Two days ago, on August 14, the UN Security Council (UNSC) met to discuss the on-going situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) – which is just getting worse and worse, without anyone paying any attention. Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in her briefing to the UNSC, describes the overall situation as follows:
The Central African Republic is not yet a failed State but has the potential to become one if swift action is not taken […] If inadequately addressed, this crisis threatens to spread beyond the Central African Republic’s borders and to further destabilize a region already facing significant challenges.
For those unfamiliar with the African continent, CAR is bordered by Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cameroon – none of which can really afford to have CAR’s conflict spreading across their borders. And within the country, the situation is pretty dire:
All 4.6 million Central Africans had been affected by the crisis and 1.6 million people were in dire need of assistance, including food, protection, health care, water, sanitation and shelter, [Amos] said. More than 206,000 people had been internally displaced and nearly 60,000 had sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Many people continued to hide in the bush and remote areas in poor sanitary conditions and without access to basic services or clean water.
The UNSC Press Statement, issued after the briefing on the 14th, notes the following important documents and key decisions (which I’m listing and linking to for anyone who is interested in reading) from recent months regarding the situation in CAR:
- The Libreville Agreements of 11 January 2013
- The N’Djamena Declaration of 18 April 2013 (in French)
- The decision of the African Union Peace and Security Council to authorize the deployment of AFISM-CAR (see below) on 19 July 2013
- The letter from the African Union stressing the importance of “a strong partnership with the UN” from 26 July 2013
- The report of the Secretary-General of 5 August 2013
- The statement by the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court of 7 August 2013
As mentioned in point 3 above, the AU PSC authorized on 19 July a peacekeeping mission to be deployed to CAR: the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (AFISM-CAR). The mission will have a “total strength” of 3,652, including 2,475 military uniformed personnel and 1,025 police uniformed personnel and 152 civilians. Most of these will come from MICOPAX, as AFISM-CAR will essentially be replacing it (see my previous post on CAR and MICOPAX here). The transition was meant to take place from August 1st, which means that MICOPAX troops would now be AFISM-CAR troops; but given that MICOPAX, according to this EU page, comprised of only 400 troops and 150 civilians, it will most likely be a while before AFISM-CAR is operating at full capacity. AFISM-CAR’s mandate will comprise of the following (in the AU’s words):
- The protection of civilians and the restoration of security and public order, through the implementation of appropriate measures;
- The stabilization of the country and the restoration of the authority of the central Government;
- The reform and restructuring of the defense and security sector; and
- The creation of conditions conducive for the provision of humanitarian assistance to population in need.
First off, there is an urgent need to clarify the mandate of the mission and the exact actions that it will be expected to undertake. The statement is – in my opinion – a bit unclear in defining the exact mandate of the mission. Specifically, it is unclear what “appropriate measures” are in the context of protecting civilians and restoring security and public order, and how this mission is expected to “restore the authority of the central Government.” That being said, it is worth emphasizing that AFISM-CAR’s mandate is stronger than MICOPAX’s mandate, which focused more on “contributing” to the national reconciliation process and “facilitating” political dialogue – activities which are extremely hard to quantify and evaluate.
At this stage, it’s hard to see how AFISM-CAR will be successful in achieving its mandate without immediate and substantial financial, logistical and technical support from the UN and from other countries. It is unclear at this point what UN support will look like or whether the French Operation Boali, which was up until now providing technical support to MICOPAX, will continue providing similar support to AFISM-CAR. The webpage for Operation Boali on the French Ministry of Defense’s website hasn’t been updated and a statement released by the French government on August 2nd provides no additional information, besides welcoming the establishment of AFISM-CAR.
Of course, negotiations for support to AU-led peacekeeping missions – or any others for that matter – are always long and drawn-out. Details need to be agreed upon, money needs to be raised, etc. Whether the people of CAR can wait that long for action to be taken remains to be seen. In a report released in early July, Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that:
The Seleka’s move on the capital plunged CAR into chaos. Violence and looting have been widespread. State buildings, ministries, schools, hospital, and private homes have been robbed and damaged. Most civil servants have fled. Archives and databases have been destroyed. When people have resisted or defended themselves or their property, the recriminations have been swift and severe. And the rebels have not demobilized or disarmed, which means that hundreds of armed men who have yet to receive the salaries they were promised are circulating in a city with no real police force. Elsewhere in the country, Seleka supporters and other armed groups have carried out robberies and attacks against the civilian population. The situation has also exacerbated pre-existing tensions between nomadic and more solitary communities.