Maintaining Domestic Focus in the Central African Republic with a Strategic Pursuit of International Support

UN-Peacekeepers

[UN peace-keeping forces, many from neighboring nations, working in the C.A.R.]

Unfortunately, the Central African Republic is not one of the dozens of nations on the African continent that inspire afro-optimism in the international community. In fact, the opposite is true. Because of sustained violence, social conflict, religious tensions, and tumultuous, frequent changes in the political sphere, the C.A.R cannot afford to focus on building a more formidable regional role, much less one in multilateral international organizations and initiatives. Given the building evidence proving a lack of infrastructure to ensure responsible and effective implementation of foreign aid, I would advise President Touadéra, Prime Minister Simplice Sarandaji, their council of ministers, and the legislative branch to focus on internal development—perhaps aided by international monetary investments from powers of the global South—and abstain from classical forms of post-colonial engagement.

The sustained internal strife ravaging the C.A.R is visible just in this week’s news cycle. On Monday, December 5th, Human Rights Watch confirmed that intra-Seleka fighting during November of this year “left 14 civilians dead and 76 wounded.”[1]On the same day, a United Nations commission finished an investigation, confirming long-held allegations that during 2014 and 2015, “ 25 peacekeepers from Burundi and 16 from Gabon [partook in] sexual abuse and exploitation in the Central African Republic” since the deployment of a UN taskforce to mitigate the Seleka/anti-Balaka conflict.[2] As detailed in my previous writing on conflict in the C.A.R, a variety of long and short-term factors have led to this state of affairs: colonial drawing of non-indigenous borders, neo-patrimonial relationships between the C.A.R government and its former colonizer, France, a lack of resources[3], and bilateral relationships with neighboring countries with more power that use the C.A.R as a multiplier of their own power.[4] [5]

Due to the prolonged nature of the C.A.R’s conflicts and struggles, one might think that working internally to solve those problems has failed and that it would be wise to look past national borders for solutions. That line of logic rests on the assumption that the C.A.R has failed due to problems born of sovereignty, an entirely false assumption. All of the above phenomena are results of a continued dependence on the international community—in the economic (see blog post 6, on the CFA Franc), political (the case of Catherine Samba-Panza’s rise to power in blog post 2), and military (France’s dangerous engagement is illustrated in post 5) spheres. The C.A.R’s industrial development remains primarily dependent on outside finances, and much of that development doesn’t even happen in the first place because of the resource-driven economy, buttressed by the saturation of the manufactured-goods market by foreign products.[6] At least humanitarian foreign aid, one might argue, surely tends to be helpful? But as Dambisa Moyo argues, foreign aid can be both a crutch and an active handicap.[7] This seems to be true for the C.A.R, illustrated by not only the most recent findings of Human Rights Watch but also by the consistently slow growth of major industries, exports, and GDP in the last ten years.[8] It is safe to say that expanded relationships of any kind with the international community—particularly comparatively powerful regional neighbors and classic Western powers—will not yield much of a change from the status quo.

But no sovereign nation can operate in a vacuum in today’s globalized world, so what minimal external relations would be genuinely helpful for positive change in the C.A.R? The main bilateral relationships that might prove advantageous are those with powers in the Global South who are willing and able to invest in the building of physical infrastructure, particularly projects that will create sustainable manufacturing or higher-level jobs for the community. Hospitals, schools, science research centers, tech manufacturing, and other such initiatives all have a precedent of Chinese investment in other African nations, like Ghana. Though China is surely seeking influence and resources across the continent, the C.A.R government might guarantee agency and gain by mandating that the workforce for public projects be local, by consulting the communities in which building will proceed, and by commissioning specific projects that will have long-term, positive social effects rather than accepting proposed projects by the Chinese.[9]

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[A scene in a major Bangui hospital. There is a clear need for investment in infrastructure of public goods, even in the nation’s capital.]

Beyond economic partnerships, Touadéra might consider building bilateral partnerships with African nations that have overcome ethnic and religious conflict. In particular, South African leadership, always looking to build international clout, could offer support and consultancy in a much-needed serious attempt to heal tensions between Christians and Muslims, and between supports of the Seleka and the anti-Balaka.

[1] https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/05/central-african-republic-civilians-killed-during-clashes
[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-centralafrica-un-crime-idUSKBN13U28H
[3] A variable which, according to some political scientists, might actually be better than an abundance of a sought-after natural resource, like diamonds or oil (called a resource curse).
[4] Borders: Harbeson. “The Heritage of Colonialism.” By Crawford Young.
[5] 2008. “Political culture, state elites and regional security in West Africa.” Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 26(2), 137–149.
[6] Leonard, David and Scott Strauss. Africa’s Stalled Development.
[7] Moyo, Dambisa. “1. The Myth of Aid” (pages 3 – 11); “4. The Silent Killer of Growth”.
[8] http://www.tradingeconomics.com/central-african-republic/gdp-growth-annual
[9] Corkin, Lucy. 2015. Forum: African agency in the context of china-africa relations. African East-Asian Affairs
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