Discussing ‘Peace and Security Co-operation’ in Central Africa

June 22, 2015 OPINION/NEWS

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By

Anant Mishra

International Geography

The United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) comprises of ten countries: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe. Each of these sovereign nations is also part of the Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS).

Although the United Nations working in this region has a specific mandate, ranging from poverty alleviation to peacekeeping, the governments in the Central African region have a larger role to play. Its internal borders are vulnerable whereas the external borders are prone to conflict.

The sub region faces numerous border conflicts which have escalated following international disputes in the past. Hence, it is important to study the influenced neighbouring countries, such as Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan, along with its associated issues to have a better understanding of Central Africa.

The international community as a whole is also concerned by the current escalation of violence and insecurity in the region. Many nations have condemned human rights violations and the ‘non follow’ tendency of international law, especially during a conflict, stressing the importance of ‘strengthening national, regional and international cooperation’ as a peaceful and stable environment for the people of Central Africa.

 

Demography Features

The Central African region has multi demographic profiles. Their area, followed by the living population, varies from one another, the density of population quite significant to each other. For example, Burundi’s density of population accounts for 315 inhabitants per km2 ,whereas Gabon has a population density of less than 5 to 7 inhabitants per km2.

With reference to the development index, Central African countries are suffering from high rates of poverty, their Human Development Index (HDI) differing also. Gabon’s HDI is the highest regional nation rising to 106/187, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s HDI is the lowest calculated, 186/187 as stated in the HDI reports of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

 

Cultural features

Central Africa is famous for its rich cultural diversities (having more than 200 communities in Cameroon alone). With different cultures, vast contrasting religions come along. Islam and Christianity are the two main religions in Central Africa, followed by many native and traditional religions.

With political instability and harsh economic conditions, tensions between religious groups are common in Central Africa. However, not every conflict is sponsored by religious beliefs, many Central African nations facing communal and regional conflicts, for example, Muslim Séléka and Christian anti-Balaka in CAR, Lendus/Hemas and Hutus/Tutsis in DRC and Burundi, among others.

 

Economic features

The Great Lakes region and Central Africa have the two largest sources of water in the whole continent; Congo’s basin surface alone representing 3,700,000 km2. Water has played a key role in tensions and rivalries between regional states. Moreover, Central Africa is rich in resources: oil (Angola, Congo, Gabon, and Chad), copper, gold and diamonds (DRC). Competitions and conflicts for the control of resources have led to impoverishment in rural populations and unemployment in urban areas. The deteriorating situation in security followed by the recent Ebola outbreak is a clear example of regional instability and no governance in the region.

 

Political features

After gaining independence from their respective colonies, the Central African nations witnessed several dictatorship regimes, political oppression and corruption. Today, the situation is far better than it used to be. Most of the regional states today however still are subject to politically rigged elections and corruptions, followed by an absence of control by the government, legitimacy and oppression. These have become the cause of many regional rebel groups and cross-border illicit activities, increasing insecurity in the region and weakening national institutions.

 

 

Growing Insecurity

 

Human rights violations

The increasing numbers of armed rebels in Central African countries has caused massive human rights violations, creating an atmosphere of insecurity and instability throughout the region. Many nongovernmental organizations have talked about the increasing crimes against humanity in the past, the issue now seeming to escalate. The territories they control have no international law besides theirs, issues such as sexual and gender based violence, exploitation of prisoners, abuses against civilians, deportations and organized robberies being very common. We have to rule the terminology of these armed groups as ‘individual actors’ as they are heavily under political affiliation, establishing alliances with other rebel groups and NSA’s (Non State Actors) for protection.

 

Internal and external displaced population

Conflicts in Central Africa have deeply affected people in the region, forcing them to move out. In a recent report submitted to the UN, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that 5.1 million refugees were internally displaced in the sub regions in 2015 alone, with 3.7 million planning to do so.

Most of CAR’s inhabitants are forced to take refuge in Cameroon, DRC, Chad and Congo. The number of DRC refugees in Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda is also increasing. In spite of implementing regional strategy of voluntary repartition, local integration and resettlement, most of the internally displaced are living in ‘inhabitable conditions’, escalating the situation beyond UNHCR’s control. Situations like these make the ‘internally displaced’ vulnerable towards an attack from the rebels. Hence the ‘unresolved’ situation of migrants escalates the already deteriorated instability and global insecurity, making CAR more vulnerable than ever.

 

Barriers to Co-operation

As mentioned earlier, Central Africa has a long history of instability and ethnic crises, a situation which remains unresolved today. Fuelled by growing Jihadist and Islamist movements the pace of this situation has broken all barriers for a wide Jihadist cause in the 21st century.

With issues coming from all sides, Central Africa is weakened today, arms trafficking, organized crime and human rights abuses preventing any cooperation to ensure peace and security in the region. The co-operation is very hard to settle as political instability continues to exist in the region causing chaos, hunger, poverty, in addition to the devastating effects of AIDS.

