January 11, 2013
African troops from several nations have begun to arrive in the Central African Republic (CAR) in an effort to save the embattled regime of President François Bozizé Yangouvonda. The latest threat to the Bozizé regime began on December 10, 2012, when a coalition of three rebel movements known as “Seleka” began an offensive in the north of the country, covering 500 km over rough terrain in only 19 days before halting close to the capital of Bangui.
The rebels met only minimal resistance from government troops (the Forces armées centrafricaines – FACA) and troops belonging to the Mission de consolidation de la paix en République Centrafricaine (MICOPAX), an international force of over 500 troops from Chad, Gabon, Cameroon and the Congo. Bozizé has dismissed his own son, Jean-Francis, from his post as Defense Minister over the failure of the army to offer any resistance to the rebel advance (PANA Online [Dakar], January 4). For now the rebel advance has halted outside Damara, roughly 100 miles from the capital of Bangui as both parties head to talks in the Gabon capital of Libreville.
The CAR has abundant reserves of uranium, diamonds and timber, but continued insecurity and corruption have left the landlocked nation one of the poorest and most underdeveloped on earth. The military often goes unpaid for months at a time and has occasionally relied on emergency shipments of cash from France to prevent new rounds of mutinies. As a result, the poorly trained and ill-led force has come to resemble yet another bandit group that rarely conducts operations of any size outside the capital. The Presidential Guard is largely composed of Chadian mercenaries.
The rebel coalition is composed of three groups that came to terms with the government in the 2008 Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement; the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR), the Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP) and the Front démocratique du people centrafricain (FDPC). These groups accuse Bozizé of failing to meet the terms of the agreement over the last five years and now demand his ouster. Seleka is under the nominal command of Michel Djotodia, a founding member of the UFDR and is represented in Paris by Eric Massi, the son of Charles Massi, a former government minister and CPJP leader who was killed in mysterious circumstances after his arrest in 2009. Seleka’s military chief is Aubain Issa Issiaka. Though the coalition is united in their hatred of Bozizé, they appear to be unable to agree on little else (Jeune Afrique, January 2). Despite the unwillingness of the international contingent to confront the rebel advance so far, Gabonese MICOPAX commander General Jean-Felix Akaga has warned Seleka that “We will not give up Damara, this must be clear. If the rebels attack Damara, this will mean that they have decided to take on the ten countries of Central Africa” (Jeune Afrique, January 2).
The CAR’s Territorial Administration Minister, Josué Binoua, claims that the rebel groups are in fact composed of rebels from Darfur and the remnants of Mahamat Nouri’s Alliance nationale pour le changement démocratique (ANCD), a relatively inactive Chadian rebel group since it lost the backing of Khartoum in 2010 (for the collapse of the Chadian rebellion, see Terrorism Monitor, October 28, 2010). The ANCD has denied any involvement in the rebellion (AFP, January 4). According to Binoua, the leaders of the rebellion studied in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and intend to impose Wahhabist beliefs on the CAR (Jeune Afrique, January 7). Though many of the rebels are indeed Muslims from the northern CAR, these claims seem designed to rally international support behind the Bozize regime by raising the specter of a takeover by Salafi-Jihadists similar to that in northern Mali.
Several nations have responded to an appeal for more troops from Chadian president Idriss Déby Itno, chairman of the Communauté économique des Etats d’Afrique centrale (CEEAC), the multinational body sponsoring MICOPAX. Congo-Brazzaville has committed 120 troops, as has Gabon and Cameroon. These forces are expected to join the 400 Chadians deployed at Damara, the last outpost before Bangui (PANA Online [Dakar], January 1; RFI, January 2; January 4; AFP, December 31, 2012). The reinforcements will operate under the command of MICOPAX. However, Gabonese Defense Minister Ruffin Pacome Odzonga has made it clear that “the mandate of the Gabonese troops is provide a buffer and not to fight the rebels” (RFI, January 2). CEEAC is composed of Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tomé and Principe.
South Africa is also sending 400 members of the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) to the CAR on a limited deployment ranging from January 2 to March 31. Whether these troops would participate in operations against the rebels remains uncertain, as their mandate mentions only assisting FACA with “capacity building” and assisting in the “planning and implementation of the disarmament, demobilization and re-integration processes” (SANews [Tshwane], January 7).
A detachment of several hundred French troops in Bangui as part of Operation Boali (intended to support the CAR military and international forces of the CEEAC) have been detailed to protect French nationals and diplomatic premises in the CAR capital.  CEEAC forces are expected to replace local vigilante groups in the capital known as Kokora. Armed with machetes and bows and arrows, these groups have detained or abused Muslims in the capital whom they accuse of being a fifth column for the rebels (AFP, January 2; January 5).
1. France Diplomatie, December 27, 2012, http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/country-files/central-african-republic-188/france-and-the-central-african/political-relations-6283/article/central-african-republic-q-a For Operation Boali, see http://www.defense.gouv.fr/operations/autres-operations/operation-boali-rca/dossier/les-forces-francaises-en-republique-centrafricaine.
This article first appeared in the January 11, 2013 issue of the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor