Political Unsettlement and Continuing Conflict in Central African Republic


Central African Republic (CAR) is in a state of crisis. Multiple rounds of conflict in the past two decades, the most recent of which began in 2012 and is still ongoing, have left the country reeling. Nearly one in four people in CAR is displaced, and the population is facing conflict and malnutrition with insufficient humanitarian assistance to meet all the needs of the population.[i] This is despite multiple political settlements and regional and international peacekeeping missions. What accounts for this near constant upheaval in spite of negotiated agreements and outside support to implement them and manage the conflict? Is it simply that the agreements did not address the core conflict issues, that outside support was insufficient, or that the conflict parties were not committed to peace? These all may have played a role, but it does fully explain the dynamics in CAR.

Peace processes are initiatives that aim to bring an end to armed conflict through a political settlement.[ii] Achieving a political settlement is difficult with many settlements failing. Bell and Pospisil have highlighted the concept of political unsettlement, which has four primary characteristics, 1) the political settlement contains conflict instead of solving it; 2) the conflict is not temporary but rather long-lasting; 3) there are multiple sources of authority and legitimacy in the settlement from local to international actors; and 4) the transition is permanent and is often renegotiated through additional peace processes rather than through normal political processes.[iii] The peace processes to end conflict in CAR demonstrate the concept of political unsettlement as well as the complexity of peace process environments and the myriad of actors involved at different times, and in turn political unsettlement helps us to understand the continuing conflict.

Conflict and instability in CAR dates back much further than the 1990s, but this piece will focus on the conflicts and peace processes of the last two decades. In 1996, there were three successive army mutinies in the capital, Bangui. In response, a mediation mission was established at the Nineteenth Summit Meeting of Heads of State and Government of France and Africa held from 4 to 6 December 1996. The mission was made up of regional Heads of States, including Hadj Omar Bongo of Gabon, Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, Idriss Deby of Chad, and Alpha-Oimar Konare of Mali.[iv] It led to the establishment of an International Monitoring Committee and laid the groundwork for a series of agreements in early 1997 to end the persistent conflict in CAR.

A summit in Bangui from 11-18 January 1997 led to the Preliminary Agreement on a National Reconciliation Pact. The summit was held under the auspices of the International Monitoring Committee and chaired by General Amadou Toumani Touré. The signatories to the agreement were political parties, trade unions, and civil society organisations, and they committed to abide by the constitutional order and promote dialogue and reconciliation.[v]  The Bangui Accords were signed on 25 January 1997. The accords were comprised of two documents. The first was a declaration ending rebellious actions, and the second was a declaration by the president of CAR, the president of Gabon representing the region, and the Ambassador of France committing to maintaining the International Monitoring Committee and to setting up an inter-African force.[vi] The inter-African Force in Central African Republic (MISAB) was deployed in Bangui on 8 February 1997.[vii] The mandate for MISAB was to monitor and implement the Bangui Accords, to help restore peace and security, and to conduct disarmament.[viii] It would be replaced by the UN force in 1998. A final component of the set of agreements to address this crisis was an agreement dealing with the substantive conflict issues was signed in March 1998, over a year after the initial summit.[ix]

There was a brief respite in the active conflict. However, Ange-FélixPatassé was overthrown and replaced by François Bozizé in 2003, and beginning in 2004, there were rebellions involving several armed groups, notably the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC), the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), and the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD). Peace processes in 2007 and 2008 sought to reach an agreement to end the conflict. The 2007 Birao Peace Agreement and Syrte Agreement set out ceasefire and other conditions among the Government of CAR, FDPC, and UFDR. The Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) offered mediation and implementation support.[x] A similar ceasefire agreement with the government of CAR and the final rebel group, APRD, did not come to fruition until May 2008; this time, facilitated by the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC).[xi]

These ceasefire agreements culminated in a Global Peace Agreement among all three rebel groups and the government of CAR in June 2008. The Global Peace Agreement built on the Birao Peace Agreement and Syrte Agreement and involved mediation support from both CEMAC and CEN-SAD. It contains amnesty and demobilization provisions and creates a principle of participation for representatives of the rebel groups in government affairs. The agreement also establishes a committee to monitor implementation comprised of representatives from the rebel groups, government of CAR, regional states, the UN, and International Organization of La Francophonie with the possibility to expand the committee to include representatives from other sub-regional and regional groups.[xii]

Most recently, the Seleka coalition of predominantly Muslim rebel groups formed in 2012 after the government’s failure to implement previous peace agreements, and in March 2013, they seized Bangui and deposed President Bozizé. The Anti-Balaka movement of predominantly Christian groups formed after the take-over of Bangui and launched offensives against Seleka forces. The humanitarian consequences were dire and multiple actors raised the alarm about possible atrocities along religious lines.[xiii] The Libreville Political Agreement created a government of national unity comprised of representatives from the presidential majority, opposition party, non-combatant political movements, Seleka coalition, and civil society. Another African sub-regional organization, the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC), was involved in the negotiation processes and monitoring the agreement’s implementation.[xiv] Following the Libreville Agreement, an interim constitution was drafted and signed in July 2013.[xv] However, the Libreville agreement did not hold, and peace processes are ongoing to this day.

