It is now certain, five years after the end of the Mandate EUFOR Tchad/RCA, the EU is returning to the CAR.
Not withstanding the institutional problems the EU generally faces regarding the launch of any EU missions, and the exacerbated will to become a hard power – when CSDP is limited to soft power – there is still a lack of coherence regarding the next EU mission in the CAR.
The killings and displacement occurring in the Central African Republic is something the world already witnessed in the past in Somalia, the DRC, Sudan etc. and peacekeeping forces have thus far failed to entirely halt the terror.
The conflict contains similar ingredients of previous conflicts, as well as the added dimension of an economic crisis. Thus, it might be worthwhile to understand what caused previous conflicts in Somalia, the DRC and Sudan, even if none of them are solved just yet. Moreover, the EU has also deployed a mission in each of those countries.
History suggests that violent religious or ethnic conflicts are rarely resolved militarily, unless one side is completely exterminated literally or figuratively through deportation or state cleavage. Indeed, many from within the country think that the only way to bring peace is the separation of the country between the Muslims (North) and the Christians (South). In any case, it would be interesting to review less obvious factors that are contributing to the violence, which if addressed, may go some way towards reducing it.
Military solution, in itself, is futile in this part of the world. However, understanding previous conflicts might help to understand the current one. In theory the EU is armed, but in practice, what about the so called Comprehensive Approach or lessons learnt?
Another difficulty the CAR is facing is related to the presence of French and Chadian troops. France and Chad have been involved in the CAR previously; France as the colonial power and Chad with the Séléka group (alliance of rebel militia factions that overthrew the Central African Republic government on March 24, 2013) and are now both sending peacekeepers to the country. They are both part of the problem but also part of the solution. A neutral actor in the region would be more than welcome.
The AU could play this role until the arrival of the UN Mission but the AU is already deployed in Mali, Somalia, the DRC, South Sudan and now the CAR, and it would require more financial help from the EU, US and the UN in order to play a greater role.
Regarding the UN, France is lobbying hard for the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers by the summer. It has won over regional power broker Chad, which holds a rotating seat on the Security Council and had originally called for an African solution. A UN resolution is expected in late March, but resources are scarce. Member states have so far provided only half the troops for a planned 12,000-strong mission in Mali, and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has warned any deployment in the Central African Republic would take up to six months to organise.
Ban Ki-Moon called for a bridging force of 3,000 extra men and at least $38 million in funding for the African mission, which would form the backbone of a future U.N. force with a robust mandate to neutralise armed groups.
However, there is a lack of interest in the Central African Republic; it’s in the middle of nowhere, and a mission of 10,000 men costs $800 million.
Forces in presence: Still not clear, need to lobby
HR/VP Catherine Ashton announced that the 28-member bloc planned to send 500 soldiers to the strife-torn country, with the possibility of doubling the number of troops, without giving a specific timeline.
France announced they would send an extra 400 military personnel, boosting troop numbers to 2,000. Around 6,000 African troops are also on the ground as part of an African Union-mandated peacekeeping force. The country’s interim president, Catherine Samba Panza, has urged French troops to stay in the country until elections due in early 2015. As the French mission’s mandate is due to expire in April 2014, the French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is expected to give the French parliament an update on Tuesday and urge parliamentarians to extend the mandate, which should be approved. Poland should provide some 140 military, alongside a similar French contingent regarding the EU mission.
At a “force generation” conference in Brussels, six EU states offered “substantial” contributions of soldiers or police. Estonia, Latvia, Romania, and Portugal could each give 30-50 staff, while Spain may also contribute. Six non-EU countries – Canada, Georgia, Norway, Serbia, Turkey and the United States – took part in the conference, and some nations offered to provide equipment or logistical support rather than troops. A second “force generation” conference will be held February 27 to fill any gaps.
Some non-EU Members seem to be more willing to participate to an EU Mission than EU Member States. Diplomats said that Georgia – anxious to cement good ties with the EU – could also supply up to 100 troops but this still has to be confirmed. The Central African Republic’s interim president, Catherine Samba Panza, welcomed the European intervention but indicated that she expected more support from the international community. “It may not be enough, but it is a big help,” Samba Panza said. It is a clear possibility that the EU’s lobby is not only working because CAR is not a strategic region, but also because of the mandate and the mission itself.
A mission too limited
Almost a million people, or a quarter of the population of the former French colony, have been displaced by fighting which erupted after the mostly Muslim Séléka rebel group seized power in March last year in the majority Christian country (video). This time, the normally cautious EU is sending soldiers into a potentially dangerous environment, in contrast to the military training missions it usually undertakes.
The fear is that the mission may not be enough. There is a doubt that the planned military mission will be sufficient to stop the violence that has been escalating for months in the CAR. Virginie Dero, who heads a human rights organisation in the country, warned that there is a need of additional troops, specifically outside the capital, where the security situation is still catastrophic. The mission, however, is limited to Bangui.
The interim president Samba Panza also drew attention to the alarming security situation. She hopes that the African mission MISCA will be expanded into a UN peacekeeping operation with several thousand additional troops. The UN estimates that at least 10,000 soldiers would be needed to restore security in the country.
Former Prime Minister Anicet Dologuele, said that “It’s not too late, but France or other forces cannot just help restore security and then leave,” he told Reuters. “They must stay for the long-term for the hard rebuilding work.” The EU force will have just six months from when it becomes fully operational to help improve security and so “must attain visible results very quickly,” Major-General Philippe Ponties stated. The EU mission will be deployed in March.
Regarding the situation in the CAR, it is likely that the mandate will be extended and that in the future, the mission will turn into a civilian/military mission, and not exclusively a military one.
President Panza has mentioned that “perhaps it might not be enough, but it will be a big help all the same. The troops already here will not succeed in restoring order to Bangui and the rest of the country alone. We need more troops, and therefore we strongly welcome the EU’s commitment.“At this stage, better than nothing is likely to be a good point for the EU.