Central African Republic
November 8, 2010 § 3 Comments
Who lives there?: About four million people. There are over 80 ethnic groups – these can largely be divided into three larger cultural supergroups. Of these the largest is the Gbaya – who constitute around 50% of the population. The second largest are the Banda who are concentrated in the centre and constitute around 40% of the population.
The third group – the M’Baka – only make up 7% of the population but have punched above their weight in the politics of the country as they dominate the more prosperous south west. They have provided several presidents and emperors. Another small group – river traders along the Ubangi River – acted as the main vector for communications and so provided CAR with its national language: Sango.
Like much of Central Africa it is around 50% Christian, 15% Muslim and 35% indigenous beliefs.
How does the system work? (the theory): Executive power is shared between the President and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister runs the country on a day-to-day basis but the President hires and fires the Prime Minister and so can dictate to overall direction of the country fairly comprehensively. The President is elected by first past the post with a runoff if required for a five year term. There is a two term limit.
The National Assembly is the unicameral Parliament. 105 seats are elected by FPTP with round two runnoffs.
Whilst the CAR is divided into prefectures, sub-prefectures, and municipalities local government is fairly meaningless as all officials are appointed by the President, even at the very lowest levels. The capital Bangui is an “autonomous commune” which has its political independence protected by law. However as far as I can tell this is fairly meaningless as its administration is also appointed centrally.
How does the system work? (the practice): Even by the very low standards of its neighbours the governance of the Central African Republic is a bit of a joke. When elections are held, they have been reasonably fair and political parties are free to operate. There is even a reasonably free press. The issue is that when political parties don’t like the results of the elections they tend to pick up guns and overthrow the government. Areas of the country are controlled by rebel groups, other areas are controlled by opposition parties in all but name, and there tend to be just a few years between coups, revolutions, and putsches.
All this means that elections tend to be held infrequently, and are indeed currently over a year late.
How did we get here?: Following the “scramble for Africa” between 1875 and 1900 France found itself effectively with a bit of land it didn’t want. Trying to secure an outlet onto the source of the Nile (which it lost to Germany and then England) and onto the Congo (which it lost to Belgium) what it actually ended up with was a long southern central peninsular of French West Africa which it could scarcely support:
As a result France largely left the administration of the area to private companies – who made money through slavery and other dubious means. This lassez faire approach to governance of the area was well entrenched by the time Germany ceding Cameroon made French access to the area easier. The Central African Republic had some of the most brutal conditions of any nation in Africa. This led to several rebellions, which were put down with predictable nastiness.
It also led to independence in 1960. Predictably, given the total lack of investment in governance, the CAR descended into a sequence of coups, dictatorships and one party states. There were at least three coups and one suspicious death of a President in an air-crash. The dictators were largely crackpots: one crowned himself emperor in a widely mocked ceremony.
Throughout the chaos there was significant pressure from sane people in the CAR for democracy and stable governance. This movement finally won out in 1993 and the first competitive elections were held. They were won by Ange-Félix Patassé (a north-westerner) and his MLPC party, which espouses a broad tent pro-democracy platform.
Patassé survived several coup attempts with the backing of the French and rebels from Congo. However in 2003, as the French appeared to switch sides, he was deposed and a General – François Bozizé – seized power. His support comes mostly from Gbaya groups and northerners in general – who received government jobs in return. Most Muslim groups used to support Bozizé but switched in 2005 when he didn’t provide the promised jobs and now many Muslim groups support the rebel UFDR.
Bozizé held elections in 2005 which Patassé was not permitted to participate in. Bozizé won at the second round and the non-partisans in Parliament who supported him subsequently formed their own political party: the KNK. Bozizé has always officially run as an independent, but in practice the KNK is his party. The KNK has adopted a broadly centre left political platform.
Who’s in charge?: No elections have been held since the 2005 elections which confirmed Bozizé in power following his coup. As a result there have been a number of military insurrections – some have been politically motivated, others are driven by warlords with an eye for the main chance. Areas of the north west are in the hands of a rebel group loyal to Patassé known as the APRD. Areas of the north east are controlled by the Muslim based UFDR. Further areas of the north east are controlled by a rebel group known as the FDPC; they used to be loyal to Bozizé but went rogue. Further rebel groups include the MLCJ and the CPJP. Some of these groups are thought to have links to Congolese rebel groups and some to rebel groups in Darfur – although it is not entirely clear who supports who.
Meanwhile areas in the east of the country have been taken over by the fight between the Ugandan army and the Ugandan rebel force – the Lords Resistance Army – which has spilled over multiple national boundaries.
In 2009 peace talks and a UN peace mission led to a unity government with Bozizé as Pesident and a new Prime Minister: Faustin-Archange Touadéra. By 2010 all groups had accepted the arrangements except the small CPJP. Even so elections were delayed several times and will now not happen until spring of 2011.
They look set to be interesting: Bozizé and the KNK are the dominant political force but the MLPC should be competitive. They are looking to move beyond Patassé and have picked, as their presidential candidate, Martin Ziguélé. Meanwhile Patassé will be contesting the elections as an independent. The winner is likely to be one of these three – and it is likely parliament will elect predominately non-partizan’s, MLPC and KNK members. A potential forth force is that of André Kolingba’s Central African Democratic Rally. Kolingba was CAR’s last dictator before ’93 and oversaw the country’s transition to democracy.
Whilst we wait for elections the parliament and president elected in 2005 remain – regardless of their term having expired. In that Presidential election Bozizé beat Ziguélé, Kolingba and a number of others by 43% to 24%, 17% and less than 5% each in the first round. In the second round Bozizé beat Ziguélé 65% to 35%
To Parliament were elected 42 members of the KNK, 34 non partisans, 11 members of the MLPC and 8 members of the CLDR. Minor parties picked up nine seats: the Social Democrats (pro Patassé centre left) 4, the Patriotic Front for Progress (socialist) 2, the Alliance for Democracy and Progress (vehicle for the former sports minister) 2, the Löndö Association (ethnically based) 1.
Update: Bouzize won on the first round with 66% and all his opponents crying foul. It looks like the KNK are going to dominate parliament too but final figures are not yet available.
What does it look like?: Rolling savannah.
What are the issues?: By many measures this is the world’s poorest country. After keeping body and soul together, the second highest priority is maintaining a functioning government. The Central African Republic’s record on both fronts is poor.
A good source of impartial information is: The press is free but literacy is low. Le confident is the only private paper with a website.
A good book is: Renowned symbolist and Nobel Prize winner André Gide’s study Travels in the Congo (his travels were actually not in the Congo but the CAR) blew the lid on the horror that was Central Africa in the 1920s. It led to calls for reform (which died down after a few years) and the birth of an anti-collonilaist movement (which didn’t). It is still a gripping but harrowing read today.
Executive Report on Strategies in Central African Republic was written with a potential business investor in mind and isn’t cheap, but for detail it cannot be beaten, and apart from that there isn’t much out there that is recent. Your best bet is something like An Introduction to African Politics which, whilst not specifically about the CAR, does cover all the themes that impact its politics.
When are the next elections?: Delayed elections will be held in 2011, in theory