Rebellion in the Central African Republic

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.

Darfuri Refugees, Sam Ouandja, Central African Republic

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.


4 thoughts on “Rebellion in the Central African Republic

  1. Your reading of this is pretty accurate.

    I’ve been doing occasional reading on the CAR and Congo-Brazzaville for the last couple of years. I actually just got my mitts on “Dark Age: The Political Odyssey of Emperor Bokassa” by Brian Titley, which although a bit “great man theory of history” is quite good. Thomas O’Toole has written several articles and one book on the CAR (c. 1986) and translated the main works of the major French expert Pierre Kalck, who was himself a colonial administrator and expatriate adviser to both Boganda and Abel Goumba, and was still writing in the early 2000s.

    In short, whats now the CAR has been overrun by neighboring slave-taking states from what is now Sudan, Tchad and Cameroon from at least the early 19th century. It’s tempting to see continuity in the current cross border conflicts. The experience of colonization was brutal by West African standards, and decolonization was largely fictive. It’s hard to see that there is much of a modern nation state outside of the Baka peoples in the southwest.

    The insurgencies in the north, while expressing real ethnic grievances — along with the grievances of anyone living under a failed and predatory state — are directly fueled by Tchad and Sudan. The presence of the LRA are further evidence of this, as they fall back to Sudanese controlled areas to resupply from the hits they’ve taken recently.

    Politically, it will be interesting to watch the renewal of the Bozize / Patasse struggle and their “presidential guards” which are what each CAR leader since Dako has created as a personal militia, only to become “rebels” when that leader is overthrown (I’m thinking of Patasse).

    We can forgive Centafricaines for not being so interested in watching one more civil war in the making.

    • Thanks for the reading recommendations.

      Do you think Patasse still has a real political base inside the country, and if so can he make a serious bid for power, either through ballots or bullets?

  2. I don’t know enough to make a reasonable guess at how a free election will go, or even how the actual election will go. But Patasse has both an ethnic base (in the Sara of the Chari basin in the north), a political base (the now at peace APRD leadership counts a good chunk of the political class and led by Jean-Jacques Demafouth, and a military base (his former Presidential Guard who formed the core of the APRD).

    I just don’t know enough about the situation to know 1) who will run; 2) If Bozize has any real popularity left following a pretty disastrous rule turned around of late by the peace process; 3) If the election will be fair.

  3. Pingback: Overview and Map of the Rebel Advance in the Central African Republic | Sahel Blog

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