From failed governance to building a new future: the case of the Central African Republic

An article submitted by Euclid University (Pôle Universitaire Euclide), an intergovernmental university with headquarters in Bangui, on the occasion of the visit of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to the Central African Republic (24–26 October 2017)

The Central African Republic—often referred to as ‘CAR’ or Centrafrique—is literally the heart of Africa. One of only two countries in Africa which incorporate the continent’s name, the Central African Republic is in some ways little known and may evoke the image of forbidden diamonds, endangered elephants, a disgraced former Emperor (Bokassa)—or, more broadly, of yet another country struggling with one postcolonial tragedy after another.

The Central African Republic is a vast country indeed, spanning from Cameroon to the west and both Sudans to the east; sharing a treacherous border with Uganda (famous for harboring LRA fugitives); sandwiched between Chad in the north and the two Congos in the south. The land is not only vast but disparate, considering that the overall population is only 5 million. The country’s capital, Bangui—located on the southern border—is sometimes referred to as ‘the Republic of Bangui’ because parts of the country can experience tremendous disruption while the capital remains peaceful and somewhat isolated. The challenge of governing this mineral-rich country, especially in the border areas, is extreme.

A long crisis of governance

International observers are generally aware that the Central African Republic entered a period of societal breakdown and civil war in 2013 that involved a Muslim majority group called the Seleka hailing mostly from the north (and to an extent from outside the country). Seleka rebels, led by military leader Michel Djotodia, took control of most of the country, including Bangui, after a civil war that was largely experienced as an interreligious conflict. There was also, however, an ethnic and economic aspect to the conflict, namely, between agriculturalists (mostly Christians) and cattle-raising nomadic groups (mostly Muslims associated with the Seleka coalition). The Seleka’s counterforce—called ‘Anti-balaka—was often described, with some level of accuracy, as a Christian militia. Horrendous atrocities were committed on all sides, and more than half a million people have been and remain internally displaced.

This catastrophic situation was not accidental, but rather the result of several decades of failed governance. After independence was obtained from France in 1960, the country was largely mismanaged, although many older citizens evoke with fondness the peaceful environment and sense of hope that prevailed during the 1960s. Not unlike what happened in some neighboring countries, over the decades most rulers took power by force and failed to secure economic progress or the rule of law in this otherwise richly endowed country. The overthrow of the Bozizé regime by the Seleka in December 2012 was the last link in what can only be described as a case of systemic failed governance.

United Nations intervention

As a former colonial power and perhaps feeling some measure of responsibility for the state of affairs in the country, France in 2013 eventually stepped in, and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council led an international effort that eventually resulted in the United Nations mandate for the Central African Republic, known by its French acronym ‘MINUSCA’. At the peak of Operation Sangaris, more than 2,000 French troops were deployed to secure the capital and support the work of no less than 20,000 United Nations peacekeepers. Due to pan-African and United Nations-led international efforts, Seleka leader Djotodia was removed from power and a transitional government was installed. Peace was eventually restored throughout most of the country, and free and fair elections were held in 2016. Remarkably, previous Prime Minister and former rector of the University of Bangui Prof. Faustin Touadéra was elected with almost 70% of the popular vote.

President Touadéra currently serves as the High Steward of the intergovernmental university EUCLID, and was one of EUCLID’s founding fathers. His support was indispensable in bringing together a number of African countries in the effort to build a new and innovative organization of higher education. EUCLID’s mission as an intergovernmental organization with a university charter is to provide affordable and high quality education to the civil service of its participating states, and therewith to make a substantial contribution to increasing governance and public accountability.

Belief in a better future

In the capital itself, the presence of United Nations peacekeepers has restored tranquility and is now fostering robust economic growth. Bangui, however, remains at some risk of unrest, if only because the trauma of interreligious violence that left smoldering wounds, as demonstrated during the 2012–2014 incidents. Several regions that are only connected to the capital by seemingly endless dirt roads through the dense tropical forest also remain at risk of violence due to the ongoing presence of armed roaming groups.

As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres visits the country 24–26 October 2017, there remain many questions on how to achieve DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration). What balance between justice, justice seen to be done and forgiveness will make the peace enduring? Achieving lasting peace means transforming the day-to-day existence and perspectives of thousands of young men and women.

Towards post-conflict transformation

In the Central African Republic, religious leaders have famously joined hands to defuse the temptation to perpetuate a never-ending cycle of revenge and retaliation. Symbolically and practically, the city of Bangui was the first municipality to join the international network known as ‘Mayors and Cities for Interfaith Harmony’. Soon after his inauguration, President Touadéra made it a point of honour to invite the Muslim community to a Ramadan meal. Aa few weeks after winning the World International Harmony Week award, EUCLID announced that it would reactivate headquarters operations in Bangui, allocating significant funding to rehabilitate shared offices at the National School for Administration and Magistracy. Such encouraging signs, however, are frequently interrupted by incidents affecting the country beyond the bounds of the capital, as well as by the continuing fear that any phasing out of the MINUSCA mandate may create a dangerous vacuum.

Starting with Bangui, an environment has been created for the post-conflict transformation to begin. What is further required, however, is nothing less than a process of reorientation and even re-education at the individual and communal level. Even though higher education is extremely important, the type of education that is urgently needed is more a combination of vocational training and social skills. EUCLID has developed a life-transforming curriculum addressing such needs. In the Central African Republic and other post-conflict regions, keeping the peace will be the fruit of a long-term effort of job creation and re-training a traumatized population.

Conclusion

The Central African Republic—on account of its very name, its history and its geography—can assume a powerful and symbolic place on the international scene. It could become either a case study in sustainable recovery through global governance and engagement, or one that illustrates the failures of the international community.

At EUCLID, we call for the Secretary-General to continue his leadership initiative and to assist local leadership where possible in building strong governance capacity. With his personal engagement and support for the democratically elected government, he will be able to make a difference and set an example. EUCLID also has a role to play by committing to Bangui as the historic seat of its headquarters, by making its knowledge pool available and by sharing its expertise in fostering intercultural and interreligious coexistence. EUCLID can put to work its past experiences in developing and providing tailored educational programs for a nascent and promising civil service.

Authors: Laurent Cleenewerck is International Faculty Coordinator at EUCLID. Apollinaire Molaye is EUCLID’s Focal Point in Bangui. Robin van Puyenbroeck is Under-Secretary-General at EUCLID. For more information on EUCLID, please visit www.euclid.int