Thursday, September 28, 2023

Free and fair elections alone cannot solve CAR’s myriad of problems | News Central African Republic

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Since hundreds of rioters stormed the Capitol building in Washington DC to overthrow the 2020 presidential election results, the international community has mostly focused on the United States and its democratic flaws.

The United States, however, is not the only country to have started the New Year with a deadly episode of election violence. Thousands of miles away in Africa, the outcome of another fiercely contested presidential election has also led to violent clashes and raised questions about the democratic future of a deeply divided nation.

Protests are underway in the Central African Republic (CAR) in response to the December 27 presidential elections which saw the re-election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra with around 53% of the vote.

The election was marred by violence and reports of voter intimidation, which led an influential opposition coalition to demand its annulment. International observers noted that voting in the capital, Bangui, went well, but admitted that violence had prevented many people from voting in other parts of the country, despite the presence of peacekeepers. peace and reinforcements sent by Russia and Rwanda after the pre-election attacks.

On January 13, rebel forces launched a coordinated attack on Bangui, presumably to invalidate the election result and take control of the country. They were ultimately repelled by a coalition of UN peacekeepers and Central African forces.

Today, in their attempts to make sense of the continuing violence and divisions in CAR, most observers focus on the factors that led many to question the fairness and legitimacy of the election. Many hoped that if all actors in the Central African political scene could agree to participate and respect the results of a free and fair election, it would be a major step towards peace. But, in fact, the contested election is not the source but simply a symptom of the myriad of deeply rooted problems in CAR.

A deeper problem

Free and fair elections are undoubtedly an important tool for democracy, but they alone do not hold the key to security and stability in any given country.

The real source of unrest in CAR is the deep disconnection between rural populations and the government in Bangui.

CAR has faced deadly intercommunal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power from President François Bozizé, who seized power in a 2003 coup after long claimed its marginalization. Despite Bozizé’s ouster, fighting resumed between the Seleka and so-called “anti-balaka” militias, often considered Christians, resulting in hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and warnings. on an imminent “genocide”.

After being ruled by a transitional government backed by the UN for two years, the country finally held presidential elections in 2016, following which Touadéra came to power. In February 2019, the government of Touadéra signed a comprehensive peace agreement with 14 armed groups, officially ending the long civil war in CAR.

However, two years after the signature of the historic accord, communities across the country are still bearing the brunt of the conflict. The government has failed to gain the trust of rural communities, to convince them that it will take constructive steps to address their many daily grievances and deliver justice for past and present crimes. As a result, many young Central Africans, disillusioned with the democratic system, joined armed groups to take matters into their own hands.

Last year, researchers from the peacebuilding NGO I work for, Conciliation Resources, spoke to young Anti-balaka members in the town of Bossangoa.

Almost all of the combatants told researchers that they joined the armed group either to defend their community against Seleka attacks or to avenge past crimes against their families and communities.

Until these young people are convinced that the government can ensure their safety and their communities, and deliver justice for past crimes against them, no election can bring lasting peace to CAR.

The 2019 peace accord was very comprehensive and it provided the government with a clear roadmap for determining and responding to the needs and wishes of communities. But the government must now commit to fully implementing the terms of the deal and translating words into action.

The accord, for example, called for the formation of implementation committees in each province to help address issues critical to the peace process, such as the safe return of internally displaced people. While the creation of these committees was a much appreciated development and an important step towards peace, as the government did not allocate the necessary resources to support them, they were not able to make much progress.

Work for peace

Reconciliation takes time and more often than not, it cannot be achieved by government alone. To bring peace to the CAR, regional organizations such as the Economic Community of Central African States and the African Union, as well as the United Nations Mission MINUSCA and international and national NGOs, will need to support and actively work with the new government of Touadéra.

With the help of its regional partners, the CAR government must bring together different groups and communities and find ways to address their common concerns such as security, accountability and equitable management of natural resources. It should also hold consultations at the provincial level with communities and armed groups to better understand their specific needs and desires.

Only if the new government succeeds in gaining the trust of these diverse communities and sustaining an open dialogue across the divisions of conflict, will the country be able to move away from conflict and move towards lasting peace.

Until then, no election, however fair and free, will ensure that Central Africans come together and begin to build a common future.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.


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