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Rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) signed an agreement with President François Bozizé on 11 January to form a government of national unity, following three days of peace negotiations in Gabon.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
The Séléka rebel group, which is composed of at least three separate movements that have all opposed the Bozizé presidency, called a ceasefire on 11 January and signed an agreement to form a government of national unity.
The new coalition will be composed of Séléka, the previous government, and the democratic opposition, which has already nominated a candidate for prime minister to replace the departing Faustin Archange Touadéra.
Likely disputes over the divisions of responsibility seem sure to create power struggles both between and within the new coalition partners, which may undermine the fledgling government.
Despite this agreement, IHS Global Insight has decided to increase its political risk rating in CAR from 4 to 4.25. Divisions and power struggles within the coalition and within Séléka raise the strong possibility of political uncertainty during the transition period.
CAR President François Bozizé (right) shakes hands with Séléka leader Michel Djotodia during peace talks in Libreville, Gabon on 11 January
The rebel coalition known as Séléka ('Alliance' in the local Sango dialect) signed an agreement on 11 January to call a ceasefire and form a government of national unity in the Central African Republic (CAR) with President François Bozizé. The agreement came after three days of peace negotiations in the Gabonese capital Libreville, organised by the Economic Community of Central African States (Communauté Economique des Etats d'Afrique Centrale: CEEAC). Under the new power-sharing agreement, which was also signed by the political opposition, Bozizé will be allowed to continue in his role until the end of his current mandate in 2016. The accord will allow for the appointment of a new prime minister, who must be a member of the opposition. The new prime minister will remain immune from replacement by Bozizé during a one year transition period, after which a parliamentary election will be held.
The Séléka rebels took control of large areas of the country during a rapid offensive that began on 10 December 2012. Having taken over key towns and transport routes in the northern part of the country, the rebels looked set to advance on the capital Bangui, but were dissuaded from doing so by the arrival of troops from Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, and South Africa. As part of the new agreement, forces that belong to countries outside the CEEAC are to be withdrawn. This demand was brought by the rebels with the specific intention of removing around 200 South African troops from the country, whom they had termed "mercenaries". It is currently unclear whether the rebels will demand the withdrawal of around 600 French troops from Bangui, ostensibly present to protect the safety of the estimated 1,200 French nationals in CAR.
The rebels had previously stated that they would not shift from their demand for the president's resignation (see Central African Republic: 7 January 2013: CAR rebels to reiterate demand for president's resignation during peace talks). Explaining their demand, they cited the president's failure to honour previous peace agreements in 2007 and 2008. It had appeared that the Libreville talks would stumble on this condition after Bozizé ruled out this option (see Central African Republic: 9 January 2013: President refuses to consider resignation ahead of CAR peace talks). The reason for Séléka’s shift in demands is not clear, although it may be that they were exaggerating their demands to improve their bargaining position.
A union divided
The Chadian president and current chairman of the CEEAC, Idriss Déby, called on 11 January for the three parties involved to start work "from tomorrow" on forming the new government. The United Nations Security Council echoed these sentiments in issuing a statement that "emphasised the necessity of an expeditious implementation of these agreements and called on all parties to implement them in good faith". Progress began almost immediately; on 12 January, Bozizé dismissed Prime Minister Faustin Archange Touadéra, who had held the position since 2008, in order to make way for an opposition candidate. The democratic opposition, led by the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (Mouvement pour la Libération du peuple Centrafricain: MPLC), followed up the next day by naming lawyer Nicolas Tiangaye as their nominee for prime minister. Tiangaye, who had led the delegation for the opposition in Libreville, told Agence France-Presse (AFP): "I was appointed unanimously by my peers." The lawyer made his name representing Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the self-styled emperor of CAR in the 1970s, on 14 different charges, including treason and murder. He has also held positions as the head of the Central African Human Rights League, and as president of the transitional council put in place after Bozizé took power in a 2003 coup.
After Tiangaye's nomination, Séléka declared it had yet to agree to his official appointment as prime minister of the national unity government. The lack of consensus between the three groups involved in the new government represents the first sign that a coalition between parties with such divergent political views will not be straightforward. Former territorial administration minister and spokesperson for the Bozizé government, Josue Binoua, explained: "There are two oppositions. There is also the rebel opposition." He continued: "The president is waiting for written notice from (the rebels) telling him their proposal." The possibility that Séléka could reject the nomination of Tiangaye in favour of someone from their own ranks raises interesting questions over how power will be shared between the three parties under the agreement.
The prime minister will be chosen by a committee of regional mediators who are overseeing the successful implementation of the Libreville accords. If Séléka does nominate its own candidate, it follows that one party within the coalition will have their candidate rejected. This will set an early precedent for the division of responsibility and power within the unity government. How the rejected party responds will be an important indicator of the different groups' willingness to make concessions over the important decisions that will face the government over the period of transition. If Tiangaye does become prime minister, as seems likely following his nomination by opposition leader Martin Ziguélé, he will face a huge challenge in forming a government that divides responsibility in a way that is agreeable to all parties. As an unnamed member of the opposition told AFP: "The jockeying is about to begin. Everyone's going to try to get the most posts possible." According to AFP, the Séléka rebels are intent on gaining control of the defence ministry, but the other parties are unlikely to be eager to entrust control of the national army to a group that has only just taken up arms against the Bozizé government.
Outlook and implications
The government of national unity is composed of groups whose goals are anything but united. According to AFP, some residents in Bangui are concerned over the possibility of a power struggle as Bozizé attempts to maintain his grip on the country. One resident is quoted as saying: "Bozizé is going to do everything he can to undermine the (new) government. Right now he is in a hole, but he is a fighter and he's going to come back." Indeed, Bozizé does not appear content with the reduced power of his role. According to AFP, he gathered around 3,000 supporters yesterday (13 January) to stage a rally at the main stadium in Bangui.
There are also issues of disunity within the Séléka rebel alliance. The group is primarily composed of members of the Unity of Democratic Forces of Unity (Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement: UFDR), the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix: CPJP), and the Convention of Patriots of Salvation and Kodro (Convention des Patriotes du Salut et du Kodro: CPSK). Tensions between these differing groups may begin to appear as they conduct their own power shuffle. Indeed, AFP reports sources close to the group as saying some sub-groups within Séléka are opposed to the ceasefire. According to Reuters, Séléka have warned that they may take up arms again if the president fails to adhere to the conditions of the agreement, which include the release of all political prisoners. The political situation within CAR looks set to remain unstable and tense until these issues are resolved. For this reason IHS Global Insight has increased the country's political risk rating from 4 to 4.25.