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Central African Republic - Francois Bozize

With an abundance of arable land, rainfall, a plethora of minerals and wildlife and a low population, the Central African Republic (CAR) should be a wealthy nation. However, despite this potential, most of its population lives in increasing poverty. Male life expectancy declines six months every year and in 2009 the CAR dropped from number 172 to 177 out of 178 on the Human Development scale and now had a GDP per capita of $456.

Why was the CAR declining at a time when so many other African states are advancing? While factors such as the CAR's landlocked location and low levels of assistance were certainly important, the fundamental problem was that President Francois Bozize, and his government (CARG), never made national development and good governance a priority. He appeared instead to concentrate on schemes to enrich himself, his family, and his clan; schemes which not only retarded development, but actively destroy commercial enterprises essential to the economy. Bozize felt threatened by strong armed forces and thus purposefully kept the Central African Army (FACA) and the police weak. This in turn meant that the CARG could neither defeat rebel forces nor effectively control its territory, leaving it rife with rebels, bandits and poachers.

Instead, President Bozize's kleptocratic government appeared content to control Bangui, the wood and diamond reserves of the southwest, and isolated regions with diamond, uranium and mineral deposits in the east. From this, they were able to steal enough money to buy large properties in Burkina Faso and South Africa and live comfortably, but not particularly luxuriously, in Bangui.

In October 2002, former Army Chief of Staff Francois Bozize launched a coup attempt that culminated in the March 15, 2003 overthrow of President Patasse and the takeover of the capital. Bozize, who was Chief of Staff of the Army under Patasse, was implicated in ordering the killing of several anti-Kolingba rebels in Kembe prefecture in 1999. Bozize was thought to have liquidated a small, select group of Patasse sympathizers after his 2003 coup, but this was targeted and short in duration. General Bozize declared himself President, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the National Assembly. Since seizing power, President Francois Bozize made significant progress in restoring order to Bangui and parts of the country, and professed a desire to promote national reconciliation, strengthen the economy, and improve the human rights situation.

The Presidential Guard, while weak, was still the strongest armed force in the country. President Bozize and a large number of the Presidential Guard (GP) are closely-related members of the Gbaya ethnic group, the dominant tribal group in the Western third of the country. His presidential guard has included Chadian and, more recently, South African elements as well as Central Africans such as the notorious Eugene Ngaikosse, responsible for reprisals against civilian populations for attacks on the regime by rebel forces. Much of the opposition's disdain for Bozize results from his membership of the Gbaya ethnic group, described by some Central Africans (including one Minister in the government) as "the stupidest tribe in the nation."

Diamond smuggling and corruption touch the highest levels of the CAR. In 2004, about a year after he came to power in a coup, President Bozize was briefly detained in a German airport with a briefcase full of diamonds. Many well known political figures pay for artisanal miners to dig diamonds - or simply buy them from collectors - and then use official travel to carry the stones to Europe where they are then sold.

Bozize was always referred to in formal introductions as General of the armies as well as head of state. This was not a mere formality; his father was a military officer and he has been a military man for almost all of his adult life. Moreover, he appears to see the military as both a guarantor of his power and a threat. He had been appointed to ever higher military posts in every Central African government, starting with that of Bokassa and continuing through that of Patasse. (It was rumored that his favor with Bokassa was enhanced by his physical attack on a French non-commissioned officer who his alleged to have insulted Bokassa.)

He has been, at various times, for various governments, Minister of Defense, Minister of Information, and Chief of Staff of the Army. It was during his tenure as Minister of Information for President Kolingba that he was accused of coup plotting, arrested, returned to Bangui and, according to reports (BBC and others), physically tortured. There are also numerous reports of his being the enforcer for various presidents and taking the lead in the violent suppression of various coup attempts and mutinies. The key point being that Bozize does not appear to be any stranger to violence, both political and personal. He was also no stranger to palace conspiracies and the danger of the military turning on the president as has happened so many times in the cAR's past. Bozize until 2009 maintained for himself the title of Minister of Defense, though he has now appointed his son Francis as Deputy Defense Minister.