Despite taking measures, the UN has its hands full; Central Africa is still in a very delicate situation, especially in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad. However, Cameroon military forces have taken a stand against Boko Haram militants, the war now continuing for over a year. One more issue persists in this mist, the Séléka and anti-Balaka which have been tearing the nation apart for two years, Chad struggling from fuel shortages and economic issues.

Let us now focus on three important factors: the impacts of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the escalated militancy by Boko Haram and the complex situation of ex- Séléka and anti-Balaka.

 

The Lord’s Resistance Army

In the fall of 1980, Joseph Kony, a former military officer in the Ugandan Army, formed the Uganda Christian Democratic Army and began fighting against the government. In 1991, the group became the Lord’s Resistance Army, committing numerous crimes against humanity, beheadings, rape and mass atrocities against the general public. The LRA began enrolling children in their rebel army; children were trained to fight, rape and murder anyone whom they found to be pro government. The LRA spread across Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Central African Republic, forming numerous alliances with rebel groups operating in other regions where they continued to gather food, money and future slaves, despite combating joint military operations.

 

Boko Haram

Boko Haram was created by Mohammed Yusuf, becoming operational in 2002. It was created with a belief to unify the Islamic State in Nigeria. Since Yusuf’s death in 2009, Abu-Bakr Shekau has taken charge of the Boko Haram leadership, one of the most vicious militant organizations in North Africa. According to an independent think tank CSIS, Boko Haram has killed more than 4,000 people and more than 13.000 since 2009. The group has reportedly kidnapped over 400 girls, forced them to become sex slaves, oppressing them. It is now considered a real threat by the African Union, as it is spreading through Western Africa and has now reached as far as Lake Chad.

 

Crisis in the Central African Republic

In March 2013, the Central African Republic’s president François Bozizé withdrew from the Séléka rebellion, leader of which, Michel Djotodia, claiming himself President. He was finally defeated by the international community in 2014. Séléka rebels, mainly Muslims, committed enormous atrocities against the Christians, in March 2013 Christians beginning their anti Séléka movements with the hope of defending themselves. CAR has been in an unprecedented situation of political and humanitarian crisis. The intervention of France (also known as Sangaris Force) and the African Union, ensured a minimum of security within the country, still politically unstable to this day. The international community subsequently implemented a mediation initiative, via a different agreement (which took place in Brazzaville, Nairobi). This however proved to be a complete failure since the CAR rejected the Nairobi agreement on the 31st of January 2015.

 

 

United Nations presence

 

UNOCA

The United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa was created in 2011 in Libreville, Gabon, with the aim of consolidating peace and preventing conflicts in the area. While assisting local governments that struggle against insurrections and destabilization operations from rebel groups, UNOCA focuses on protecting civilians through humanitarian assistance and mediation support. Its peaceful management of crises is also based on implementing a regional strategy established by partner countries and other international organizations.

 

MINUSCA

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) was created in April 2014. It resulted from the merger of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) and the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA). As instituted by the Security Council, MINUSCA gathers 8,983 authorized strengths, consisting of 7,469 military troops, 1,125 police officers and 280 civilian personnel. Its mandate exclusively covers the Central African Republic (CAR) and mainly involves the development of peacekeeping operations such as the protection of civilians, restoration of State authority, protection of human rights, and promotion of disarmament and reconciliation in the country. Following on from France’s deep involvement in CAR, through its ‘Operation Sangaris’ (the French-backed peacekeeping force deployed in December 2013), the Security Council also authorized French forces to provide operational support to elements of MINUSCA.

 

MONUSCO

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) corresponds to the new mandate assigned to the initial United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). The latter’s original aim was to ensure the full respect of the ceasefire signed in 1999 between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and five regional States: Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe. While having helped organize the first free and fair elections in DRC in 2006, the United Nations further engaged in fostering the rule of law and governmental stability in the country. From July 2010, MONUSCO has been responsible for the protection of civilians, the defence of human rights and the assistance to DRC’s government to control its national territory. The increasing number of cycles of violence in the Northern Province of Kivu since 2012 has led the Security Council to extend MONUSCO’s mandate and create a specialized ‘Intervention Brigade’, in order to strengthen the peacekeeping operation. In total, MONUSCO and its Brigade’s forces amount to 25,172, of which 19,463 are military troops and 3,671 civilian personnel.

 

Global co-operation

Despite mentioning the peacekeeping offices and strategic operations unit, the complex political scenario and diverse ethnic communities are much larger than the UN’s handling capacities. Thus to tackle this issue, the United Nations came together with other international organizations and formed the Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS), the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU), and the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa (UNSAC).

 

 

 

 

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Anant Mishra

Anant Mishra is a freelance Writer and Journalist having had work published in numerous publications worldwide. He is also a Visiting Faculty at Gujarat Technological University, Ahmadabad, in addition to being a former Youth Representative to the United Nations.

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