Skip to main content

Thereai??i??s election fever in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). It seems as if everybody is declaring themselves a candidate for president. Itai??i??s almost hard to believe anyone would want the job. But if precedent is anything to go by, itai??i??s a licence to loot.

The popularity of the current interim administration is to the left of zero. An SMS made the rounds in Bangui earlier this week calling for a general strike if the few remaining Muslims in the city had not been disarmed by Thursday.

The CARai??i??s interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, has few of the tools most heads of state rely on to restore order ai??i?? the army is not allowed to carry guns and her administration has almost no political skills. She doesnai??i??t really have to worry about any kind of protracted general strike ai??i?? the few people in Bangui who have jobs are too dirt-poor to stay away from work.

The past week has been one of the worst. Just as everyone from the interim prime minister to Franceai??i??s defence minister was telling the world that an element of calm was returning to the capital, a heavily armed group killed and injured dozens in a church. The next day, in an apparent revenge attack, a mosque was burnt down.

Two days later the city was in lockdown. On national radio Samba-Panza appealed for calm, with promises to speed up the disarmament. And therein lies the problem, on several levels.

Perpetual distrust
Few people take her seriously. Apart from a perpetual distrust of the ruling political class, Bangui residents know that the president has no say in how the disarmament process is carried out. Roughly 9Ai??000 soldiers from a force led by the African Union, a French force and a European Union force are tasked with stabilising Bangui and the country. That includes disarming, a process taking longer than expected.

Speculation is rife over whether the foreign forces are biased in favour of either the predominantly Muslim forces known as SAi??lAi??ka or the predominantly Christian militia groups known as anti-balaka.

Two days of marches organised by various civil society groups called on the AU force to remove the Burundians from the ranks of its mission, known as Misca, claiming that the Burundians were complicit with SAi??lAi??ka supporters in the attack on the Fatima church.

Itai??i??s a slippery slope if the AU tries to keep everybody on board with its choice of peacekeepers. A few months ago Chad pulled its troops out of the mission, probably before being kicked out.

Evidence of bias was piling up against the Chadians, and, reminiscent of the National Party pulling South Africa out of the Commonwealth before being expelled, President Idriss DAi??by in Nai??i??Djamena told his boys to come home.

Unwelcome light
The latest internal peacekeeping crisis shines an unwelcome light on soldiers from Congo-Brazzaville. Human Rights Watch has documented a number of cases of torture, murder and abduction of locals by the Congolese in areas under their watch. In September the AU forces will change the colour of their helmets and become United Nations peacekeepers.

There arenai??i??t very many Muslims left in Bangui. Most of them are living scared in a small part of the city known as KM-5. Thereai??i??s no doubt popular opinion in Bangui favours disarming them. Disarming sounds like a good idea if their protection can be guaranteed. The problem is it canai??i??t. Thereai??i??s always the option of shipping them off to another part of the country, and chances are thatai??i??s what will happen.

The disturbing side to that option is the death knell it sounds for any attempt at tolerance and reconciliation. And itai??i??s another blow to any semblance of authority Samba-Panza hoped to exhibit ai??i?? sheai??i??s on record as saying Bangui Muslims should stay in Bangui. Iai??i??m not convinced that if Madame la Presidente lived in KM-5 sheai??i??d want to follow her own advice.

David L Smith is an expert on the Central African Republic and is on assignment in Bangui for the Institute for Security Studies.


David has worked extensively with the UN on media projects in conflict and post conflict zones from the Balkans to the Central African Republic, including the conception and implementation of the hugely successful Radio Okapi network in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Current projects include establishing a Kanuri-language radio station in the Lake Chad Basin, targeting areas affected by Boko Haram. Dandal Kura broadcasts from studios in Maiduguri, and has been on the air since January 2015. David also provides political analysis on conflict zones and fragile states for various media outlets as well as think tanks. Through Okapi Consulting, David Smith conceived and implemented a United Nations sponsored radio project, Bar-Kulan (meeting place in Somali), established for the people of Somalia and the Somali Diaspora. His background in electronic media is extensive, including producer positions with the international public broadcasters of Canada and the Netherlands as well as managing a commercial transformation project at South Africa's Capital Radio. David’s work in development began in Zimbabwe shortly after independence as part of an education programme funded by the Canadian government to help get young Zimbabweans back into classrooms after the war in that country had ended. While on mission, he hunts down books by local authors and writes about both the book and the search for it in Book Safari, a column in the Mail & Guardian newspaper (Johannesburg).

Leave a Reply