Chapter 3
International support for a forgotten crisis

The CAR’s geopolitical interest to outside actors pales in comparison to other armed hot spots on the continent. International aid has fluctuated according to levels of political instability but has always been very low compared with other sub-Saharan African countries. Although there have been a number of DDR and Security sector reform (SSR) programmes, these have failed due to a lack of funding, coordination and the absence of political will. MINUSCA, the UN’s current and first full-scale peacekeeping operation has yet to prove its ability to deter violence between groups and against civilians. While a Special Criminal Court (SCC) is being set up to operate alongside the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try those ‘most responsible’ for the recent wave of violence, it cannot fill the gap left by the country’s dysfunctional justice system. In order to bring about short-term security and support long-term stability, the international community will need to review the design of the support it offers to the CAR.

Fluctuating levels of international aid

Levels of international support and development aid have fluctuated greatly since the CAR gained independence from France in 1960, often linked to periods of instability and conflict. In fact, while aid to sub-Saharan Africa as a whole went up by more than 50% between 1985 and 2005, aid to the CAR fell by almost 60%.[122] This waning interest by international donors coincided with diminishing international engagement in the CAR. This is visible in Bangui, where only a few donor countries and some African neighbours have official representations.[123] Even France closed its permanent military bases in the CAR from 1998 to 2002.[124] Consequently, despite its widespread underdevelopment, turbulent history and frequent conflicts, the CAR never received much international attention or support, and has long been referred to as an ‘aid orphan’.

A temporary shift came in late 2006 when the World Bank and EU helped clear a large proportion of the country’s massive debt arrears,[125] and UN humanitarian actors lobbied for more support for the country because of knock-on effects from the Darfur crisis. The strategy proved successful: in 2007, the number of international humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country increased from five to 20, and between 2005 and 2007 total foreign assistance doubled.[126] The European Commission (EC) earmarked a substantial amount for budget support, while also focusing on reinstating state authority and driving the local economy in key towns around the country.

The UN also expanded its activities but focused on targeting governance and crisis prevention (including support to rule of law, SSR and DDR), and poverty reduction. In 2007, the UN Peacebuilding Fund (UNPBF) financed the Inclusive Political Dialogue (a process similar to the May 2015 Bangui Forum) and provided funds to UN agencies to implement projects essential for consolidating peace.[127]

Nevertheless, and despite the promise of greater donor engagement, levels of humanitarian and development assistance stagnated from 2008 to 2012. Even the CAR’s nomination to the UN Peacebuilding Commission’s agenda in 2008 failed to mobilise greater international support. Since the overthrow of Bozizé in March 2013 and the violent crisis that ensued, many international partners have again suspended their development activities.[128]

There are various reasons why aid has contributed little in terms of improving the CAR’s development indicators and reducing instability and insecurity. On the one hand, aid levels are simply insufficient to meet the country’s extensive needs and, on the other, recurring insecurity has prevented development agencies from establishing a long-term presence. The aid that is provided mostly goes to the central administration and projects in Bangui,[129] and does not reach the rest of the country. This is partly because central governments are unwilling to distribute aid beyond the capital and partly due to the low absorption capacities of provincial administrations. Lastly, and critically, the fact that most development agency staff remain in the capital means that interventions are not necessarily designed for, nor adapted to, local realities and therefore lack the buy-in of local people.[130]

DDR and SSR programmes

The disconnection between intended effect and real impact becomes particularly clear in one of the key focus areas of international donors to the CAR: the security sector. Since the early 2000s, DDR and SSR programmes, led by multilateral donors such as the UNPBF and the EU, have been one of the key components of international efforts in the country. Effort had to take place, however, in a context where the government outsourced many of its security problems to other armed actors and deliberately weakened state security forces because they feared internal resistance.

The first DDR phase, which ran from 2004 to 2007, is said to have collected no more than 400 weapons from the 7,556 ex-combatants who went through the demobilisation phase and received reintegration support.[131] The rebel groups that emerged during the first DDR programme – the Armée populaire pour la restauration de la démocratie (APRD) and UFDR – signed a peace agreement with the government in June 2008 and were supposed to benefit from the second DDR phase between 2008 and 2012.[132] However, the political dialogue and negotiations had not been finalised by the time DDR programmes began and many critical issues had not been decided upon. For example, the question of integrating ex-combatants into the national defence and security forces had not been resolved, and during 2010 the government dragged its feet waiting for the 2011 elections before demobilising people.[133]

