Central African Republic: The Seleka rebels take control of a country rich of mineral resources and foreign interests


The fragile peace agreement reached between the rebels of the Seleka coalition and President Francois Bozize totally collapsed in the past two weeks. As ESISC has forecasted, the security situation deteriorated quickly. On March 24 the rebels took control of the capital Bangui and ousted president Bozize.


On March 17 rebels of Seleka coalition detained their five ministers in the government and issued a 72 hours ultimatum demanding the release of political prisoners and the departure of the South African troops who were deployed to prop up president Bozize's army. The rebels demanded also the incorporation of 2,000 men from their troops into the national army and the recognition of their military ranks. On March 20 Bozize ordered political prisoners in the country to be freed and a 10-week curfew to be lifted banning also roadblocks manned by his militia. However these decrees were considered not enough by the rebels who resumed hostilities on March 21.


Despite a national unity government, including members of the Seleka coalition, formed after the signing of the peace deal with the government in Libreville, Gabon, on January 11, tensions remained high. President Bozize was accused of undermining the power-sharing government, formed after the peace agreement, by running a parallel administration and not fulfilling the promises to rebel fighters.

On March 22, the rebels seized the town of Damara, about 75 kilometers from Bangui. On March 23, the rebels reached Bangui in two columns, one from north-west and the other from north-east. 5,000 rebels entered into the city of 700,000 inhabitants and the only organized resistance they encountered was carried out by 200 South African soldiers. After nine hours of battle 13 South African soldiers were killed, 27 were injured and one went missing.

On March 24 Bangui was totally under control of the rebels and the presidential palace was captured. Armed civilians, and many rebels among them, started to loot and pillage homes, hospitals and shops in the city. Still on March 26 a spokesman for the Seleka rebels said that calm was not completely restored in the city. In some parts of the city electricity and water cuts still persisted over the week. Many Europeans fled the city because of the precarious security.

On March 25 the government of Cameroon confirmed that president Bozize had arrived there but he was not given permanent refuge. The same day the rebel leader, and former minister of defence in the unity government, Michel Djotodia, made his first public declaration stating that he planned to stay in power until 2016. He announced that the Constitution was suspended and the Parliament dissolved. However he promised that elections would be held, as planned after the January’s peace deal, within the next three years and that the prime minister, Nicolas Tiangay, would not be changed.

The U.N. Security Council and the African Union on March 25 condemned the rebels’ ousting of president Bozize. The African Union imposed a travel ban and froze the assets of seven leaders of the Seleka coalition, including those of Djotodia.

The Seleka alliance is formed by five formations, dissident factions of the Convention of Patriots for Peace and Justice (CPJP) and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), the central African People’ s Democratic Front (FDPC) , the Patriotic Convention for Salvation of Kodro ( CPSK) and the Alliance for rebirth and Refoundation. Michel Djotodia is the leader of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) since 2006.


It is important to emphasize that the alliance is far than united and is already looking shaky. On March 25 another rebel leader, 26-year-old Nelson N’Djadder, said that he did not recognize Djotodia as the new president. He said that he wanted an 18-month transition and not one that would last three years. It seems that the only binding of the coalition was the hostility toward former president Bozize but the rebels lack a political program and their military commanders dominate their political leadership. Clashes among the rebel factions are very likely. For the rebels the takeover of the country was the easy part, the real challenge will be to rule it.


The current situation in the CAR has important consequences on the whole region and beyond. For South Africa the loss of 13 soldiers in battle with the rebels is the highest death toll its army has faced in a single battle since the end of apartheid in 1994. The country had sent 200 paratroopers, out of a planned deployment of 400, as part of an agreement with Bozize to bolster and train his army.


