This week saw the official launch of the UN Mission for the Stabilization of the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which took over the command of 6,000 troops previously deployed as the African Union’s International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (CAR).
The deployment of the blue helmets comes in the wake of a July cessation of hostilities agreement signed by an array of armed groups in a country rife with insurgents of different stripes and beset by a series of coups d’etat over the last couple of decades.
This chronic instability was supposed to have been brought to an end in 2008 with an “inclusive political dialogue”, but the undertakings made at this landmark forum were not followed through to the satisfaction of key armed groups, or groups which took up arms as a direct result of their frustration.
Over the last two years, these groups have been variously neutralized militarily, dissolved, or are being dissolved, while others are still active.
Here’s an overview of some of these groups.
The Central African Armed Forces (FACA)
Over recent decades, the 7,000 to 8,000 members of FACA have been more of a menace to the population than a guarantor of its security, feared for its brutality and gross human rights abuses committed with impunity. Its presence rarely extended far beyond the capital, Bangui.
There the under-resourced, ethnically imbalanced, ill-managed, barely trained and poorly paid army was defeated by the Seleka rebellion which seized power in March 2013, looting all barracks of their weapons. Coup leader Michel Djotodia subsequently announced FACA’s dissolution.
Now the army is barely functional and, thanks to a UN arms embargo, has barely any weapons to carry.
Rebuilding the army into an institution that represents the diversity of the country’s ethnic groups and which is capable of contributing to national security, is one of the most important and daunting tasks facing CAR.
The Seleka (“alliance” in Sango, the national language) coalition of rebel movements was formed with the aim of ousting President Bozizé. Created in September 2012, it included the Patriotic Convention for the Country’s Salvation (CPSK); the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace-Fundamental (CPJP- Fundamental - a splinter group), and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), founded in 2006 by future coup leader Michel Djotodia, who returned from exile in Benin to take over the group.
In its inaugural declaration, Seleka called for the terms of an accord between the government and UFDR to be respected and for the conclusions of the national dialogue to be implemented.
Seleka briefly entered into a government of national unity with Bozizé’s administration, but then withdrew, going on to topple the president on 24 March 2013. Once in power, which it held for 10 months, Seleka quickly gained infamy for its abuses against civilians in the towns it occupied. Its ranks also included, according to security analyst Yves Golo Gatien, “delinquents, criminals, highwaymen, fugitives from justice and mercenaries from Sudan and Chad”.
Djotodia announced Seleka’s dissolution on 14 September 2013, after which date the groups attained the prefex “ex-“, even though the alliance’s fighters remained active, under the leadership of Joseph Zoundeko, and were not disarmed.
After Djotodia’s resignation in January 2014, most of the former rebels left Bangui for the provinces. A few thousand remained with their arms in three military camps in Bangui. They now have de facto control of most CAR territory from the centre to the north.
Transitional President Catherine Samba Panza oversaw a ceasefire between the ex-Seleka and the anti-balaka (see below), but some of its factions recognize neither this truce nor the transitional government formed in March. Rival ex-Seleka groups have clashed on several occasions.
Towards the end of 2013, Monsignor Nestor Désiré Nongo Aziabgia, bishop of Bossangoa, wrote: "The many atrocities and human rights violations perpetrated by the Seleka have created feelings of rebellion and pushed men, exacerbated by the violence, to organize their own defence and vigilante justice... Unrest among segments of the population has led to the emergence of self-defence groups, including anti-balaka."
This goes some way to explain the resurgence of the anti-balaka movement, but not its actual origins. These date back to the early 1990s, when, in the absence of any state security institutions, self-defence units sprang up in the northwest to protect villages from bandits.
While much of the violence in CAR has been simplified as a Muslim-Christian conflict, and although many Muslim civilians were killed or attacked because of their perceived support for Seleka (many of whom come from the predominantly Muslim and marginalized northeast) the anti-balaka do not see themselves as a Christian organization; indeed many wear paraphernalia that is clearly animist in nature.
One diplomat in Bangui described the anti-balaka as a motley collection of “idle-dispossessed peasants, unemployed bandits, street children out of school joined by former FACA and supporters of former President Bozizé.”
“Just as disorganized as the ex-Seleka but scattered in small groups of a few individuals, [it] was left to its own devices, forced to seize the property of others - and often with extreme violence - to survive,” he added.
Anti-balaka now control about half of CAR, under the command of about a dozen commanders in different zones, some of whom have been detained.
One prominent anti-Balaka member, Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, served as a minister in Bozizé’s administration.
