Between 1997 and 2014, no fewer than twelve Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs) were conducted by the UN and other organizations in the Central African Republic (CAR). Nevertheless, the country continues to sink further into a chaotic and catastrophic situation both economically and socially. Neighbouring Chad, however, which is comparable in many ways and has benefited only indirectly from two PKOs partially on its territory, has fared much better.
Why has the situation developed differently in the Central African Republic and Chad, and what effect have these international operations had, or not had, in both cases? Jocelyn Coulon, Director of the Peace Operations Network (ROP), affiliated with the Centre for International Studies and Research of the University of Montreal (CERIUM), Damien Larramendy, a ROP project manager, and Marie- Joëlle Zahar, a political science professor at the university, are addressing these questions.
Si vis pacem, para bellum
Peacekeeping operations are the responsibility of the UN Security Council and seek to prevent or end conflict at the request of the combatants. After a cease-fire, and with the agreement of all parties, a PKO is deployed. When it is completed, a Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) sometimes takes over, as in CAR.
"In this second phase, peacekeepers are replaced by civilians who assist the government administration in strengthening state institutions, ensuring good governance, overseeing disarmament, and furthering the country's development," said Coulon. "Once this mandate is fulfilled, the UN withdraws and is replaced by other international organizations."
While both the Central African Republic and Chad are listed on the Fragile States Index, the situation has deteriorated less in Chad in part because the country has a strong army that has managed to control the territory. This army was possible because Chad derives revenues from oil production and because the political will was there.
CAR has no such income, and the international community was unwilling to support financially a political authority considered corrupt. "The Central African Republic authorities had no desire to strengthen the army but were content to equip the presidential guard because they feared that too strong an army would overthrow them," said Larramendy.
Corruption, which allows one group to enrich itself at the expense of others, and lack of an army, foster rebellion. In CAR, the now endemic conflicts were not religious or interethnic in origin but are about seizing power, said the two researchers.
The absence of an army has also led opponents of other countries to seek refuge in CAR, which has become the target of armed intervention from its neighbours, who want to defend themselves.
"The result is that the country is in a catastrophic state," said Coulon. "There is no infrastructure, no records, the elites are on the run, and nothing is maintained. The danger is that such a fragile state can become a base for terrorist groups to operate elsewhere, as seen with the jihadists in the Sahel."
Another reason for the failure of PKOs in the Central African Republic is the UN response system itself. "The Peacebuilding Support Offices in CAR were paralyzed by power struggles and corruption," said the director. They were abandoned politically and left without leadership, and their material and human resources were insufficient."
Added to this is the lack of vision of UN interventions, which seek national and short-term solutions to long-standing conflicts involving often vast geopolitical zones.
"The more fragile the State, especially in terms of security, the less appropriate it seems to keep a PBSO there," writes Zahar, for her part.
Nevertheless, the three political scientists have not lost hope of one day seeing the situation improve. A new Peacekeeping Operation, the thirteenth, is currently underway in CAR, and it seems that this time more resources will be devoted to it. At least 12,000 peacekeepers will eventually take part, and more than a thousand officials will assist in restructuring the State, rewrite the Constitution, and reform the army.
"They have abandoned the PBSOs and returned to a PKO, which is an admission of defeat," said Larramendy.
For this new operation to succeed in putting the country back on track, it must be carried out over 20 years, said Coulon. "But all the tools of the world will not succeed in maintaining peace if the leadership lacks the will. And the UN Secretary-General should learn from the CAR experience to review his programs."
Jocelyn Coulon and Damien Larramendy, in collaboration with Marie-Joëlle Zahar, Consolidation de la paix et fragilité étatique: l'ONU en République centrafricaine, Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 2015, 220 p.