These peace processes illustrate the concept of political unsettlement and how agreements can fail and regress as well as build on previous attempts. Multiple peace processes in CAR over the last two decades have tried to contain the conflict using peace agreements through mechanisms such a national dialogue processes or governments of national unity. These conflicts have been long-lasting and often over the same core issues, and there have also been many actors at all levels, from the local to the international, engaged in the processes. The UN and France along with the Organization of African Unity (OAU) or the AU and sub-regional organizations have been directly engaged in peace agreement negotiations. While much of the support has been complementary, some of it, especially from sub-regional organizations and neighbouring states, has been overlapping or even competing. Finally, when the process breaks down, the settlement is usually renegotiated not through normal political means but through peace processes and often after a resurgence in violence.

Instead of fully resolving these issues, the political settlements have contained the conflict and sought to manage it through transitional processes and with outside support. However, this is not a condemnation of these peace processes. Some conflicts cannot be fully resolved through a peace process, and the concept of political unsettlement illustrates that political settlements can be used to contain conflict and make progress towards a comprehensive peace even if individual agreements are unable to achieve that outcome.

All peace agreements taken from the PA-X Peace Agreements Database and Access Tool, Version 1. Developed by the Political Settlements Research Programme at the University of Edinburgh. https://peaceagreements.org.

[i] United Nations, “Central African Republic crisis ‘breaks my heart’ says senior UN aid official,” accessed 9 November 2018, https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/05/1010801.

[ii] For additional information on peace processes, see: Conciliation Resources, “Peace Processes,” https://www.c-r.org/downloads/CR_Peace_processes.pdf.

[iii] Bell, Christine and Pospisil, Jan, Navigating Inclusion in Transitions from Conflict: The Formalised Political Unsettlement (February 10, 2017). Journal of International Development, 29:5 (2017); Edinburgh School of Law Research Paper No. 2017/04. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2922470 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2922470

[iv] Central African Republic, “Preliminary Agreement on a National Reconciliation Pact,” 18 January 1997, https://peaceagreements.org/view/488.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Central African Republic, “Declaration on the End of the Rebellious Action, Bangui (Bangui Accords),” 25 January 1997, https://peaceagreements.org/view/598/; Central African Republic, “Declaration of Heads of State, Bangui (Bangui Accords),” 25 January 1997, https://peaceagreements.org/view/3.

[vii] United Nations, “Central African Republic – MINURCA Background,” accessed 5 November 2018, https://peacekeeping.un.org/mission/past/minurcaB.htm.

[viii] Central African Republic, “Mandate established by the Countries designated by the 19th Summit of France and Africa, for the inter-African Supervision Mission for the Bangui Agreements,” 3 March 1997, https://peaceagreements.org/view/443.

[ix] Central African Republic, “National Reconciliation Pact (Bangui National Reconciliation Conference),” 05 March 1998, https://peaceagreements.org/view/464.

[x] Central African Republic, “Accord de Paix entre le Gouvernement de la République Centrafricaine et les Mouvements Politico-Militaires ci-après designés: FDPC et UFDR (Syrte Agreement),” 2 February 2007, https://peaceagreements.org/view/676; Central African Republic, “Accord de Paix de Birao,” 01 April 2007, https://peaceagreements.org/view/760.

[xi] Central African Republic, “Accord de cessez le feu et de paix entre le Gouvernement de la République Centrafricaine et le mouvement politique et militaire Centrafricain APRD, 09 May 2008, https://peaceagreements.org/view/670/.

[xii] Central African Republic, “Accord de Paix Global entre le Gouvernement de la République Centrafricaine et les Mouvements Politico-Militaires Centrafricains ,” 21 June 2008, https://peaceagreements.org/view/669.

[xiii] Council on Foreign Relations, “Violence in the Central African Republic,” accessed 6 November 2018, https://www.cfr.org/interactives/global-conflict-tracker#!/conflict/violence-in-the-central-african-republic.

[xiv] Central African Republic, “Accord politique de Libreville sur la résolution de la crise politico-sécuritaire en République Centrafricaine,” 11 January 2013, https://peaceagreements.org/view/809.

[xv] Central African Republic, “Transitional National Charter (Interim Constitution),” 18 July 2013, https://peaceagreements.org/view/1659.

This blog was written by Kathryn Nash (PSRP) and first posted on the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for African Studies blog.