Revolution and Justice (RJ)
Initially and briefly called the Union of Central African Armed Forces for the Restoration of Democracy, RJ was officially launched in 2013 by remnants of the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy founded by Jean Jacques Demafouth in 2006 and disbanded in 2011. It is led by a major Armel Sayo, and is active in the north the country - specifically in the prefectures of Ouham and Ouham-Pende near the border with Chad. Many of its members served in the presidential guard of former President Ange Felix Patassé. Its current leader was for a time the commander of the presidential guard.
Other members are village self-defence groups from the northwest, mainly ethnic Sara-Kaba. The movement has few weapons, vehicles or other equipment. Some of its firearms are homemade.
The group’s goal initially was to oust Michel Djotodia from the presidency. After the latter's departure, RJ announced its aim was to "ensure the stability of all Central Africans whatever their community" and fight "against anything that jeopardizes the tranquillity of Central Africans” such as the ex-Seleka and Chadian rebel leader Baba Laddé active in this region.
The Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC)
FDPC was formed in early 2006 by Martin Koumtamadji (better known as Abdoulaye Miskine), an associate of former president Ange-Félix Patassé. In December of the same year, he signed a ceasefire with the government of Francois Bozizé which was repeatedly violated. Initially consisting of a small number of fighters, it controlled only a tiny area near the border with Chad. FDPC then developed in late 2008, launching attacks against the military. In February 2009, FDPC, supported by MLCJ (see below), threatened to resume major hostilities, accusing Bozizé of reneging on peace process commitments and acting in bad faith.
FDCP drew close to the Seleka coalition during its 2012 march on Bangui, but later distanced itself from the coalition. In June 2013 it clashed with Seleka about 100km from Baboua in western CAR and sustained heavy losses. FDPC had earlier left its base along the Chadian border to settle in western CAR, specifically in the Baboua area near the Cameroon border. From there, Miskine’s men attacked Peuhl villages and camps in both countries, taking children hostage and demanding ransoms. Its leader was arrested in Cameroon and is still being held in prison there.
The Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP)
CPJP was formed in late 2008 in the northeast of the country (particularly in the Ndélé area). It signed a ceasefire with the government in June 2011 and rallied to Seleka after Bozizé’s ouster. After reaching another pact with Bangui the movement was dissolved in September 2013.
The Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ)
MLCJ, created by Abakar Sabone, is a group that broke away from UFDR in August 2008. Its leader signed a peace agreement in December 2008, but announced, alongside FDPC, in February 2009 that he was taking up arms again. Sabone accused Bozizé of having acted in bad faith, and complained that his men had been excluded from the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process. He then joined Bozizé who in 2010 appointed him commissioner in the mixed and independent electoral commission (CEMI). After the Libreville Agreement of January 2013 between the government, former Seleka rebels and politicians, he joined the government of national unity. But he quickly changed allegiances after Bozizé’s fall to rejoin Seleka. He even became a special adviser to Michel Djotodia, his former UFDR companion.
Union of Republican Forces (UFR)
UFR was founded and is led by Lt-Col Florian Ndjadder, son of a general of police killed in a coup attempt under former president Ange-Félix Patassé. He operated in the northwest but has been inactive in recent years. The movement split into two in 2010, giving birth to UFR-Fundamental led by Askin Nzenge Landa. Both groups signed the cessation of hostilities agreement in Brazzaville.
Popular Front for Recovery (FPR)
FPR was created in early 2011 by Baba Laddé, a former officer of the Chadian gendarmerie, "to defend the Peuhl communities". Baba Laddé is himself a Peuhl.
FRP was considerably weakened at the beginning of 2012 after a joint helicopter and ground forces attack by FACA and the Chadian army: The attack led to the destruction of FRP operational bases.
A June 2012 peace agreement with the CAR government called for the group’s fighters to return to Chad, but many remain in border regions and some have clashed with RJ and ex-Seleka units.
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)
Created in Uganda in the mid-1980s with the aim of overthrowing President Yoweri Museveni, the LRA, which is notorious for its egregious human rights abuses, has been present with a couple of hundred fighters in CAR since 2008, despite the combined efforts of FACA, the Ugandan army and US military advisers.
Bandits known locally as zaraguina operate in well organized and well-armed criminal gangs that kill, kidnap for ransom, loot and burn homes. In the absence of effective national security forces, they act with impunity. Peuhl herders are their main targets because of the value of their livestock. Their attacks have prompted tens of thousands to flee their villages to lead a precarious life in the bush; access to fields and markets is thereby prevented. Imports through major trade routes were cut, especially from Cameroon, and repatriation of CAR refugees in Chad was delayed due to their activities.