South Africa’s objective was to consolidate his position as a regional power offering protection to the leader of the Central African Republic. According to some analysts, the South African involvement in the country was also due to the diamond business. In 2006 a special adviser to ousted president Bozize, Didier Pereira, partnered with South African National Congress (ANC) officials to secure a diamond export monopoly from the country. A public-private partnership, Inala Centrafrique, was created and a South African company, Serengeti Group, controlled by ANC, had a 65% stake in it. However Inala’s attempts to control the diamond industry failed by March 2008. ANC officials rejected the claims that the South African involvement in the country was due to this business.

In any case the real loser of the Seleka victory is South Africa. Both France and Chad have not supported Bozize anymore. On April 2 a South African National Defense Union spokesman said that the South African contingent was withdrawn almost completely.

France sent 300 troops to reinforce the 250 ones who were already deployed in Bangui, only to secure the airport. But Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there was no need to evacuate the 1,200 French citizens from the country. The main incident involving French troops happened on March 25 when 2 Indian citizens were killed and an undisclosed number of Chadians were injured by French troops who shot at three vehicles approaching the airport. According to the French, the incident took place “in a particularly confusing situation”, and French troops had themselves been fired upon “from an unknown source”. France has important interests in the Central African Republic due to the presence of the large uranium mine near Bakouma managed by Areva, a French nuclear group which exploits the large deposits of uranium present in the south-east of country. The Bakouma mine has an estimated 32,000 tonnes of uranium reserves.


It is important to emphasize that Bozize was abandoned by his former main supporter, Chadian president Idriss Deby. Until October 2012 Chadian soldiers were in charge of his personal security. Relations cooled after Bozize rejected Deby’s advice to engage in dialogue with his opponents. In December, Chadian soldiers had intervened to stop the Seleka rebels but not this time. On April 3 Bozize accused Chadian Special Forces of having helped the rebels in the final stages of the conquest of Bangui, including the attack against the barracks of the South African paratroopers.


Current president Djotodia is believed to have cultivated ties with Chadian rebels and Chadian rebel leader Timane Erdili on March 21 stated that his group would resume its fight against Deby’s government. However it seems that Chadian authorities have received by Seleka rebels the assurance that CAR territory will not be used as a base for Chadian rebels.


On numerous occasions, ESISC reported that the presence of numerous armed militias creates a serious challenge for the security situation in the country and also affects neighboring states. The country has been used as a hideout for militias coming from other countries such as the Ugandan rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) whose leader, Joseph Kony, a self-styled mystic prophet, is being sought by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.


On April 2 the Ugandan army suspended its operations in the country to hunt down rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army since Seleka is not recognized by the African Union. Even the U.S. Special Forces contingent, employed in the search, suspended its operations because the United States did not recognize the presidency of Djotodia but only the government of Tiangaye, named premier under the Libreville agreement.


Tiangaye’s new caretaker government was announced on March 31. The 34-member cabinet includes nine ministers from the Seleka coalition. They control the petroleum, security, water and forestry, and communications ministries. Djotodia claimed for himself the role of defence minister. The day after, on April 1, the country’s nine opposition parties said they would not participate in the caretaker government because it is controlled by Seleka sympathizers. The move will further complicate the planned transition to civilian rule.


The fragile internal situation and the international isolation faced by the Seleka government won’t help to restore security in the country. The Central African Republic is a failed state, prone to violence carried out by several armed militias which benefit from the weak control of the government.


The countryside was never controlled by the state and, besides militias, banditry is a chronic problem. The country, despite being rich of mineral resources such as uranium, crude oil, gold, diamonds, lumber and hydropower is one of the poorest countries in the world. Life expectancy is at 48 years, the second lowest in the world.


As a result of violence a food crisis is expected soon in some areas of the country. At least 175,000 people were displaced in the forests and in the neighboring countries. According to UN Word Food Programme officials, between July and September there will be serious food shortages in many areas of the country. It is worth mentioning that the 4.5 million inhabitants live below the poverty line. The Central African Republic is the world’s fifth largest producer of diamonds, but approximately half of its diamond exports are smuggled out of the country illegally, even by armed militias. The country is ranked 180th of 186 countries on the most recent United Nations human development index.


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