The Central African Republic’s president, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, came to Washington this week seeking to bolster U.S. support for a peace deal with internal armed groups, saying steady international assistance will be needed to rebuild the state and end years of metastasizing violence.

Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra at the U.S. Institute of Peace, April 9, 2019.
Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra at the U.S. Institute of Peace, April 9, 2019.

Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Touadéra said that the current agreement, reached in February and amended on March 19, stands a far better chance of success than its seven predecessors. This time, he said terms and specific commitments were debated, negotiated and agreed to on a word by word basis with plenty of consultation beforehand. Furthermore, he suggested, rank and file fighters are losing confidence that their groups will provide the economic opportunities that led many of them to join the fray. 

“When I took office in 2016, I swore to the people that I would focus on foundational actions for reconstruction and to reconcile our people through a process of seeking truth and justice,” Touadéra said. “The path to peace came about through dialogue between the Central African Republic and the armed groups that saw the light during talks that took place under the aegis of the African Union. We are now at the stage of implementation.” 

Despite his optimism, Touadéra left no doubt that his impoverished, mineral-rich nation faces enormous challenges to ending violence that began in 2012 when anti-government militias— spurred by perceptions of economic and political exclusion and the government’s failure to implement a 2008 agreement—organized and later seized the capital, Bangui. 

“My country became a cliché of hate that might be considered almost predictable between Christians and Muslims,” Touadéra said. Except, he added, religious strife had little to do with the conflict at the outset. The religious dimension came later as Christian militias (anti-Balaka) organized against the Muslim Séléka coalition that took power by a coup in 2013, leading to violence against citizens on the basis of their religion. 

The unprecedented bloodshed that followed was fed by hateful propaganda that imperiled the country’s unity and threatened the foundations of the state, he said. Recently, Touadéra indicated, the conflict has been driven primarily by splintering armed organizations fighting for control of lucrative resources including diamonds and wildlife. 

Local Warlords

Today, about 20 percent of CAR’s population is displaced from their homes, and vast stretches of the country remain beyond government control. Indeed, Touadéra said, the government gets no fiscal benefit from the country’s substantial mineral mining as it’s controlled by local warlords. Hopelessness prevails among the country’s largely unemployed youth. Institutions from the military to the courts are weak and largely ineffective, he said. Delivery of services such as healthcare and education barely exists.

The peace agreement, on the other hand, opens a way forward as the government begins to rebuild the state, Touadéra said. 

Detailing the deal—and explaining why he believes it holds hope—Touadéra said all the signatories agreed on four principles: To respect the constitution; to respect CAR’s territorial integrity; to recognize the authority of state institutions; and to reject impunity for anyone who committed a war crime during the seven years of civil conflict. 

USIP President Nancy Lindborg, who moderated the discussion with Touadéra, called balancing amnesty with demands for justice the “classic problem” in rebuilding post-conflict societies. 

Truth and Reconciliation

Touadéra asserted that mechanisms for delivering justice were under development—a fact-finding commission, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a special court to handle conflict-related offenses. USIP Senior Advisor on Africa Johnnie Carson, who saluted Touadéra’s efforts in forging the February peace agreement, said its key shortcoming was the lack of representation by and for victims in the talks. 

“We won’t abandon victims or the rights of victims,” Touadéra said. “The Bangui Forum, which is the basis of the constitution, had such consultations and they said, ‘No to amnesty.’”

But demobilizing the armed groups will require a demanding level of inclusion. When some elements complained that the February agreement left their interests underrepresented, another round of talks in March led to more leaders of  the armed groups being brought into the government. Touadéra discussed the need for laws that would ensure “a decent life” for former “dignitaries” that would encourage them to leave office. Security sector reforms will incorporate plans for integrating vetted militia fighters into the national army. 

U.S. assistance in CAR—aside from humanitarian efforts—is focused on improving justice and security, said Lucy Tamlyn, the U.S. ambassador as of January. 

“In a sea of need, where do you start?” she asked. “We are training police and gendarmes, helping to rehabilitate court houses and police stations, providing uniforms and equipment and a lot of training to have these actors understand that they are servants of the people.”

