Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 215, 14 January 2021

Central African Republic: France intervenes as thousands flee election-related violence in the count
Apoorva Sudhakar

In the news
On 9 January, French fighter jets flew over the Central African Republic (CAR). According to the office of the French President, the flights were flown in at the request of the CAR President and with the permission of the UN as tensions escalated amid the elections in 2020.

On 8 January, the UNHCR spokesperson said more than 30,000 people from CAR had fled to its neighbouring countries amid the election-related violence. The Democratic Republic of the Congo accounted for the highest number of people fleeing as 24,196 people had crossed over into the country, followed by Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo.

Further, the spokesperson said that within CAR, 1,85,000 people retreated to the forests since 15 December 2020 to escape the violence; of this, 62000 remain "newly displaced" while the rest returned home.

Issues at large
First, a brief background on the conflict in CAR. The current instability in CAR has its roots in 2013 when Seleka forces, formed majorly by Muslim groups, staged a coup and removed the then-President François Bozizé from power in 2013. Following this, Christian forces under the banner of "anti-balaka" forces, retaliated leading to a protracted conflict. Though a peace agreement was signed between the government and rebel groups, violence has persisted, and armed groups control two-thirds of CAR.

Second, the disputed elections of 2020. In December 2020, CAR held its presidential elections; Faustin-Archange Touadera, who was elected president in 2016, won his second term. Before the elections, Bozizé formed a rebel coalition with other presidential candidates after the Constitutional Court rejected his candidacy. After Touadera was re-elected, the opposition coalition has been citing irregularities in the elections and demanded the annulment of the results.

Third, the deteriorating security conditions. According to the Election Commission, 800 of the 5,408 polling stations did not operate on the election day due to security threats. Prior to the elections, and after the polling, rebels captured several towns fuelling the CAR's already tense atmosphere. According to the UN, one-fifth of the CAR population is displaced due to the protracted conflict and half of the population is dependent on humanitarian assistance.

Fourth, the external intervention in CAR. Russia and Rwanda had deployed their troops to support the UN mission in monitoring the election process in CAR. Similarly, the Touadera's latest request for French intervention adds to increased external powers in the region.

In perspective
First, mere intervention by external powers will not stem the conflict in CAR. The scale of humanitarian loss over the years reflects the failure of the state in addressing the conflict. Further, troops' deployment by different countries did not keep the rebels from seizing towns and reigniting civilian displacement and its spillover to neighbouring countries, which have their own conflicts to address. 

Second, France's latest intervention in CAR comes amid its security operations in other African countries like Mali and Libya. Further, France has had a series of interventions in CAR since the 2013 coup. However, French operations have not yielded the results necessary to root out the violence - neither in CAR, nor in Mali or other countries. 

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