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Canada in CAR ?

This blog originally appeared under the title of “Towards a Canadian Return to Peacekeeping: Part 3 – Exploring Canada’s options for a peace and stabilization mission in the Central African Republic (CAR)."

The Central African Republic is one of the four countries that are presently being considered for a Canadian peacekeeping mission. The others are Mali, whereas in the case of CAR there is currently no Canadian presence, as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, where there are token contingents of seven and eight Canadians respectively.

A contribution to peacekeeping and peacebuilding in CAR is definitely worth considering. In 2007-2009, the CAR authorities and the international community – the EU, the UN and among national donors primarily France, the former colonial power – were involved in a major effort to mount a comprehensive programme to reform the country’s security sector and enhance its chronically weak mechanisms for exercising oversight over security actors. After a promising start, the programme was aborted. This served to make a bad situation worse, creating an almost inevitable pathway to the conflict that erupted in CAR in 2012.

(For details on the SSR programme and the current conflict, see the article the author wrote with Teodora Fuior, Security Sector Reform in the Central African Republic.)

Background: Conflict and Peacekeeping in CAR

Conflict is not new to the Central African Republic (CAR). Since independence, there have been several coups and mutinies, more often than not sparked by the failure of the central government to share the few opportunities over which it disposed for wealth creation with communities outside the capital. That said, CAR was relatively spared the large-scale conflict that afflicted many of its neighbours.

But the 2012 insurgency was different. It was the first security crisis to take on an overtly confessional character. In the north and the northeast of the country, armed bands, mostly Muslim, known as Séléka emerged, succeeding in 2013 to overthrow then President Bozizé. In the centre and the south, they were countered by the predominantly Christian anti-Balaka militia.

When I was deployed to CAR in 2008 as part of a UN mission, CAR’s divisions were not expressed as a function of faith but as a reflection of geography – the result of the differing interests and aspirations of the centre and the country’s outlying spaces.

During the last three years, the population of CAR has suffered incredibly as the Séléka and anti-Balaka formations have clashed. There are no reliable estimates of the numbers of casualties and the displaced. But there are chilling accounts of identity-inspired atrocities, including lynching and mass rape. Children have been recruited into the opposing militias.

In 2014, MISCA, an African-led force that had been put together in an effort to stench the violence the year before was succeeded by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), a 13,000- strong UN mission consisting of military, police and civilian personnel. These efforts have prevented a critical situation from spinning totally out of control.

Bringing a modicum of peace and prosperity to CAR is not a task for the faint hearted. CAR ranked 187 out of 188 in the UN Human Development Index of 2015. Over 60 percent of the population of slightly more than 5 million is under 25, with few economic prospects. And CAR is landlocked, remote from Africa’s western and eastern coasts.

But a CAR at war is a risk for the entire region, where bordering states share many of its characteristics. CAR is as central as its name implies. Without peace in CAR, peace in neighbouring states is at threat.

Security Sector Reform in CAR

Current peace and stabilization efforts in CAR face considerable obstacles and challenges. The country needs to be pacified, an endeavour that the recent election of a new President with 63% of the vote can set the stage for. The marauding bands need to be disarmed and given alternative career paths as part of a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process (DDR). There has to be a concerted effort to encourage communal reconciliation and implement transitional justice mechanisms.

As these processes impact the conflict and provide the foundations for peacebuilding, the security sector reform agenda can also be engaged. The key challenges remain the same as they were when the failed reform effort was initiated almost a decade ago : build the capacity of the various security forces to do their jobs, make sure that they understand that this is first and foremost about protecting the population, ensure that the security forces reflect the make-up of the population, support the central government in its efforts to manage the security assets under its control and to nurture the oversight institutions that are needed to hold the security forces and their leadership accountable.

Canada’s Potential Contribution

The current MINUSCA mission numbers about only one hundred elements from NATO and Partnership for Peace (PfP) countries. A Canadian contingent of 600 soldiers and 100 policemen could give MINUSCA the critical mass it has been lacking so far, and might encourage other NATO and PfP countries to increase their contributions. A Canadian deployment should aim to leverage the country’s previous deployments to countries in challenging security circumstances, in places as diverse as Rwanda, Bosnia, Haiti and Afghanistan, not to forget its own previous mission to CAR in 1998-2000, when some eighty Canadians were deployed as part of the then United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic or MINURCA.

A further advantage that Canadian can bring to the table is that many of its officers, soldiers and policemen are French speaking. Last but not least, Canada can call on its civilian expertise in the area of security sector governance to help build the decisional and managerial expertise available to the CAR government as well as the oversight capacity of its parliament, media and judicial institutions.

The challenges CAR presents are great but the pay-off is potentially considerable.

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