Building Sustainable Democratic Peace in the Central African Republic: Avoiding the Cote d’Ivoire Situation
Far too often in Africa, transition (post-conflict) governments lead their countries into chaos or authoritarianism rather than creating conditions for a sustainable democratic peace.
A few countries, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, have successfully transitioned from bloody civil wars to electoral democracies. Most other countries become or remain authoritarian whether competitive, hegemonic or closed (i.e. Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, and Angola). In Cote d’Ivoire (RCI) for example, poor leadership and unsuccessful disarmament have led to delaying post-conflict elections six times over 5 years (from 2005 to 2010), and resulted in another civil war when former President Gbagbo refused to accept his electoral defeat. He was ousted with international support from the UN and French troops in 2011.
In Central African Republic, post-conflict elections that were requested by the Security Council for no later than February 2015, are likely to be delayed (since March 2013, the country has been led by three interim, acting and transition presidents). However, this first delay must be the last one, as the most strict and rigorous course of action should be taken to prevent the systematic and multiple postponements of elections resulting from the manipulative behaviors of self-interested political leaders more committed to maintaining or acquiring power and resources than to ending conflict and building a democratic state – as happened in Cote d’Ivoire. Instead, the successful Liberian model, with consensual transition occurring in 2 years, must be adopted and adjusted to the CAR context.
In fact, Seleka rebels ousted CAR dictator François Bozizé in March 2013 only to reproduce the abuses they accused him of, such as killing unarmed civilians, burning schools, destroying villages, extorting citizens and instigating insecurity. Unable to manage his troops, who were contributing to the chaos, former chief rebel and interim president Michel Djotojia resigned after a few months in power. His power was transferred to Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, and then to Catherine Samba-Panza. The situation in CAR deteriorated from the struggle for political power to systematic ethno-religious killings between Christian and Muslim militias. Repeated reports of war crimes have mobilized the international community.
Authorized by the Security Council, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) was officially deployed on September 15, 2014. Supported by the MINUSCA, CAR government has no excuse for failure and should implement three priority strategies to avoid the Cote d’Ivoire history, and contribute to the rebirth of a more secure, democratic, and prosperous country.
The first strategy should be to end the quasi-Hobbesian state of nature, and preserve CAR people from a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short life” as depicted by Thomas Hobbes in The Leviathan. A few months ago, security forces brutishly killed and unarmed individual a few minutes after the transition president requested that they act professionally. Until recently, being a member of the Christian or Muslim community could have implied death as the anti-Balaka were killing suspected Muslism supporters of the Seleka rebels, and some members of the Muslim community retaliated by killing suspected anti-Balaka Christians. Ending the political disorder would be possible through full disarmament as well as the creation and enforcement of professional and accountable security forces working under the authority of an elected civil government and the rule of law. Trust can only be rebuilt in public institutions if citizens view security forces as protectors rather than their abusers.
The second strategy should be to develop the “spirit of democracy”, build and strengthen political accountability and organize free, fair, transparent, and meaningful democratic elections so that an accountable government will continue the development of a democratic peace with support from civil society. A firm and definitive electoral agenda should be set-up to avoid the systematic postponement of elections like in Cote d’Ivoire. An important step is to create institutions which will structure the most serious institutionalization of vertical accountability by allowing fair competition, free participation, and democratic selection of the next president. The electoral law, processes, system and commission should be reformed and approved by the major stakeholders with a commitment to respecting the results. This should go along with the education and full participation and strengthening of civil society, and the condemnation of parties manipulating ethnic and religious divisions. Additional reforms should increase horizontal accountability via a strong checks and balances system that will prevent the misuse of power and systematic unaccountable decisions by the executive. Independent constitutional institutions, audit and anti-corruption commissions and an ombudsman’s office should be reestablished.
The third strategy should be to end the “politics of the permanent crisis” and put the country on the path of sustained economic development. CAR’s human development index ranks 185 out of 187 countries, almost the worst in the world. This third strategy should focus on strengthening the economic capacity of the administration so that it can promote property rights and economic freedoms, engage the country in market-friendly economic, mining and agricultural reforms that would lead to equitable economic growth. This strategy is particularly important to increase or sustain political legitimacy and the peace process.
Although other international actors and neighboring countries are involved in the peace and democratic process –and should increase their support, they do not and will not be a substitute for the people and leaders of CAR. It is time for CAR to reassert the rule of law, security, and build the effective state and democratic institutions so that the democratic peace process triumphs for the citizens of CAR.