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Maintaining Regional Peace and Security Through International Conflict Mediation in the Central African Republic

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 25/02/2016 Emmanuel Dupuy
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC ELECTION © ISSOUF SANOGO via Getty Images CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC ELECTION

The outcome of the second round of the Presidential election in the Central African Republic, which took place on February 14th, is not yet known. To elect their president, the people had to choose between two former Prime Ministers: Anicet-Georges Dologuélé, PM between 1999-2001, under President Patassé, or Faustin Archange Touadéra, the last Prime Minister before the forfeiture of President Bozizé in 2013 after which the Seleka rebels seized power in Bangui.
It was time to draw a line under the violent crisis that had been shaking the country, which used religion as a catalyst for hatred and inter-communal abuse, displacing nearly 450,000 people internally and even forcing many to flee to neighboring countries.
The electoral process has had to be postponed no less than eight times since political transition began in March 2014 in order for the first round to take place on December 30th, 2015.
The reasons that led the National Election Authority (ANE) to question the integrity of the last legislative elections, which automatically stripped the new Republic (the 6th one since the CAR's Independence in 1960) of its legitimacy, are well known.
Let us hope that, before the end of February, we will know who will succeed the interim President Catherine Samba-Panza. Timings are important; at the last Summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) held in Brazzaville in July 2014, it was decided that the transitional period would end on March 31st 2016.
In particular, it was the Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso -- who was called upon by his peers to act as a mediator for the crisis -- who had to find a peaceful solution to the conflict so that it did not spill over into the neighboring countries that are already weakened by cross-border terrorism and crime.
This is not the first time that President Sassou Nguesso's has acted as a mediator. Over the course of his long time in power in Congo-Brazzaville, he played a role in the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, and he brought Angola and South Africa back to the negotiating table during the border dispute that had badly damaged their diplomatic relationship.
Why entrust the Congolese President with such a mandate in the CAR? One must be immersed in Congo's recent history to fully understand the answer to this question. Specifically, the dreadful civil war which torn the country apart between June and October 1997 and remains a painful memory that all Congolese want to forget, is strikingly similar to the crisis in the CAR.
Firstly, the referendum of January 2002 followed a long period of transition and led to the adoption of a new Congolese constitution to put an end to inter-communal clashes. This political and institutional framework clearly lends itself to comparison with the constitutional referendum that took place in the CAR on December 13th, 2015.
Furthermore, in both cases, the most violent confrontations took place in the capital city, as control of the city was strategically crucial. Fighting between the Cobras of Denis Sassou Nguesso and the Zoulous of Pascal Lissouba usually occurred in a few neighbourhoods of Brazzaville, just like supporters of François Bozizé and of Michel Djotodia fought principally in Bangui.
The processes of reconstruction, re-building infrastructure, difficult yet indispensable reconciliation, and transitional justice which successfully played out in Congo all allow us to understand some of the challenges that the people of the CAR will have to overcome in years ahead.
It is highly likely that the example of military demobilization and reintegration initiated in Congo-Brazzaville between 2002-2009 and overseen by the World Bank through its Multi-Country Demobilization & Reintegration Program (MDRP) will play an important mentoring role.
For over twenty years, the Congo has been politically stable whilst seeing real economic development, of which an annual growth rate of 5% is testament. This is partially as a result of income from the oil sector even though it is less true in recent times.
It is this reality which has motivated the heads of states of central African countries to entrust the Congolese President with the challenging mandate of acting as a mediator and even, on occasion, as 'paymaster general' (the Congolese Treasurer was given 25 billion Central African Francs (€38.1 million) in order to pay the salaries in arrears of central African officials, who were without a salary between March and June 2013).
Whilst the delay in effecting a transitional government has received its fair share of criticism, the de facto and de jure support from Congo-Brazzaville has given the CAR the opportunity to give back to the Regional Economic Community through regional solidarity and security, strengthening international borders beyond economic and monetary cooperation.
Without MISCA, the UN International Support Mission to the CAR -- which has been under African leadership and Congolese command since November 2013 -- it would not have been possible to deploy 8,000 men on the ground in September 2014, as permitted by UN Resolution 2149.
Strengthened by this new perspective, borders in central Africa will no more be seen as constraining barriers to people and merchandise, at the discretion of the fluctuating efficiency of states, but rather as gateways which give the local populations a place to live and share. It is a peaceful future for the region and the people who live there who largely depend on it for their livelihoods.
Indeed, central Africa, which in the next ten months will see four successive presidential elections (Chad and Congo-Brazzaville in March, and Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo in November) is thus coerced into thinking collectively about its future. There is a capacity for each separate state or non-state actor, to bring the region together and make an all-encompassing deal which will mitigate the factors that could potentially damage the unstable regional equilibrium.
Since 1997, the Congolese example demonstrates that safeguarding the peace is the key ingredient for long-term, sustainable economic development. Sometimes in the region, as with the entire African continent, it is forgotten that primary pillar around which a state should be built is its long-term future. However, we should bear in mind that local ownership and the inclusion of society are two equally important pillars, and together these constitute the democratic ideal.
These pillars do nothing apart from highlight the importance of mentoring, tutoring and mediating -- things which all of central Africa must espouse -- in creating regional stability.
Professor of Geopolitics, former Political Advisor to the Commander of the Task Force Lafayette in Afghanistan in 2011, and President of IPSE.

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