By Osuolale Alalade
The unremitting blood letting in Central Africa along ethno-religious lines was not inevitable. Africa got it right in Central Africa in late 2012 as it mobilized militarily to put in check the Seleka band to protect the presidency of the democratically elected Francois Bozize. Supported by aspiring regional power South Africa, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) mobilized forces from Chad, Gabon, Cameroon, Angola, and the Republic of Congo to create a mainly African force; the FOMAC. In this instance, Africa got it right but miscalculated the intentions of France. Bozize had broken the golden rules of regime survival in any Francophone state in Africa. The leading force in the FOMAC, South Africa, only recently beaten in Cote d’Ivoire by the same old elite state dominating Africa, France, has also still to demonstrate in depth appreciation of the subtleties required if it is to achieve its political objectives to emerge as a strong continental power. It is of course the avowed strategic interests of France to prevent the emergence of pivotal African power on the continent. If in doubt, South Africa should ask Nigeria about this. A third political element impacting the humanitarian fiasco in the CAR is the mortal threat in the West of China’s economic expansionist program in Africa. The ongoing massacre in the Central African Republic is the result of the interaction of these factors. Shorn of all rhetoric, the massacres in Central Africa express the catastrophic consequences of realpolitik in a fragile African state environment. Recent “humanitarian” manoeuvres, are just the tactical footwork of an amoral world in pursuit of the larger strategic objectives. It is the essence of games that nations play to camouflage the horrible reality of struggle for strategic ascendancy. In this, both Francois Bozize, the deposed President of Central African Republic who has the sympathy of African states, and the leader of the coalition of butcher organizations under the umbrella of the Seleka are mere inconsequential pawns in this tragic history of another African Francophone state.
The gruesome attacks of the mainly Christian militia the anti Balaka against Muslims, have made all actors in this tragic drama villains. Séléka is a union of numerous groups from Muslim dominated north-eastern region of the Central African Republic. The main groups under the umbrella are the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) founded in 2006 by Michel Djotodia and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP). Other minor militant organizations are the Patriotic Convention for Saving the Country (CPSK). They have recently been joined by the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC). The Chadian group, Popular Front for Recovery (FPR), also announced their allegiance to the Séléka coalition. That the leadership of the Seleka are all Muslims carried the obvious implications that its brutal campaigns and interventions carried the germ of ethno regional complications. The Muslim population is put at 15 per cent and the leader of Seleka, paradoxically named Michel Djotodia, is the first Muslim head of State of the country. It is noteworthy that the Seleka embraces Chadian elements. The integration of transnational elements in conflicts across international frontiers to support their kith and kin has altered the configuration of conflict in the continent.
It is trite to assert that the first law of regime survival in Francophone Africa is not to threaten the interests of the creators of the state. As Francoise Bozize went ahead to extend a 2007 military cooperation agreement with South Africa, he was committing one of the two cardinal sins that have brought a horrific dimension to the long history of instability in the Central African Republic. The Department of Defence of the Republic of South Africa on 6 January 2013 reissued a public statement confirming that the agreement between the Government of the Central African Republic and the Government of the Republic of South Africa concerning Defence cooperation, signed in Pretoria on 11 February 2007, had been extended for another five years. The Memorandum of understanding in its preamble expresses the willingness of both parties to acknowledge and demonstrate their mutual commitment to the formation and development of their defence relationships. The public reissue of the Agreement which promotes co-operation between the Parties on peace and stability and the training and capacity building of military personnel through the exchange of trainees, instructors and observers had become necessary as President Zuma was contemplating the deployment of 400 men to bolster South African special forces that were protecting the Central African President and also strengthen the FOMAC in Bangui. This reinforcement was important as appeals made to the international community to shore up a distressed democratically elected president went unheeded. Despite the notoriety of the advancing Seleka, France conveniently stressed that the bloody rebellion in the CAR was an internal affair. It called for dialogue. The United States evacuated its mission. It went mum.
