UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
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UNCERTAINTY IN RUN-UP TO CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC ELECTIONS
After various political-military crises over the last few years, the Central African Republic (CAR) today is waiting to see the outcome of legislative elections, scheduled for this August-September. The last legislative and presidential polls, which brought President Felix-Ange Patasse to power, were held in 1993 and ushered in a process of turbulent democracy after years of dictatorships. The current elections represent a real test for both the people of CAR and the international community and will demonstrate Patasse's commitment to democracy.
But on the eve of elections, the CAR is embroiled in a difficult economic, social and political situation despite having natural resources such as timber, diamonds and other precious gems. CAR, with a population of around 3,600,000, is beset by extreme poverty. UNDP estimates that 64.4 percent of people live below the poverty line, with 35.5 percent living in acute poverty. Since the 1970s, the country has been hit by an economic slump, exacerbated by army mutinies in 1996-97. The mutinies and subsequent looting sprees brought about the destruction of commerce and industry, devastating the formal and informal sectors and triggering high unemployment. Economic problems meant that civil servants could not be paid: most of them have not received their salaries for over seven months.
The government and IMF are currently holding negotiations on a structural adjustment programme for CAR. However various conditions still have to be met, such as the privatisation of state enterprises. Local observers note that the granting of such a programme would give a "breath of fresh air" to the election process.
The president has been accused of handing out administrative posts either to members of his party, the Mouvement pour la liberation du peuple centrafricain (MLPC), or to people from his region or the same ethnic group. The situation is mirrored in the armed forces. The presidential guard is made up of members of Patasse's ethnic group (the Kaba, part of the larger Sara group) or people from his region in the north of the country, while most of the regular army is drawn from the southern Yakoma ethnic group. According to sources quoted by 'Africa Confidential', Patasse also has his own militias. This discord within the armed forces provoked extreme tension and was one of the reasons for the mutinies. Humanitarian sources remarked the "ethnicisation" of society is noteworthy in the capital Bangui where, due to population displacements caused by the mutinies, districts are inhabited by members of the same ethnic or regional group. The sources pointed out this situation is not dissimilar to that in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, just before civil war broke out last year.
For now, Bangui is calm but insecurity prevails in the rest of the country. The CAR armed forces (FACA) and the recently-arrived UN mission, MINURCA, are based in Bangui, but the presence of security forces is few and far between in the provinces. Bandit attacks are frequent, especially at roadblocks set up by robbers known as "zaraguinas". The Chadian border area and central regions of the country are especially prone to insecurity, but incidents have also been reported along the Sudanese and DRC borders. Various sources have indicated that CAR serves as a haven for rebel armed groups from neighbouring countries. For example, ex-FAZ soldiers who fled the advance of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) are reportedly sheltering in CAR communities from the same ethnic group. In May, MINURCA Commander General Ratanga told a news conference the insecurity was partly due to the uncontrolled arms flow in the entire region.
Insecurity forced the UN to suspend missions to the interior of the country earlier this year. The missions have since been restarted but only in convoy and under military escort. This has slowed down the pace of humanitarian work in the country. Besides various development, rehabilitation and anti-poverty programmes launched by national and international organisations, a refugee assistance programme is being implemented to help some 38,600 refugees, about 32,000 of whom are Sudanese.
In response to the serious political-military problems, triggered by the series of army mutinies in 1996, six African countries formed an inter-African mission to monitor the Bangui accords (MISAB) in January 1997. The accords, between the army mutineers and the government, were aimed at putting an end to the military unrest. In mid-April 1998, MINURCA succeeded the MISAB operation with a mandate to maintain security in and around Bangui, to boost FACA's capability, and to oversee disarmament and weapons control. MINURCA comprises 1,350 members from Gabon, Burkina Faso, Togo, Senegal, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Egypt, France (dealing with logistics) and Canada (dealing with communications).
MINURCA's mandate also has political implications, as it is involved in election preparations. In this regard, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has named a special representative to CAR, Oluyemi Adeniji, whose responsibilities include promoting the electoral process. A 'National Reconciliation Pact', signed in March 1998 between the government on one hand and civilian and military groups on the other, emphasises the preparation of elections. To this end, President Patasse nominated as president of the electoral commission, Michel Adama-Tamboux, a man widely perceived as independent. Adama-Tamboux was the first national assembly speaker after independence in 1960 and a former ambassador to the UN. However certain issues still have to be finalised, namely revising the electoral lists, constituencies and the exact date of the poll.
The UN Security Council has given MINURCA an initial three-month mandate until mid-July, which will be reviewed in accordance with the government's efforts to implement the Bangui accords and the national reconciliation pact. Adeniji told a news conference in May he was satisified with the government's efforts currently. He stated the Security Council might even reconsider modifying MINURCA's mandate, thus addressing issues raised by numerous observers regarding up-country insecurity in the lead-up to and during the elections. MINURCA's mandate is currently restricted to Bangui. Donors and diplomats in Bangui are also awaiting the outcome of the elections before deciding on the next course of action.
The situation in CAR remains precarious ahead of the elections which, in this region, often go hand in hand with trouble. But the recent deployment of MINURCA demonstrates a commitment by the international community to strengthen democracy in the country, whose chequered past is characterised by dictatorship and instability.
1960: Independence from France, David Dacko becomes president 1966: Coup d'etat by Colonel Jean Bedel Bokassa, who becomes president for life in 1972 and emperor in 1977. Several coup attempts during his repressive regime 1979: David Dacko takes back power in a coup, following 'Operation Barracuda' launched by France 1981: Dacko becomes president again, but is ousted the same year in a coup by General Andre Kolingba 1993: General elections bring Ange-Felix Patasse to power. Six-year term as president 1996: Army mutinies in April, May and November 1997: Bangui accords signed in January, MISAB formed and a follow-up committee (CIS) established under the presidency of General Amadou Toumani Toure 1998: MINURCA deployed in April
Nairobi, 11 June 1998
[The material contained in this communication comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN IRIN Tel: +254 2 622123 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or subscriptions. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. IRIN reports are archived on the WWW at: http://www.reliefweb.int/emergenc or can be retrieved automatically by sending e-mail to email@example.com. Mailing list: irin-cea-weekly]
Message-Id: <199806110904.MAA08241@dha.unon.org> Date: Thu, 11 Jun 1998 12:01:37 +0300 (GMT+0300) Subject: CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: IRIN background brief on run-up to
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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