Changing a hat can be a serious affair—and the United Nations always tries to do it justice.
Following a full-blown military parade on Sept. 15, the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic—a.k.a., MINUSCA—took over responsibility for guaranteeing peace and stability in Central African Republic. That had been the job of the African-led MISCA.
With much fanfare—and with Central African Republic’s head-of-state Catherine Samba-Panza watching—soldiers took off their green berets and donned the U.N.’s traditional blue ones.
The task ahead is a very challenging one. Central African Republic has been in a state of crisis since December 2012, when a coalition of rebel groups known as Seleka mounted a rebellion against the government of Pres. François Bozizé.
A few months later, Bozizé’s administration collapsed and the rebels moved into the capital amid grievous human-rights violations. The conflict quickly deteriorated into spates of inter-religious killings, with the predominantly Muslim rebels targeting the Christian self-defense groups known as anti-balaka—and both sides indiscriminately attacking civilians.
The death toll has been staggering. Since last December alone, more than 5,000 people have died, according to one Associated Press investigation. The real number is almost certainly higher. And as the international media moves on to the next crisis, the violence in CAR could be getting worse.
New hats, old mission
While in theory a ceasefire has been negotiated in late July, both Seleka and anti-balaka factions do not abide by it, or accept the authority of the interim government headed by Samba-Panza. “The political process has, for the moment, completely stopped,” says Thibaud Lesueur, Central Africa Analyst at International Crisis Group.
Lesueur says he thinks it’s unlikely that the deployment of the U.N. mission will change anything in the short term. For one, the re-hatting itself has done little to improve the peacekeepers’ capabilities.
MINUSCA commands the same 6,200 African troops that used to comprise MISCA—and who have struggled to contain the crisis since it began. The U.N. is immediately deploying 1,800 additional troops, far short of the 12,000 the mission’s mandate allows.
The balance of the reinforcement—while badly needed to patrol the huge country—should arrive in small increments through April 2015.
The situation on the political side is equally frustrating. MINUSCA will take over the reconciliation efforts of a smaller U.N. mission codenamed BINUCA. But the new mission has no plan for the demobilization and disarming of combatants, Lesueur argues. “The strategy is completely absent.”
French exit strategy
While the U.N. mission won’t quickly change the situation on the ground in Central African Republic, it represents a very important development for France. The former colonial power has deployed 2,000 soldiers to CAR, mostly to secure the capital Bangui and a few other key towns.
But the French government has been looking for a way to end the expensive mission—and the French military isn’t keen on being involved in the complex conflict, either, according to Lesueur.
The U.N. is Paris’ way out. “France has pushed strongly for the U.N. mission in the security council,” Lesueur explains. The French hope that the U.N. can suppress the conflict long enough for CAR to hold elections, which could allow the French to withdraw.
But for now, the conflict continues. “You have a lot of exactions happening, especially in the center of the country,” Lesueur says. Central CAR is the main battleground between the anti-balaka and Seleka. The analyst says he’s worried that confrontations are also happening more and more within the groups, across ethnic instead of religious lines.
The U.N. has no open channels of negotiation with Seleka, according to Lesueur. With further fragmentation of the conflict parties, a political settlement could be much harder to reach—assuming anybody actually has any idea what a settlement would look like.
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