Ultimately, the 2008 to 2012 DDR process was insufficiently funded and confronted with too many delays. The funds for the DDR programme were not centralised under the management of one donor, thus different international actors were responsible for supporting different parts of the process. Nevertheless, ex-combatants of the APRD were finally demobilised in 2012.[134] One year later, a new rebel movement, the RJ, emerged from the remnants of the APRD. The group’s leader, Armel Sayo, has since joined the transitional government and his combatants have turned to armed robbery while they wait for the next DDR programme. Unsurprisingly, local trust in the effectiveness of internationally-led DDR programmes appears low.[135]

In addition to the DDR operations, several of the CAR’s international partners provided support to reform of the security sector.[136] In April 2008, a comprehensive SSR strategy and a two-year action plan covering all pillars of the security and justice sector was launched.[137] President Bozizé and his government enthusiastically endorsed the strategy and action plan, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and EU provided a multidisciplinary team of technical assistants in the six ministries responsible for its implementation.[138] By the end of 2009, 70% of the technical reform activities had been initiated.[139] Despite initial public endorsements at the political level, the reform process stalled in early 2010. This was predominantly due to a lack of political will on the part of the government, just as with the DDR programme,[140] and also to a lack of substantial, coordinated and sustained support from international partners.

SSR is an inherently deeply political process and, in the case of fragile countries like the CAR, requires a total overhaul of personnel, structures, procedures, policies and budgeting. Such transformation processes can meet resistance from those who benefit from the existing, often (purposefully) dysfunctional and opaque system. The absence of any significant improvement in the capacity, effectiveness or moral conduct of the defence and security forces in responding to the 2012–2014 violence as compared with previous years demonstrates the limited impact of the SSR process. DDR programmes in the CAR have also failed to bring a significant increase in human security and did not manage to successfully integrate ex-combatants into security forces or reintegrate them into local communities.[141]

One major problem is that the DDR and SSR programmes were developed and planned independently of each other, despite an intimate link between the two processes. For SSR and DDR programmes to be successful, the tradition of violent takeovers and the culture of impunity must be overcome. The incomplete execution and inadequate funding of SSR and DDR programmes thus far, as well as weak political commitment on the part of the CAR governments, may well have contributed to the current crisis. At the same time, the DDR programmes have raised expectations, with young men today deciding to start fighting in the hope of accessing a DDR scheme afterwards.[142] The May 2015 Bangui Forum again included an agreement in which the various armed groups agreed to a DDR programme.[143]

Peacekeeping missions and their shortcomings

Since 1997, the CAR has hosted various regional and international peacekeeping missions under different mandates and flags (see Annex II for an overview). These missions were regionally led – with heavy political, financial and logistical involvement by the French – and never very strong. Most focused on short-term stabilisation, such as restoring order by halting rebellions, violence and criminal activities, while failing to address the root causes underlying the conflict. Their mandates have varied from overseeing the electoral process, protecting the government and reforming the FACA to restoring the judiciary system. In the eyes of local people, the various missions have become indistinguishable since they have followed one another in quick succession, often without changing personnel or local command structures. In everyday speech, people still refer as often to FOMUC (Force multinationale en Centrafrique), which ended in 2008, and MICOPAX (Mission de consolidation de la paix en Centrafrique), which ended in 2013, as to the current UN mission, MINUSCA.

MINUSCA is the first full-scale UN-led peacekeeping operation in the CAR,[144] and its establishment suggests renewed international efforts to stabilise the country. While earlier missions had between 200 and 700 troops,[145] MINUSCA is set to have 13,000 and could be the first mission that, at critical times, is not outnumbered by rebels.[146] So far, however, MINUSCA is seen as rather weak, with the same leadership as its political predecessor, the Bureau intégré de l’organisation des Nations Unies en Centrafrique (BINUCA), which failed to have much influence over political circles in Bangui.[147] Following reports of sexual abuse by MINUSCA peacekeepers in Bangui in August 2015, the UN Secretary-General requested his Special Representative’s resignation.[148]

Field commanders are critical of their new mission, explaining that MINUSCA’s bureaucracy makes it difficult to make a rapid response when needed. They are also concerned that deployment of the international police and gendarmerie components of the mission, both crucial for the justice system, is taking longer than hoped.[149] Further, although local people see the peacekeepers as contributing to stability, they also complain of soldiers abusing their daughters, smuggling minerals and profiting from small-scale business. In Paoua, for example, the Cameroonian contingent was running a bar where it sold the cheapest beer. Citizens blame soldiers for enjoying the good life in town rather than patrolling the rural areas where people feel most at risk. Local sentiments towards these international missions, including MINUSCA, are therefore mixed.[150]

There has been little effective international assistance to the CAR’s dysfunctional state justice system, which remains severely under-resourced, corrupt and prone to political interference. Indeed, there is no legal system at all in most parts of the country since many prosecutors and judges remain in Bangui rather than working in the towns to which they have been appointed. All parties to the current conflict have committed grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law but remain unpunished. Numerous amnesty laws have enabled political and military actors to continue acting with impunity[151] while local people’s needs for reparation and compensation fail to be met.

