PGI INSIGHT: Central African Republic – March 2021
Insecurity likely to persist in coming months
- Rebel violence and insecurity are likely to persist in the coming months, despite government forces retaking key towns.
- Legislative elections on 14 March are a potential flashpoint and there may be disruption to polling.
- The Coalition of Patriots for Change remains a loose rebel alliance and may weaken in the next three months.
- Any rebel coalition weakening is unlikely to lead to a significant reducti on in violence.
President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s government and 14 armed groups signed a political agreement in February 2019. The Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation aimed to end six years of violence between the majority Muslim Séléka rebel coalition and mainly Christian anti-Balaka militias. The agreement stipulated that the government would incorporate key armed groups into the armed forces and influential government roles. However, the groups became impatient at the slow implementation of the agreement by 2020.
Tensions escalated after a Supreme Court decision to bar former president François Bozizé from standing in a 27 December presidential election. In De cember 2020, a new rebel alliance called the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), comprising both ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka groups and allegedly backed by Bozizé, launched attacks on security forces. The alliance seized strategically important towns, including Bambari and Bouar, and blockaded the capital Bangui. In total, rebel groups controlled or contested up to 80 percent of the country.
The government held the presidential election amid the renewed violence. Touadéra narrowly won the vote, but opposition parties denounced the result as illegitimate, saying that up to two-thirds of the electorate were unable to vote due to the violence.
Government offensive and 14 March legislative elections
Gove rnment and allied forces are likely to continue to push back rebel forces and retake key towns in the next three months. Despite an initial CPC advance in December 2020 and January, government forces, assisted by UN peacekeepers, Russian mercenaries, and Rwandan troops, have retaken several key towns, including Beloko, Bossembele, Yaloke and Bouar. Continued assistance from Moscow and Kigali, whose troops are better trained and equipped than local forces, as well as the UN, is likely to see further advances made.
Despite this, there is a risk of renewed heavy clashes between pro-government and rebel forces over the 14 March legislative election period. The rebels are likely to try to disrupt the vote in an effort to undermine Touadéra’s legitimacy. In December 2020, rebels forcibly prevented approximately 14 percent of polling stations from opening. As with the December 2020 vote, opposition parties may challenge the legitimacy of the result should rebels significantly disrupt polling.
Weakening rebel coalition
The rebel alliance may fragment in the next three months as the government offensive continues. The CPC is comprised of both ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka groups, many of which previously fought each other. Most factions only share the short-term objectives of ousting Touadéra and extending their control over key territories. As the prospect of ousting Touadéra becomes less likely, it increases the possibility that the coalition will weaken along factional lines.
Any CPC weakening is unlikely to lead to an improvement in security conditions. Coalition disintegration may trigger infightin g among the groups that make up the alliance. The armed groups are likely to return to fighting each other for control over key territories and trade routes in areas beyond government control.
Long term outlook in the Central African Republic
There is unlikely to be a significant reduction in violence in the coming months. Large areas of the country, especially in the east, will remain beyond the central government’s control. Government forces are poorly trained and equipped and lack the capability to retake all rebel-held territory. Despite the government offensive and reinforcements from Rwanda and Russia, rebels took control of the eastern mining town of Bakouma on 9 March.
The humanitarian situation may slowly improve as the government offen sive forces rebels to retreat and the coalition to weaken. On 19 December, CPC rebels surrounded Bangui and cut off its main supply route with Cameroon, depriving residents of aid and food supplies. However, aid convoys have managed to reach the capital since 8 February, indicating the rebels’ weakening influence along key trade routes with Cameroon and areas near the capital. The prospect of a long-term political agreement is unclear. The government remains unwilling to engage the CPC in dialogue, despite pleas from the international community. The government may attempt to restart dialogue should it consolidate its territorial control. However, rebels are unlikely to accept terms that are less favourable than the February 2019 accord. The absence of a political agreement would likely see security conditions return to those similar before the 2019 accord, defined by sporadic clashes be tween rebel groups and government forces.
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