Mr. Patasse returned from exile in Togo last month promising to challenge Mr. Bozize in next year’s presidential elections.
President Bozize says Mr. Patasse is free to contest the 2010 election, in which they will be joined as candidates by former prime minister Martin Ziguélé.
As that vote approaches, President Bozize is eager to secure the demobilization of former fighters and end the rebellion in the north to restore security along the border with Chad, where two aid workers were kidnaped at gunpoint one week ago.
Trying to fit these developments into a regional context, I came across this 2006 report from the US Institute of Peace on the “triangle of instability” in CAR, Chad, and Sudan. The report explains how the fact that “CAR and Chad have a history of harboring each other’s insurgent groups” has contributed to regional upheaval, exacerbated by the crisis in Darfur. Incursions by the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army, up to and including a raid last week, have also contributed to the destabilization of CAR (and South Sudan, for that matter). These intractable and interlocking crises make the region a true powder keg.