While Bozize was clearly a military man, he had long harbored political ambition, dating from at least 1993 when he lost the presidential elections to Patasse. Now in power at last, he was not an impressive president. Most elements of the government are barely functioning, staffed by often unpaid civil servants with no resources, while Bozize fills key ministries with members of his family and clan. Foremost among these was Minister of Mines Sylvain Ndoutingai, a former Colonel in the armed forces, who was usually described as Bozize's nephew. With access to the nation's diamond resources, Ndoutingai was the Bozize clan's money man, often working with individuals such as Saifee Durbar, an Anglo-Pakistani businessman wanted for fraud in France and recently given the position of Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs in a brazenly transparent attempt to establish immunity from prosecution for Durbar.

Sadly, perhaps, the Opposition was unimpressive; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are simply full of passionate intensity against Bozize, the man - none was evidently more competent or less corrupt. Former Patasse Prime Minister Martin Ziguele, head of the MLPC was an urbane, sophisticated man who ran strongly against Bozize in 2005, but the Inclusive Political Dialogue of 2008 seems to have sidelined him and he was content to make his living doing consulting work in Paris and no longer seeks any government position. The rest of the unarmed opposition to Bozize was arrogant, disorganized and lacking in any coherent program beyond the questioning of Bozize's legitimacy. Bozize's time spent driving a bush taxi was much mocked by better educated opposition figures, some of whom, in their impassioned rhetoric, border on advocacy for violent overthrow. Yet in July and August of 2009, when Bangui was deprived of electricity and water following failure of power turbines at the Boali dam, the opposition was unable to organize planned demonstrations to protest the government's incompetent handling of the crisis. The members of the former armed opposition have yet to step forward and take any political action. Interestingly, but again, not surprisingly, the unarmed opposition say that they have not yet made any effort to reach out to the former armed opposition to form common fronts, or plan joint actions. The CAR's population was deeply traumatized by the looting, rape, and killing by forces loyal to former DRC rebel turned DRC Vice-President turned ICC defendant, Jean-Pierre Bemba, that came to Patasse's aid. Bozize's coup was eagerly accepted by Bangui and he may be still be seen as the best alternative, being `the devil you know.'

Chadian President Deby assisted Bozize in his seizure of power. Bozize probably counts on Deby to protect his northern flank. To the south, former DRC Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, on trial by the ICC, no longer held sway in Equateur, neutralizing any threat from across the Oubangui River. The north east of CAR, bordering with Chad and Sudan was so remote from Bangui as to be of little concern to Bozize. Accordingly, he has been content to let French troops, now wearing EUFOR badges, maintain a presence in Birao until such time as a UN force was deployed as part of MINURCAT. Similarly, while the arrival of the Lord's Resistance Army in south-eastern CAR in February of 2008 attracted international attention, it was virtually ignored by Bozize; Obo is closer, and has better road links, to Kampala than Bangui.

Relations with Cameroon were almost moribund. Bozize has not met Biya in years and the Cameroonian Embassy in Bangui was led by a Charge for over a year until the recent appointment of a new Ambassador; this despite the CAR's almost total dependence on Douala as its only real port. Congolese President Sassou was a friend of Bozize's: he was the only foreign leader to attend CAR Independence Day celebrations in 2007. The friendship may be based in part on forestry concessions made by Bozize's government to companies controlled by members of Sassou's family as well as on common membership of the same Masonic lodge. At the same time, the CAR forest industry complains that the poor state of the Pointe Noire/Brazzaville railroad, coupled with `processing' delays of up to six months, means that they cannot export logs down the Oubangui River and are forced to use the much more expensive overland route to Douala. They also note that the Cameroonians are subsidizing fuel costs for their timber industry to keep it competitive during the world market downturn. Bozize clearly has important work to do with his neighbors, but there was no sign that he was even aware of these issues.

Bozize was born in Gabon, a fact which may or may not have significance, and Gabonese President Bongo speaks the Central African national language Sango fluently, according to some reports. What was undoubtedly significant was that Bongo agreed to act as godfather to the peace accords reached between the government and the rebels and to open and close the Inclusive political dialogue. According to at least one observer, Bongo provided the cash necessary to buy off the rebel leadership.

Although Bozize reportedly received a tongue-lashing from French President Sarkozy during their brief one-on-one meeting at the Elysee in November 2007, tensions appear to be somewhat eased with the settlement of a dispute between the government and French petroleum company TOTAL and the signing of a deal with AREVA for exploitation of CAR's uranium resources. The French Embassy in Bangui, previously tough on governance issues, appears to have moderated its position with these developments and the arrival in August 2008 of a new Ambassador who appears more favorable to Bozize.

Although China was unwilling to finance the repair of the Boali turbines, Bozize knows that he can count on the Chinese, and the Russians (who have no visible interests in CAR), for at least tacit support. The Chinese have built a large stadium and continue to build schools and similar projects while running an aggressive public diplomacy program with outreach directly into the poorer neighborhoods of Bangui. The Chinese are also reported to have bought 49 per cent of the French uranium concession at Bakouma.

Under strong pressure from the international community and opposition groups, the Libyans were asked to withdraw their armed forces before Bozize's successful coup in 2003, but by 2005 they would again be embroiled CAR politics: Bozize was confronted with the rebellions by the APRD, UFDR and FDPC, and was forced to request aid from Qadhafi. Together with President Bongo of Gabon, Qadhafi pushed for the signature of peace agreements between the rebel groups and the Central African Government which paved the way for the Inclusive Political Dialogue.

The security situation in the CAR since the departure of President A. Pattasse and the inauguration of former insurgent leader, F. Bozize deteriorated, leading to the October 2005 deployment of forces by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). As part of the 2003 Bangui Agreement political agreement, the question of the reform of the armed forces, a reduction of vandalism from the activities of militia, internal insecurity and cross-border dimensions of the conflict that had drawn in and destabilized neighboring Chad (estimated 45 000 CAR refugees in Chad) had been central to the peace treaty. An important component of the process was disarmament, designed to collect an estimated 100 000 small arms liberally distributed among the ordinary population based on perceived allegian ce. Furthermore, there was also need to demobilize former combatants and their family members numbering some 42,000 given the social and ethnic construction of combatants drawn from the mutineers, liberators, Karako, Sarawi and Balawi groups amongst many.

A new constitution was passed by referendum in December 2004. In spring 2005, the country held its first elections since the March 2003 coup. The first round of presidential and legislative elections were held in March 2005, and in May, President Bozize defeated former Prime Minister Martin Ziguele in a second-round runoff. On June 13, Bozize named Elie Dote, an agricultural engineer who had worked at the African Development Bank, his new Prime Minister [following a countrywide strike, Elie Dote resigned on January 18, 2008].

In September 2006, rebel activity in the northwestern and northeastern part of the country intensified, resulting in the government losing control over parts of its territory. The subsequent fighting between government troops and rebels displaced nearly 300,000 citizens. In January 2007, the Libyan Government brokered a peace agreement between the government and the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FPDC), a rebel group operating in the northeastern part of the country headed by Abdoulaye Miskine. Other rebels disavowed the peace agreement, but by May 2008, most rebel groups had either entered into a peace agreement with the government--the peace agreement with the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD) being the most significant--or declared a cease-fire.

In June 2008, the government signed the Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the APRD and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), led by Zakaria Damane, in Libreville, Gabon. One rebel group, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) remained outside of the comprehensive peace process. The CPJP attacked the Central African Army on numerous occasions, including in November 2010 when they briefly captured the town of Birao. In June 2011, the government signed a cease-fire agreement with CPJP. Since that time, the government and CPJP have not fought; however, the CPJP engaged in skirmishes with UFDR in the northeastern region of C.A.R. in September 2011. CPJP and UFDR signed a cease-fire agreement in October 2011.

The UN played a significant role in encouraging the signing in June 2008 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Government and three main rebel groups and the holding in of theDialogue between the Government, rebel groups, the political opposition, civil society and other relevant stakeholders. Implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, particularly its provisions granting amnesty to former fighters, furthered an Inclusive Political Dialogue (IPD) intended to help end instability in the C.A.R. In December 2008, the Inclusive Political Dialogue formally convened and issued its recommendations, which included, among other items, the establishment of a government of national unity and of an independent electoral commission in advance of planned 2010 elections [as of December 2011, the implementation of the results of the IPD remained incomplete].

The December 2008 Inclusive Political Dialogue called for the creation of a government of national unity; the holding of municipal elections in 2009, and legislative and presidential elections in 2010, which actually took place in January and March 2011; the creation of a national human rights commission; the launch of a program for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants.

President Bozize gave 23 December 2008 as the date in which he would announce the new, power-sharing government. This government promises to include members from all seven (7) of the opposing groups which took part in the Dialogue: the rebel groups APRD led by Jean-Jacques Demafouth, MLCJ led by Abakar Sabone, UFDR led by Daman Zacharia, FDPC led by Abdoulaye Miskine, UFR led by Florian Ndjadder as well as the opposition groups UFVN led by Henri Pouzere and the more powerful MLPC led by Martin Ziguele. The rebel groups are not / not all equal in force or political influence, with the APRD, the UFDR, and probably the FDPC being the only groups with known soldiers in the field in the NW and NE provinces. Among the political opposition, Pouzere has led the opposition UFVN coalition credibly over the last year, though Ziguele was considered more popular and a better rival to Bozize for the 2010 Presidential election.

Perhaps lulled into a sense of security by the peace accords and the Political Dialogue, the Bozize government continued its practices of bad governance seeming to prefer to focus on corruption and money making schemes rather than addressing serious political challenges or development needs ["offer coffee" was a Central African term for kick backs]. The conventional wisdom was that the Central African population was too demoralized to take any action.

In January 2009, a new coalition government was appointed. While there was little change in the government's composition, with key ministers allied with the President remaining in place, some members of the political opposition and rebel groups obtained ministerial portfolios. The year 2009 began on a note of unprecedented optimism; the formal peace accords with all major rebel groups and the completion of another "Political Dialogue" made it possible to imagine that real progress might be possible. To be sure, all was not perfect; the government of national unity looked more like just one more shuffle of the same suspects and it was not clear that the opposition, armed and disarmed, had begun any effort to get to know each other or organize themselves into the kinds of groups that might be able to influence the future through the follow on committees and thus lay the foundations for successful elections in 2010. This all changed for the worse within months.

The Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) campaign in the Central African Republic (CAR), launched in August 2009 with much fanfare, has slowed considerably in pace causing frustration in increasingly impatient rebels. The government's (CARG) lack of will, and specifically actions of its principal interlocutor with rebels and the international community, Minister of Communication Cyriac Gonda, was irritating both the UN and the relevant rebels groups and threatens the stability of the peace process just six months before the planned elections of March 2010.

In early 2010, President Bozize twice delayed constitutionally mandated elections scheduled for April and May due to a poorly functioning Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and bickering between C.A.R.'s political parties. The first round of presidential and parliamentary elections took place in January 2011. The elections, though not without flaws, were held peacefully and without major incident during polling. The IEC declared President Bozize the winner of the presidential election in the first round and determined that a third of the 105 parliamentary races were also decided in this round. Nine members of President Bozize's family, also members of his KNK party, won victory in the first round.

Members of the opposition, citing irregularities in the counting process, filed 88 challenges with the Constitutional Court and called unsuccessfully for a boycott of the second round of elections, which took place in March 2011. In April 2011, the Constitutional Court invalidated the results of 13 races run in January and ordered a special election to re-run those races. In May 2011, the Constitutional Court again intervened to reverse the results of nine races in the second round March elections. A special election, also protested by the opposition, was held in September 2011. In the end, the KNK party won at least 64 of 105 parliamentary seats. While international observers cited some irregularities in the election, the fragmented nature of the opposition likely meant that it could not pose a credible challenge to the KNK or President Bozize.

Although government forces and armed groups maintained a cease-fire for much of the year 2011, civilians often were killed, abducted, displaced from their homes, or generally restricted in their movements as a result of ongoing internal conflicts. In September 2011 the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) engaged in armed conflict, primarily in the town of Bria, which resulted in 50 deaths, the destruction of more than 700 homes, and displacement of approximately 4,500 people. Both groups were complicit in the killing and burning of homes.

BINUCA was focused on encouraging implementation of the various agreements and commitments in the face of persistent challenges to peace including recurring flare-ups of violence in the eastern part of the country and the slow pace in the implementation of the DDR program.

There was a streak of fatalism and resignation among the population. Most Central Africans are poor, many are traumatized by the events of their history and all appear to be tired of the struggle for power among Bokassa's heirs. Bozize, who was an uncharismatic leader, even when he was somewhat more animatedly addressing crowds in Sango, was thus able to portray himself as a force for stability. He also makes just enough movement in his accommodations with the opposition and in his cabinet appointments (most of which, including that of Prime Minister, come with no real authority) to hold out to optimists the hope for a better future. Pessimists believe that Bozize will allow a certain amount of democracy as long as it will not lead to his being voted out of power. The conventional wisdom in Bangui was that the opposition was incapable of mounting any real action against that Bozize government and the general population was too resigned to take action.



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