Thursday, May 16, 2013

Anarchy Reigns Supreme in the Central African Republic

On Wednesday, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative to the Central African Republic (CAR), Margaret Vogt, had some unsurprising news for the international community: the CAR is descending into a dark phase of anarchy where rebel fighters are indiscriminately killing civilians, carrying out targeted killings, committing rape and recruiting child soldiers to their cause. The frightening disregard for international law threatens to plunge the country further into chaos as the old and new guards struggle for power following President Francois Bozize's ousting in March by the Seleka rebel coalition, led by Michel Djotodia.

Special Representative Margaret Vogt. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Special Representative Vogt's statement might very well become a significant juncture in the country's crisis. In addition to her concerns surrounding human rights and humanitarian law violations, Vogt points out that it appears that the CAR is becoming a safe haven for foreign rebel groups that carry out unchecked exploitation of the country's natural riches: gold and diamonds, among other resources. The situation there has been in flux since March and the new assessments from the Special Representative are falling on overburdened ears in the Security Council, which Vogt asked to authorize a neutral stabilizing force to be deployed in the CAR. Vogt's statements substantially elevate the political consequences for inaction as she reports on dire circumstances that clearly call on the international community to exercise its right to protect innocent civilians. Her statements are essentially a call for desperately-needed international intervention.

As a land-locked country rich with natural resources, the CAR is among the poorest in the world. Strongmen, including ousted President Bozize, have reigned over the nation since its independence. Mounting dissatisfaction with the Bozize regime--notably the deterioration of the public sector--sparked the March coup, bringing the Seleka rebel coalition control over a disillusioned public. The Central African Republic's ousted administration is calling on France, the CAR's former colonial presence, to intervene in what seems to be a nod to both France's historical interests in the country and recent military intervention in Mali. Vogt, on the other hand, has requested a neutral stabilization force, similar to that of the Abyei region which straddles Sudan and South Sudan. 

While the international community contemplates its options in the Central African Republic, there is likely going to be significant emphasis on a more regionalized force to stabilize the chaotic situation there. Besides France, prominent UN peacekeeping donors are unlikely to take much interest in this conflict, putting into question the efficacy of the force Vogt hopes will restore stability. But as our attention focuses on the immediate situation on the ground, the international community should also consider the longer-term implications of these events, specifically the difficulties peacebuilders will face in disarming child soldiers and ensuring their reintegration into post-conflict society. Without an immediate solution to blunt these atrocities, the future of the CAR may very well be defined by war-hardened children and adolescents and periodic power grabs that aim to control the country's vast resource wealth. 

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