Friday, 2 October 2015

Picking up the pieces of the central african puzzle

Since Saturday there are 40,000 new Internally Displaced People in Bangui, 800 prisioners escaped from the only full functioninig prision in the capital, thousands are wounded  and more than
thirty have died. The brother of one of the victims goes on working with me in the hospital. When I find out, I tell him he can go home. He thanks me with a regard full of acceptance, dignity and sadness. But he stays.

Today, the amount of tweets with #CARcrisis has gone down a little and most of them describe the situation as calm but tense. In the TV room a giant puzzle is being done thanks to Angela´s never-ending patience. I have just finished the book "Making sense of the Central African Republic". Let´s see if I´ve got it.

A bit of history

First thing I have learnt is that CAR has been very influenced by Chad since the nineteen century. With a slaver sultanate steping freely on here. It is not surprising then that Chad had considered that he could put presidents in and out at will. Ask Bozizé. Hoisted up to power by Déby, the eternal chadian president, was pulled down by Seleka militias partialy composed by chadian mercenaries and replaced by Michel Djotodia.

Déby, chadian president since 1990
Bozizé, RCA president since 2003 to 2013
Djotodia, RCA president since mars 2013 to january 2014

Secondly, for the french, what they called Oubangui-Chiari was born as an accident of colonial history. Let´s explain it.  The french wanted to control Africa from Senegal to Djibouti, from West to East stopping that way the paralel british ambition of controlling Africa "from Cape to Cairo".

To make the story short: the french, after having arrived to Fashoda as adventurous expedition of thousands porters but just 150 soldiers, they had to step back when they faced the british. The latter didn´t need to spend a single bullet (Britisfh navy was superior, Dreyfuss affaire in France...). At least the british were kind enough to change the name of the city to aleviate the pain of the french wound. Now Fashoda is Kodok and is in today´s South Sudan.

Let´s go back to CAR. The end of the story is that French withdrew here and CAR turned out to be ´le cul de sac´, the dead-end street of his West-East dreamt axe. And it is what still seems to be:-(

With such an origin and his neighbour´s example (the belgian Congo) it is less astonishing the french government act  of immorality by giving the region to a group of reckless companys in exchange of 15% of the benefits they could get. And there is no amazement of the wild explotation each group made in the absence of a strong central authority. Like they did with timber, natural reserves with his poachers and antipoachers armed groups (where some of the country rebels as Seleka chief Joseph Zindeko have been trained) or the so called blood diamonds.

It looks easy. A classic. Nevertheless, in order to go on with other pieces of the centralafrican puzzle we have to know very well where to put the Democratic Republic of Congo. Before all atention went north, to Chad in the other side of the Chiari river, the South was the natural CAR´s neighbour in the close sore of the Oubangui river that baths the capital city. Mobutu didn´t leave space for doubts when he said that Bokassa (who proclaimed himself "Emperor" of CAR) was his brother but Kolingba (also from Yakoma tribe) was his son.

Mobutu, Zaire (RDC) president since 1965 to 1997
"Emperor" Bokassa, RCA president since 1966 to 1976
Kolingba, RCA president since 1981 to 2003
(it is said that Mantion, the french "proconsul" was the real boss)

The congolese family falls apart when Patassé, the only democraticaly elected president of RCA, associates with Bemba, leader of the MLC and president Kabila´s enemy. Patassé, the most carismatic party lover of the lasts presidents, risked a lot with his friends choices, like Gadaffi to stop the heavy influence of the chadian president, Déby. As we saide before he didn´t win the game and Déby helped Bozizé to get the presidency.

Patassé, only democratically elected president of RCA. He rulled since 1993 to 2003
From french looting, to first Congo and afterwords Chadian preassures, to the spill over of neighbouring conflicts like Darfur and to the presence of armed groups like the ugandan Joseph Kony´s Lord Resistance Army, to the conflicts between peul pastoralists and local farmers, etc we have to add a piece that doesn´t seem to match into the puzzle: almost a dozen of "peace keeping" international missions that have wandered around here since the nineties to the actual MINUSCA (and the french Sangaris force that are never too far).

How is it possible that so many institutions, during so much time, had achieved so little?

In Tatiana Carayannis and Louisa Lombard´s book they talk about the "accordion of help" that arrives in big quantities when the situation is dissastrous but vanishes even before starting to face the structural problems: security, economic development that gets to the population in need, stable and accountable institutions... The 400 million dolars spent in  humaintarian aid in 2014 are 3 or 4 times bigger than development aid. Instead of that we have the vicious circle of international actors willing to leave as soon as possible and local elites that want to keep their privileges in a country bigger than France but with a population of less than 4 million people living in extreme poverty with just 47 years of life expectancy.

Maybe the most striking example is the 27 million dollars of the Disarmement Desmobilisation and Reintegration programme that -as it is sadly obvious these days- has not reached his goal of dissarming the groups but apparently exactly the opposite. The slowing-down of the process by the elites willing to keep on receving money added to the resignation of the donors has allowed lots of people to enlist in the armed groups with the promise of the money they would recieve in the future from the DDR programme founds.

With all these pieces of the puzzle we start understanding better the uncontrolled violence of end 2012 and 2013 by Seleka ´aliance´groups from the forgotten north of muslim majority (some ex antipoacher policemen, some chadian mercenaries) that overthrew the corrupted president Bozizé and his family that was settled down in power. Or the Anti-Balaka reaction from christian majority that answered even more brutally and that made president Djotodia fall down in less than a year.

We are missing though, always the same pieces. The ones that will prevent the central african puzzle from blowing away everytime that someone bangs their fists on the regional table. Will MINUSCA and the international community learn from their past mistakes? How will the end of the embargo on blood diamonds affect the peace process? Will the transition president Catherine Samba-Panza be able to find the pieces of stability, acountability and security that her country will need before holding elections that we can call democratic?

It doesn´t look probable when she was herself involved in the corruption case related with the concession for diamond explotation to the daughter of  Dos Santos, when Angola donated 10 million dollars for developmental aid plus 5 more that disapeared on the way. Also it doesn`t look likely when the Congo Brazza´s president Sassou Nguesso is more interested in french support for his third term mandate than to support the CAR population in need.

Catherine Samba-Panza, RCA transition president since 2014
But when I walk day after day on the same road that turns into a river after every storm but nevertheless every morning turns back to be a path where kids and adults, with tireless smiles and hopes, greet you by your name; I understand that there are pieces that are not in the book I have just finished. I think I am starting to get a glimpse of this wonderfull puzzle. 

And everytime I see my colleage that goes on healing patients despite the fact that his brother has just been murdered, I don´t have the slightest doubt that when we all do our part to put all the pieces together, the central african people will finally be able to enjoy their small paradise between the Oubangui and the Chiari rivers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice piece Cesar! In the puzzle you forgot yourself who manage to put smiles on hurt faces