The 200 men eventually deployed by South Africa to help local troops could not contain the largely Muslim rampaging Seleka, who were said to have numbered over 3000 men and boys. As the Seleka took Bangui in March 2013, South Africa lost 13 men, the heaviest military loss of South African Defence Forces since the end of Aparthied. The victory of the Seleka demonstrated the sheer recklessness of attempting to share the African Francophone social-economic political space between France and any other force as was contemplated by Francois Bozize. In the course of subduing the country-side, according to Human Rights Watch documents that from February 11 to June 2, 2013, weeks after it had taken Bangui, Séléka gunmen in an orgy of violence killed at least 40 civilians, and intentionally destroyed 34 villages or towns. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court immediately indicted deposed President Francois Bozize for human rights violation. African states initially refused to recognise Djotodia as president. This set the stage in August 2013 for the deposed President Francois Bozize to make public his intentions to seek to regain power and see the rebels ousted. Accordingly, he announced the formation of the Front for the Return of Constitutional Order in the CAR. As the bloody scenario has unfolded, the emergence of the Christian anti-Balaka militants, a response to the immense brutality of the Seleka against unarmed Christian civilians, has had devastating consequences for the Muslim community. This has further polarized the crisis on ethno religious lines.
Michel Djotodia is working earnestly to earn a reprieve from the West and the ICC. His earliest initiative was to pacify France and important constituencies for the second sin of Francois Bozize. Djotodia began a review of contracts awarded to South African and Chinese companies under his defeated rival. This was to signal to Paris that he is prepared to reverse Bozize’s ahistorical flirtations with dangerous notions of a diminution of France’s stature in CAR by sharing defence and economic control with South Africa. In this, Francois Bozize is in the same league with Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire-another victim of French influence at the ICC. Djotodia’s final destination is expected to include the abrogation of the Defence Agreement with South Africa. The new strongman and warlord’s review of Chinese interests in the country sends a strong signal to a panicky Europe and the United States over Chinese growing influence in Africa. Chinese focus on the economy is a prelude to future serious political implications of a resurgent China globally. Where else to begin than in the continent historically most acceptant of comprehensive foreign domination? Against this backdrop, France’s role in keeping its pre carre under tight rein is a kind of service to its western allies who ever so often signal their cynicism over the wide gap between France’s rhetoric as a “friend” of Africa and its practical interventions that are clearly driven by its fear of a loss of international stature and being supplanted by a truly independent and autonomous Africa in control of its destiny. It is in this context that the blunt public denial of the claims of French European Affairs Minister Thierry Repentine that Germay and Britain were considering sending troops to the Central African Republic by German foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schafer must be seen. It was expected that French President Francois Hollande was going to appeal to other European nations to bolster a self serving French intervention tagged as a Peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic beyond logistical aid. The role of the United States has been predictable. Beginning December 2013, the Obama administration is committing to stabilize the CAR. Obama has directed Secretary Hagel, to authorize US AFRICOM to help with the transportation of forces from Burundi to the Central African Republic in coordination with France. The American President asserted that the US initiative was part of an international action to avert a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in the Central African Republic.
As the tragedy has unfolded, the South African society x-raying the cost of its engagement in the CAR, has reminded the Zuma administration of its legal duty to enforce international human rights law by initiating the indictment of Djotodia through the ICC. Pikkie Greeff, National Secretary of the South African National Defence Union, observed that using child soldiers to conduct acts of war and aggression as was done by Djotodia’s Seleka in the battle to take Bangui is a violation of human rights and an international act of criminality. South African Forces deployed in Bangui were more saddened by the discovery they made after the battle. Mostly traumatized, they found that they had indeed as individuals been victims themselves of the treachery of international politics. Most of the Seleka dead in the battle were kids.
“It was only after the firing had stopped that we (they) saw we had killed kids. It makes you sick. We (the South African troops) did not come here for this… to kill kids. They (the kids) were crying for help…calling for their mums,” a paratrooper said to the Sunday Times of South Africa.
CAR is indeed crying for help and reprieve for the sins of Francois Bozize.