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The Central African Republic will not be a military trap providing advised political management and an important economic and humanitarian effort

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Despite a mandate from the international community and interreligious killings in Bangui, the French intervention in the Central African Republic began in a mixed international and national context.

Indeed the limited logistical and financial support provided by the Americans and Europeans to our action, François Hollande’s contradictory declarations regarding maintaining Michel Djotodia as self-proclaimed president of Central African Republic, the absence of a clearly defined enemy, “Selekas” being a general name given to groups known only by a few specialists, the mission itself, interposing between communities that recalls bad memories of Rwanda or Lebanon, the limited resources set up in a territory larger than France, the new reduction of military personnel announced just as a new operations theatre is being set up, all create an unfavorable background for support to this intervention that is wrongly perceived by commentators as a potential trap.

This analysis therefore aims to present the determining elements behind the decision to intervene in Central African Republic.

The first certainty is that it was France, who in March 2013 decided to let the selekas take hold of Bangui and let them chase away general President Bozizé to whom we provided continuous military support since he came to power ten years earlier.
Indeed, rebellions in the area of the three boarders (Chad, CAR, and Sudan) north of the RCA are endemic and we intervened three times in ten years to stop the rebel columns advancing towards Bangui, with complete indifference from the media:

  • On October 30th 2006, the rebel movement UFDR (Union of Democratic Forces for Unity) triggered an offensive from the region of Birao towards the South and took hold of Ouanda Djalle (150 km south of Birao) before moving on towards Bria and opening the road to Bangui. Upon demand from the Central African authorities, as from the end of November, the French military supported the FACA and the FOMUC in the city of Birao . On December 10th, after a series of brief and violent combats, one last area (Ouanda Djalle) was taken back from the UFDR.
  • In March 2007 – Second rebel offensive that took hold of Birao airport. A new operation is then launched by alert units in France and other pre-positioned units (Chad, Gabon, and Ivory Coast) to regain the airport. These French units also support FACA units spread out at the same time and boost their confidence. On April 13th 2007, as the UFDR rebels had been pushed back to their sanctuary at the border with Chad, a peace agreement was signed between the CAR government and the UFDR in Birao.
  • December 2012 – Third rebel offensive. Some groups, believing that the 2007 peace agreements had not been respected, launched a military offensive. The rebels who attacked towards the south along two axes took a number of towns within one month and opened the road to Bangui: Birao, Bria, Bambari, Ouadda, Ndélé, Kaga Bandoro, Damora 80 km from the capital, allowed rebels to extend their influence to the North and center of the CAR. France intervened again late December 2012. Three companies and two Puma helicopters came as backup from Gabon and Chad from the 8th RPIMa that ensures airport safety. More than 600 French military were present. Mid-January, after the tensions in the capital receded, two Puma helicopters and a company (the 2nd REP) left for Mali and took part in the operations in the Adrar des Ifoghas.
  • Three months later, in March 2013 the Seleka rebels began a new offensive from the North and center of the CAR. Fighting near Bangui made it obligatory to deploy an extra 300 French military from Gabon, on top of the 250 already there. The Seleka, rapidly defeated the FACA supported by Bozizé’s last allies (South Africa and Uganda) and caused large losses to the African forces that were trying to stop him accessing Bangui. Bangui fell on March 24th. President Bozizé fled and took refuge in Cameroon.

A geopolitical explanation must be sought as to why France let the Seleka enter Bangui in March 2013 while we were occupying the airport with forces that could rapidly have been consolidated.

It seems that France wanted to put an end to the political and economic offensive from China and South Africa in the CAR that was favored by president Bozizé who quite rightly found that France and French companies did not invest enough in the CAR for the development of oil drilling and mining.

Also Chad had just given us decisive support in Mali to reduce the Ifoghas Sanctuary and it is no secret that the North-Eastern rebels’ sanctuary lays across the border with Chad.

The absence at the African State summit in Paris of South African President Jacob Zuma, who supported Bozizé could be explained by this. South Africa, the main African strength along with Nigeria where English influence is still present, considers Southern Africa, including the Central African Republic as their natural influence zone.
The historic dimension of this conflict must also be taken into account. The CAR marks the Eastern border of French speaking Africa, sharing a border with Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan. In the memory of the British who blocked a “European Battle Group” that had been considered by Brussels, the Fachoda affair that marked the end of French colonial expansion in upper Egypt remains vivid.

The second question to be answered and that all the observers are asking is can the situation in the field be controlled with the personnel deployed?

The answer there again is not military but political and requires an analysis of the forces that compose Seleka.

Most of the fighters present in Bangui are part of the UFDR Union of Democratic Forces for Unity, recruited mainly among the Gula ethnic group. Its leader is the self-proclaimed president Michel Am Nondroko Djotodia re-christened “transition president”, whose departure was required too soon from François Hollande. Then, facing the reality of the situation (support from Chad, increasing number of combat forces), he changed his mind and decided to support him.

If the French authorities find a decent agreement with him and his war leaders, the situation in Bangui will soon be reestablished. If they remain in Bangui, disarming the other Seleka groups should not pose the French army too much trouble.

In conclusion, French intervention in the Central African Republic comes more from the struggle for power between the major global and regional players on this booming continent than from an action to avoid Central African Republic becoming a jihadist landmark like Somalia, or from a humanitarian intervention to avoid a confessional confrontation, even if this is a new dimension in the country that must be taken into account.

General (2S) Jean-Bernard PINATEL