In the war-torn Central African Republic, former rebels who mounted a coup in 2013 are now dreaming of independence. FRANCE 24’s reporters James André and Anthony Fouchard went to meet one of the most powerful armed groups in the country, in the capital of their parallel state in the north.
Since gaining independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic has never truly experienced peace. In March 2013, a coalition of rebel groups called the Seleka seized power in country’s fifth coup d'état. Leaders on all sides exploited religious tensions for political ends and the country descended into violence. The Seleka, led by Michel Djotodia, was forced to give up power after nine months, completely unable to restore security. Under UN auspices, France deployed more than 2,000 soldiers to restore a fragile peace and avoid what it called a “genocide".
But President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who was elected in March 2016, has still not managed to bring calm to a country devastated by civil war. On the contrary: violence actually resumed in the capital Bangui in April 2018.
Since being routed, the rebels have been divided and fragmented, but have maintained their ability to cause trouble. The Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (known by its French acronym FPRC) is one of the most powerful armed groups. Abdoulaye Hissène, the FPRC’s military leader, is based in the northeastern town of Ndélé, but is massing his troops at the gates of Bangui.
Towards a partition of the country?
Although the prospect of a fresh coup seems unlikely, everyone is wondering about a possible partition of the country. The rebels prefer to talk about federalism and autonomy. Although they control all the main roads, provide security and even levy taxes, they do not want to create the impression of cutting ties with the central government, which does not consider the north a priority. The FPRC now wants to improve its image, severely tarnished after the violence of 2013.
The rebels are literally sitting on a gold and diamond mine, the northeast being rich in natural resources. This is attracting Russian private security companies, officially invited by the central government to train army recruits. The climate is tense, but in the meantime, Abdoulaye Hissène knows very well that the weak army cannot dislodge him.
"My men are in Bangui, they are just waiting for the political green light," he says. Whether he’s bluffing or not, guns speak louder than words and appear to be the main negotiating method in this region.