While the ceasefire signed in Brazzaville on 23 July by the two principal armed factions in the Central African Republic (CAR), the ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka, was widely greeted as a positive step forward, analysts are sceptical it can lead to lasting peace.
The agreement, negotiated during a three-day Forum for National Reconciliation in CAR and mediated by Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou N’guesso, involved CAR religious groups, trade unions, civil society, the National Transitional Council and government officials.
The agreement stipulates that all parties will abstain from all forms of violence, including summary executions, torture, harassment, arson, looting, arbitrary detention and execution, the recruitment and use of child soldiers and civilians, and sexual violence.
Gen Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane signed the agreement on behalf of the (predominantly Muslim) ex-Seleka, and Patrice Edouard Ngaïssona on behalf of the (predominantly Christian) anti-Balaka.
“Before the world we take a firm, final and irreversible cessation of hostilities for the engagement,” said Gen Dhaffane. “No one has the right to take up arms to terrorize and terrify an entire people.”
Archbishop of Bangui Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Imam Kobiné Layama, who have been strong proponents of peace throughout the crisis, also signed, as did the president of the transitional parliament, Alexander Ferdinand Nguendet. Catherine Samba Panza, president of the CAR transitional government, took part in the forum, which brought together some 300 participants.
The agreement, however, fell short of what the mediators had anticipated. The parties failed to sign a political commitment to support the transition to the next election, the date of which has yet to be set.
There was also hope that a demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) plan would be agreed upon, but ultimately it was not discussed at the meeting.
The talks in Brazzaville had been marred by bitter disputes, and there was fear they may scupper any deal. The ex-Seleka boycotted the meeting for the first two days, demanding that CAR be partitioned before any negotiations could take place. Eventually, they agreed to “waive any proposed partition”.
"We have signed the cessation of hostilities to mark a first step towards national reconciliation," ex-Seleka spokesman Ahmat Nedjad Ibrahim told IRIN. “Other aspects will be the subject of negotiations in CAR.”
“The agreement has to be implemented. We will not accept that CAR people continue to suffer. When we return to Bangui, our delegates will be deployed to the prefectures to enforce our commitment,” said anti-Balaka representative Ngaïssona.
International governments welcomed the agreement. The African Union said it “constitutes a significant step forward in the search for a lasting solution to the crisis”, and the US State Department called it a move “toward stopping the bloodshed in CAR and preparing the way for a peaceful and democratic political transition.”
Many challenges ahead
Analysts, however, remain cautious about the prospects for lasting peace. “The fact that the ex-Seleka did not take part in discussions and negotiations proves that there was no discussion between the people of CAR. Despite the agreement, the talks seem to be a failure,” Thierry Vircoulon of the International Crisis Group told IRIN.
“The agreement was reached in a hurry. Since the signatories were not disarmed, there may be problems on the ground applying the agreement,” he added.
"When ex-Seleka talk of partitioning the country, they just want to make themselves heard. But their words are frustrating. We have done things that have not pleased Central Africans. It’s time that we unite,” Jean-Félix Riva, president of the CAR National Youth Council and a signatory of the agreement, told IRIN.
Experts called on the international community to play a more active role. “A viable peace process requires the long-term involvement of the international community, patience to completely rebuild the state, and courage to support and at times co-manage the political process,” said Kasper Agger, field researcher at the Enough Project. “Peace will not come without external support.”
The crisis, which began in December 2013, has displaced nearly 900,000 people and left 2.5 million in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Congo has the largest contingent in the African-led International Support Mission to CAR (MISCA), estimated to be 1,000 soldiers. The country hosts 11,000 CAR refugees primarily in the Likouala area, near the northern border of CAR.
“The agreements reached in Brazzaville are a first step towards reconciliation. I remain optimistic. We will work and reach our goal of bringing peace to CAR," said Congo President Sassou Nguesso. But he added, "the negotiations were difficult. It is on the ground that the agreements will be implemented.”