'France is just fed-up, exhausted by CAR'
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After sweeping through the country’s northern towns, a rebel alliance in the Central African Republic (CAR) seized power in the capital of Bangui on Sunday. Africa expert Roland Marchal provides context to the latest developments.
Rebel fighters from a loose alliance of rebel groups called Seleka seized the presidential palace in the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR) early Sunday. CAR President François Bozizé had vacated the palace before the rebels advanced in an early morning onslaught into the heart of the capital of Bangui. His whereabouts were not immediately known, although he is believed to have fled the city.
An impoverished and landlocked nation, CAR remains among the world’s least developed countries, despite rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium. Sunday’s power grab was the latest in a series of rebel incursions, clashes and coups that have plagued this nation in the heart of Africa since its independence from France in 1960.
Roland Marchal, a senior research fellow at the National Centre for Scientific Research, based at Sciences-Po in Paris, spoke to FRANCE 24’s Louise Hannah about the roots of the latest crisis.
FRANCE 24: Who are the Seleka rebels and why did they rise up against Central African President François Bozizé?
Roland Marchal: The Seleka is an alliance of different groups basically rooted in the north of the country, where people have claimed for years that the state should have invested more in the region. So, they’re not against the state. They’d like the state to spend more in the north, to spend more on the people. That hasn’t been the case. This is the core of their grievances.
Beyond that, you have a number of people who have been part of other armed groups who believe that joining Seleka may be a way to build the future for them because there will be a DDR [Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration] and they may join the army eventually.
You have to take into account the regional stance – a number of states in the region are so unsatisfied with François Bozizé that they would support any group willing to get rid of him.
FRANCE 24: CAR has hundreds of peacekeepers from the Central African regional bloc, but they did not appear to put up a serious resistance to the rebel onslaught into the capital….
Roland Marchal: François Bozizé came to power in 2003 by what I would call “a regional coup”, which means the heads of state of the region decided the previous president, Ange-Félix Patassé, wasn’t doing the job properly: he had an alliance with Libya, he was entertaining a number of armed groups that were fighting in the region, so they decided he had to go.
I think the same situation prevails today. Chad’s [President] Idriss Deby feels Bozizé fails to pacify the northern part of the country, which has an impact on southern Chad. They feel as well that Bozizé is sometimes playing a dirty game with the Chadian community, which is quite numerous in CAR. This is not acceptable [for Chad]. In addition, there are a number of technical though important regional issues.
So, people want him to go. I think they pushed him to change, to reform. It failed and that’s why Seleka basically got the support - or green light - at different moments, and at the end, the regional troops actually just let them enter Bangui.
FRANCE 24: Does France, as a former colonial power, have a responsibility to help secure the country?
Roland Marchal: To say it in a very un-diplomatic way, France is just fed-up, exhausted by CAR because there is no structural or significant strategic interest there, but CAR all the time requires attention because of their adventurous way of managing the country.
France feels that this time it should just let the regional organisation – which is Chad and Congo Brazzaville – lead the mediation and get a solution for the country.
It’s not very ambitious and of course I would have preferred if France could have got more engaged, to propose a kind of coalition or alliance that would have popular support in CAR and maybe keep the violence at bay. It’s not going to happen now. The battle is in Bangui and I hope that the new regime, if it provides democratic credentials, would be supported strongly by France.