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Central African Republic. Elections postponed again

The political transition in the Central African looks nowhere near to its end. Elections which were initially scheduled for November 2014 and were postponed several times, will probably not take place before the end of the mandate of the transition government.

In principle, the first round of the presidential and parliament elections supposed to put an end to the transition process initiated in January 2014 after two years of civil war, should take place on the next 18 October. But many observers think that the United Nations and France’s wish to hold these elections at all costs is irrealistic, owing to the ongoing instability in the country. The UN blue helmets themselves can hardly guarantee their own safety.

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On the last 10 September, a police unit from the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) was ambushed in the streets of Bangui and several of its cars were destroyed by unidentified aggressors. The day before, two civilians were killed by a grenade in the Petevo and Fatima neighbourhoods of Bangui. During the second half of August, 15 people were killed and 20 were injured in interethnic clashes occurred in the city of Bambari, in the centre of the country.

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Large areas in the North and in the East of the country escape completely to the control of the government’s poorly trained and equipped rag-tag Forces armées centrafricaines (FACA) or of MINUSCA. The situation is described as “volatile” by the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The ongoing unrest casts doubts over the credibility of the forthcoming elections, since many villagers are likely not to walk to the ballot stations, in areas where entire villages were burnt and many people were killed, argue Human Right Watch activists. Accordingly, while the Séléka muslim militia has split in four groups, their enemies of the Anti-balaka group are terrorizing the people in the Bouca areas. The Anti-balaka militias kill women whom they accuse of being witches and burn villages if the inhabitants to do not pay them. Meanwhile, the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process is far from complete. And the government lacks the funds to address the challenge, which in turn risks to disappoint those many militiamen who expected to join the army and who thought that expectations raised by the now dismissed UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, Lieutenant Gen. Babacar Gaye would materialize.

 The registration of voters

The FACA are facing problems of discipline and lack of morale. Last July, the resignation of the Army Chief of General Staff, Gen. François Mobébou, was a slap in the face of the interim president, Catherine Samba Panza. The payroll is a mess, owing to the absence of a registration of all soldiers, which is explained by the will of many officers not to have an accurate headcount because they want to cash the salaries of ‘ghost’ soldiers.

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There are also considerable delays in the organisation of the elections. A referendum for the adoption of a new constitution is scheduled for the next 4 October. But the Autorité nationale des élections (ANE) is confronted to the impossibility of compiling a credible electoral register before that date. Indeed, the electoral registration ended in Bangui on 31 July, while it should have been completed four days before in the entire country. So far, two thirds of the electors have been registered in the central and western areas, officially under MINUSCA and government control, which are the main Anti-Balaka areas. But in the North and East, where Séléka and offshoot groups are still present, only 15% of the voters have been registered. ANE has also the obligation to cense the 460,000 refugees in the neighbouring countries (Chad, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, DRC) and the 368,000 internally displaced persons but the process is far from completed.

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The problem is that the transition government’s mandate to organise the elections comes to an end on the next December and if elections take place in the current circumstances, there is a risk that owing to the imbalances in the registration of voters, the muslim community will not recognise the credibility of the ballot. An additional problem is the registration of Congolese citizens from the DRC who live in the Central African Republic and which is likely to favour the Rassemblement démocratique centrafricain, led by Désiré Nzanga Bilal Kolingba, the son of late President General André Kolingba, is already undermining the credibility of the vote. In front of this situation, the chairman of the Conseil national de transition (CNT), the interim parliament, Alexandre Ferdinand Nguendet, voiced at the beginning of September his scepticism about the capacity to hold the elections on time and even concluded that the time-table set for the preparation of the vote was “surrealistic”.

 Illegal trade of gold and diamonds

There are also fears that the government may lack funds for the elections. Last July, half of the needed amount was still missing. By early September, France committed EUR 2 million, but a gap of EUR 10 million was still remaining. Ballot boxes will have to be borrowed from neighbouring countries. And the way the money is spent is a matter of criticism. Donors told SouthWorld that in the town of Bossangoa anti-Balaka militias are putting pressure on the ANE to employ their supporters in higher numbers than necessary.
At the same time, the state’s ability to collect badly needed taxes has been undermined by UN and US sanctions adopted last August against two diamond buying houses, the Bureau d’achat de diamant en Centrafrique (Badica) and its Belgian subsidiary, Kardiam, accused to have violated the 2013 embargo on CAR diamond exports in order to prevent diamond export revenues to finance the activities of rebel groups.

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The government had obtained with considerable difficulties last June, a waiver from the Kimberley Process which allowed the export of diamonds stocks worth US $ 8 million owned by Badica and a second company, the Société centrafricaine de diamant (Sodiam). But at the end of August, the UN sanctions committee decided to seize the assets of Badica and Kardiam because it had received additional information on their alleged support of armed groups through the illegal trade of gold and diamonds. As a result, the government may be unable to cash the badly needed 11 percent export taxes on these gems, since the activities of Badica and Sodiam, whose parcels were seized in November 2014 by the Belgian police in Antwerp, may come to a halt.

 François Misser

 

 

 

 

 

 

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