Seeking Help

Carson said that CAR exists in a “tough neighborhood,” surrounded by six countries, five of which are embroiled in internal conflicts of their own that can spill across the border. CAR should look for help in the wider world and the steps toward peace taken by Touadéra’s government are likely to create an incentive for major countries in the region and international and multilateral organizations, he said. 

The activities in CAR of one country—Russia—have raised concerns among U.S. officials. A Russian is serving as Touadéra’s national security adviser and the Russians have obtained mining rights in the country. The New York Times reported on March 31 that Russia said in a statement last year that 175 instructors had trained more than 1,000 CAR soldiers, with the trainers believed by Pentagon officials to be employed by the Wagner Group, a private military force founded by a former Russian intelligence officer. The two countries signed a military cooperation agreement last year. 

Asked if Russia was contributing to peace in CAR, Touadéra said “there is a role for everybody in the Central African Republic.” The country is eager for foreign investors, including certainly Americans, and the country’s laws set the terms, conditions and approval processes for investment, he said. 

The Russian trainers came to CAR openly in conformance with U.N. sanctions, he said, adding that the arms embargo on CAR helps only the armed groups who obtain their weapons illegally. There is no ideological dimension to the relationship, he said; studies are underway on how the U.S. can further help the national army. 

CAR should not be viewed through the lens of other disputes that the U.S. may have with Russia, Touadéra said. “We have an urgent need. Our people need peace and stability.”

Related Publications

Understanding Russia’s Interest in Conflict Zones

Understanding Russia’s Interest in Conflict Zones

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

By: Paul M. Carter Jr., Ph.D.

Under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s global ambitions have steadily increased, including in unstable areas of the Middle East, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere. For the most part, Moscow’s activities in these and other areas run counter to Western interests and undermine efforts to mitigate conflict through broad-based, transparent processes. This report outlines the factors that appear to be motivating the Kremlin’s conflict-zone interventions and places them within the larger context of Russian foreign policy interests.

Type: Special Report

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

The “Green Diamond”: Coffee and Conflict in the Central African Republic

The “Green Diamond”: Coffee and Conflict in the Central African Republic

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

By: Fiona Mangan; Igor Acko; Manal Taha

Coffee production is a fairly small part of the Central African Republic's economy, but it plays an outsize role in the country's ongoing conflict. Armed militia groups that hold sway over the country's main coffee growing regions and trade routes reap millions of dollars in funding to sustain their operations. This report discusses how understanding the political economy of conflict in the Central African Republic can help national and international stakeholders break the cycle of violence.

Type: Special Report

Economics & Environment

Amid the Central African Republic’s search for peace, Russia steps in. Is China next?

Amid the Central African Republic’s search for peace, Russia steps in. Is China next?

Thursday, December 19, 2019

By: Leslie Minney; Rachel Sullivan; Rachel Vandenbrink

The 2017 National Security Strategy refocused U.S. foreign and defense policy to address resurgent major power competition with Russia and China. In U.S. foreign policy, Africa has emerged as a frontline for this competition, as in recent years both Moscow and Beijing have sought to expand their influence and promote their interests on the continent. Nowhere is the role of major powers more apparent than in the Central African Republic (CAR), where Russia has emerged as a key power broker amid a civil war that has simmered since 2012. Despite concerns about the need to counter other major powers, the best course for U.S. policy in CAR is to not allow competition with Russia and China to distract from the fundamental priority of supporting a democratic, inclusive path to peace.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

Central African Republic Struggles to Implement Peace Deal

Central African Republic Struggles to Implement Peace Deal

Thursday, October 17, 2019

By: Elizabeth Murray; Rachel Sullivan

The peace agreement signed in the Central African Republic (CAR) in early 2019 is the eighth in seven years, numbers that suggest how difficult it will be to even attempt to end to the country’s multi-sided conflict. That said, the accord this time was reached after more extensive preparations for talks and with greater international support than in the past, perhaps improving conditions for a sustainable halt to violence that has displaced more than 1.2 million people.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

View All Publications