Near Bangui, the Central African Republic‘s biggest city and the capital of the country, rebel forces of the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) reportedly came within six miles of the seat of government in an onslaught that was eventually curtailed by CAR soldiers and the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA.
Wednesday’s showdown was the latest display of the strength of the coalition of rebels who have been pushing to overthrow President Faustin Archange Touadera. It took the combined effort of the military and MINUSCA hours before CPC rebels were forced back.
The CAR has been in turmoil for much of its life after independence from France in 1960. Jean-Bédel Bokassa who anointed himself the “Emperor of the Central African Empire” overthrew independence leader David Dacko in 1972. Dacko had beforehand also declared the CAR a one-party state. Even after Dacko was restored thanks to an intervention by France in 1979, the vicious cycle of coups and reconstitutions continue, sometimes interspersed with civil wars that took tens of thousands of lives.
What threatens the peace this time dates back to 2012 in the latter days of President François Bozizé. The instability at the time has been attributed to ethnic and religious factionalism as well as suspicions of governmental bias in distributing socio-economic development. Despite a UN-brokered peace agreement signed among rebel factions including the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and the People’s Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD), and the government, Bozizé was still chased out of power until he sought refuge in neighboring Cameroon under the protection of President Paul Biya.
The CAR then had to contend with interim presidents including some selected from among rebel groups in order to maintain the fragile peace. Michel Djotodia for instance, who was interim president between 2013 and 2014, was a former leader of the Séléka rebel coalition, an almost entirely Muslim group. President Touadéra won in 2016, which was only the fourth election in the history of the country for 56 years.
Touadéra had been a Prime Minister under Bozizé during the latter’s second term. He was an academic relatively unknown on the political scene but managed to keep afloat even as Bozizé fled into exile. Although Touadéra’s first term was by no means smooth, his reelection in December of 2020 has not been welcomed by the CPC which is effectively a collection of different rebel groups. In 2019, Touadéra signed a ceasefire with more than 10 rebel groups hoping to count on their cooperation ahead of the polls in 2020.
What has rather panned out is Touadéra having to fortify his own personal security with help from Russian paramilitaries. This is apart from the country’s army, Rwandan and French troops supporting UN peacekeepers holding rebels at bay. As things stand, rebels are in control of many parts of the country outside Bangui.
December’s election did not take place in many of these areas under rebel control. DW reported that only about 900,000 Central Africans voted. The electorate consisted of twice that number in a country of nearly five million people.
The UN has warned the situation is bound to direr if CPCP rebels persist. President Touadéra has meanwhile blamed his former boss Bozizé of working with the rebels to overthrow the government.