The early 2015 grassroots citizen consultations organised ahead of the Bangui Forum demonstrated that justice and reparation are priorities for CAR citizens, ahead of reconciliation and pardons. The final report also concluded that France, Chad and Sudan’s roles in the conflict must be explained and crimes punished. With the support of the UN, the CAR’s transitional government launched a national reconciliation strategy in May 2014 accompanied by an emergency action plan.[152] The strategy’s five themes include mediation, social cohesion and a process of truth, justice and reparations, the latter through a truth and reconciliation commission. Seeking to establish such mechanisms suggests a ‘blue-print’ approach to transitional justice since these mechanisms[153] appear to be largely copied from other countries.

In April 2015, the overwhelming majority of the Transitional Parliament adopted a draft law to establish a SCC to try those ‘most responsible’ in parallel with the ICC – which, in September 2014, had accepted a request to open an investigation into crimes committed in the CAR since August 2012.[154] This will be the first time that a hybrid court has been established, with the ICC investigating alongside the SCC.[155] Once interim President Samba-Panza enacts the law, the SCC will be set up in stages. As the grassroots consultations showed, citizens are concerned about whether foreign nationals who committed crimes in the CAR will face prosecution.[156] Rights groups are concerned that the National Transitional Council removed a provision against immunity which had been part of the proposed law.[157] Nevertheless, they are hopeful that the court will speed up justice for victims, and that it will strengthen the national judiciary’s capacity.[158]

Whether the SCC will indeed speed up justice remains to be seen. Important questions about the nature of the CAR’s recent conflict, its history and the use of violence need to be posed before determining what objectives to pursue in the field of justice and reconciliation. The CAR’s limited financial resources (both domestic and foreign), the dilapidated state of the formal justice system, and people’s lack of faith in the justice system will further complicate the installation of effective justice measures.

Implications for future engagement

Given the CAR’s fragility due to decades of chronic poverty, violence and lack of governance, international assistance is vital during the current transitional period. To attain the desired political stability and security reforms, without neglecting sectors such as infrastructure and basic services, the international community will need to carefully examine the priorities of its desired impact. The recent deployment of a fully-fledged UN peacekeeping operation could provide an entry point for positive change. However, to attain political stability, difficult reform dilemmas must be tackled head on.

Long-term engagement is needed to shape an environment in which civilian and political party agendas override armed interests in leading the transformation process. Support to credible elections at an appropriate time could be followed by support to political and civil institutions in the capital and also, importantly, in the provinces. Funding should include support to DDR and SSR programmes and be sufficient to ensure that efforts within and between the programmes are well coordinated.

Strengthening the central state risks amplifying the disconnection between Bangui-centred elites and the widely-spread population in the country’s neglected peripheries. There therefore needs to be a shift away from the capital towards decentralised governance and development through local administration, service delivery and justice provision in the provinces. These efforts could, however, be undermined by a lack of commitment and buy in at the national level.

While social cohesion has been strained by former episodes of conflict, this last peak of violence has largely shattered it. Only the trial of perpetrators, including those from Chad and Sudan, and compensation payments to victims of the recent violence can end the culture of impunity. Justice and compensation measures should, however, be paired with reconciliation efforts between the country’s profoundly divided groups to avoid framing the conflict in religious terms.

Since the CAR’s instability is also the product of interference by foreign armed groups and governments, efforts within the CAR form only part of any solution. International support to the CAR should therefore include a component that stimulates political dialogue between regional actors and restrains them from destabilising the country and transgressing its borders.

Despite the massive needs across every sector, limited international aid has been committed to the CAR. This calls for strategic and coordinated choices for the donor community to ensure that efforts can have a visible impact.

Jauer, K., ‘Stuck in the recovery gap: the role of humanitarian aid in the Central African Republic’, Humanitarian exchange magazine, n. 43, June 2009.
The most important ones are France, the US, the EU, China and Russia.
Munié, V., ‘Une cooperation militaire multiforme et contestée ; En Centrafrique, stratégie française et enjeux régionaux’, Le Monde Diplomatique, 1 February 2008.
Jauer, K., op.cit.
Foreign assistance doubled from US$117 million in 2005 to UD$244 million in 2007. Jauer, K., op.cit.
CAR’s Peacebuilding Priority Plan identified three priority short-term areas for funding: 1) SSR and DDR; 2) Good governance, decentralisation and public service provision; and 3) Revitalisation of communities affected by conflict.
The UN stopped implementing its Development Assistance Framework programmes in 2013 and agricultural development programmes funded by the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the EU also ended.
Less than 20% of 2007 development aid was spent on projects outside the capital. See Jauer, K., op.cit.
Akasaki, G., op.cit.
MDRP Website, Country Report CAR, (accessed 1 April 2015).
Security Sector Reform Resource Centre, Country Profile: Central African Republic, 2015, (accessed 16 October 2015).
IRIN, ‘Briefing: DDR in CAR – hopes and hurdles’, IRIN Humanitarian news and analysis, 19 April 2012, (accessed 24 May 2015).
IRIN, ‘Central African Republic: DDR moves forward’, IRIN Humanitarian news and analysis, 17 May 2012, (accessed 15 April 2015).
Lombard, L., ’Making War, Not Peace’, The New York Times, 18 January 2013, (accessed 24 April 2015).
Individual donors (France and UN predominantly) had been involved in stand-alone projects in various areas of the security and justice sector prior to 2007. These were fragmented, small-scale projects.
Security Sector Reform Resource Centre, Country Profile: Central African Republic, 2015, (accessed 22 October 2015).
Defence, Interior, Justice, Water and Forests, Finance, and the General Secretariat of Government (for the Parliament).
Fuior, T. & Law, D., Security Sector Reform in the Central African Republic. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Centre for Security Governance, Nr. 1, October 2014.
Fuior, T., op.cit.
N’Diaye, B., ‘Security Sector Reform in the Central African Republic’, in Born, H. & Schnabel, A., Security Sector Reform in Challenging Environments, 2009.
Interview with the leader of the RJ, 25 February 2015, Bangui
RFI, ‘Avec l’accord de désarmement, la RCA espère tourner une page’, Radio France Internationale, 11 May 2015, (accessed 11 May 2015).
United Nations Security Council, 'Resolution 2149 (2014)', S/RES/2149, 10 April 2014, (accessed 16 October 2015).
With the exception of the rather short-lived UN mission in the borderland between Chad and the CAR in 2009–10 (MINURCAT).
FOMUC failed to prevent Patassé’s overthrow in 2003, MICOPAX was unable to stop the advance of the Séléka on Bangui in 2012 or 2013, and MISCA could not prevent the violence between ex-Séléka and Anti-balaka spiralling out of control in Bangui in 2013.
Interview with a European consul in Bangui, 20 February 2015.
The Guardian, ‘UN peacekeeping chief in CAR sacked over sex abuse claims’, 12 August 2015, (accessed 16 October 2015).
Interview with MINUSCA site commander, 1 March 2015 Paoua, and deputy site commander, 9 March 2015, Bangassou.
In early April 2015, two violent demonstrations against a MINUSCA base in Kaga Bandoro took place, resulting in one death. See MINUSCA. ‘Violent demonstrations against MINUSCA in Kaga-Bandoro’, MINUSCA Article List, 10 April 2015, (accessed 5 May 2015).
Amnesty laws were adopted on 30 May 1996, 15 March 1997 and 13 October 2008. The 13 October 2008 amnesty law was so broad that it protected all members of the defence and security forces, leaders and members of politico-military groups operating within and outside of the CAR, as well as key political figures for all crimes except those over which the ICC had jurisdiction (war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc.) committed since 15 March 2003.
The emergency action plan places emphasis on building the capacity of local leaders in peaceful conflict resolution and restoring local authority (chefs de quartiers et de villages).
Except for the Special Criminal Court, which in terms of structure is a novelty.
It was not the first time that the CAR government had called on the ICC for help. In 2007, the ICC Prosecutor opened an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the CAR by Jean-Pierre Bemba of the MLC. Bemba’s trial is ongoing and the judgment expected in due course. See International Justice Monitor., Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo – Background, 2015, (accessed 6 May 2015); International Criminal Court, Situation in the Central African Republic – The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Case Information Sheet, 4 November 2014, (accessed 6 May 2015).
HRW, Central African Republic: Key Step Toward Justice, Human Rights Watch, 24 April 2015, (accessed 6 May 2015).
Deutsche Welle, RCA: creation d’une Cour Pénale Spéciale, 23 April 2015, (accessed 6 May 2015).
HRW, 2015, op.cit.
HRW, Why a Special Criminal Court for the Central African Republic Deserves Your Support, Human Rights Watch, 20 February 2015, (accessed 6 May 2015).