Scene Setter. The Central African Republic (CAR) is aptly named. It sits plumb in the middle of Africa. Totally landlocked, Cameroon lies to its west, Chad to its north, South Sudan to its east, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to its south. Afflicted with slave trading activity in the centuries before the French took control in the late 1800s, the CAR’s economy is dependent on raw materials: diamonds, timber, uranium, cotton, and coffee, a third of which is exported to its former colonial master, France. Naturally enough, French is one of its two official languages, Sango being the other, spoken by 90% of the population, 5.4 million (2021 estimate).
It is still subject to neocolonialism.
One guise is medicine. Yes, that’s right, medicine.
More than a dozen European Union (EU) states, including France, decided to suspend the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot over concerns about blood clots in some people receiving it. (French authorities are investigating the death of a 26-year-old medical student who died on March 18, 10 days after receiving the AstraZeneca jab.) Prior to that, French President Emmanuel Macron said the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was “almost ineffective”.
Nevertheless, the vaccine is shipped to low-income countries, including numerous African lands, through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as COVAX, aimed at equitable distribution of the vaccine to countries that cannot afford buying it. The Central African Republic is one of those lands about to receive the dubious shot. The fact that the AstraZeneca vaccine is sent to Africa, even though it is ineffective or even dangerous in Europe, raises concern among experts. (The author contacted a friend at AstraZeneca about this. However, the individual, unauthorized to speak to the media, declined comment.)
This reflects the Western colonial past in Africa, reborn in the 20th century as a form of neocolonialism. The controversial vaccine, not good enough for Europeans, is just fine for Africa. As we shall see, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Situation Report. Bangui, the CAR capital, should control all of its 623,00 square kilometers. However, it is encircled by rebel forces, who control about 2/3 of the country because the CAR’s army is seen as ineffective.
The FACA [Forces Armies Centrafricaines] is currently assessed as unable to provide adequate internal security for the country; the military was dissolved following the 2013 rebel seizure of the government and has struggled to rebuild in the years of instability since; France, Russia, the UN, and the European Union are providing various levels of security assistance
The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic [French: MINUSCA] has operated in the country since 2014; its peacekeeping mission includes providing security, protecting civilians, facilitating humanitarian assistance, disarming and demobilizing armed groups, and supporting the country’s fragile transitional government; in November 2019, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the MINUSCA peacekeeping mission another year; as of January 2021, MINUSCA had nearly 15,000 total personnel, including about 11,000 troops and 2,000 police. (CIA World Factbook 2021.)
The Problems. (Besides AstraZeneca).
Self-determination. The UN Security Council imposed MINUSCA on the CAR in 2014, evidently ignoring the country’s sovereignty. The “peace-keeping” force has been strengthened and is still there in 2021. And it operates where it chooses.
MINUSCA is another way of putting pressure on the CAR’s government. The now-15,000-man strong Mission had recently upped its size by 20%. The Mission already costs the international community 1 billion USD per year, but its effectiveness is disputed both by military experts and the local population. Reports of the UN’s mandate violations come from all over the country. The most recently cited problem with the MINUSCA contingent is that it fails to deliver on its main goal, to protect the civilian population. Most of MINUSCA prefers to shelter in their bases while armed groups terrorize unprotected locals. This brings us to a fair question: if the UN’s forces do not fulfill their promises given to the Central African people, what is the real reason behind their deployment there?
Could it be that, under the guise of humanitarian aid, Western countries bring foreign soldiers to a sovereign African country, creating a power imbalance? This could give them grounds for clandestine activities. The example of the CAR, deprived of a say in the matter of increasing the UN troops in its country, is glaringly apparent.
The CAR lost its vote in the UN because it is 29,395USD in arrears in dues to that body. Yet, the UN Charter gives the 193-member General Assembly the authority to decide “that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond the control of the member,” and in that case a country can continue to vote. Sounds like a suspicious double-standard, especially if a state’s economy and political stability are in tatters.
Conflict. Since December 2020, the Central African government has been fighting armed groups. Under the banner of the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), they are attempting both to destabilize the CAR and to disrupt peaceful electoral processes.
The actions of the CPC groups, linked to notorious former president François Bozizé and consisting mostly of foreign mercenaries from neighboring countries, led to the humanitarian crisis in the already conflict-weakened country. (In 2014, Bozizé was placed on a UN sanctions list for “committing or supporting acts” that undermined peace and stability – a reference to Bozizé’s support for Christian militias in 2013.) Bozizé’s financial backing remains unclear, but many experts, like Turkish political and economic observer Ali Rıza Taşdelen, note that François Bozizé has many ties to France. According to Israeli researcher Eline Rosenhart, François Bozizé came to power in a French-backed coup in 2003 after France had become dissatisfied with the strength of then-sitting President Angle-Félix Patassé’s ties to the CAR’s former master.
But there’s more news. And, possibly, better news.
Change for the Better? The neocolonial politics of the West are not as powerful as they used to be, because African countries, in general, and the Central African Republic, in particular, have learned to resist this kind of manipulation. Through implementing a comprehensive policy of rebuilding and restructuring the national army (FACA), the CAR’s government, led by President Touadera, managed to strengthen its position. March has been a month of major military breakthroughs for the CAR army in its fight against the CPC militants. The FACA, with its Russian and Rwandan allies’ support, managed to liberate 11 cities and towns, like Bria, Berberati, Paoua and others. Since the start of the counter-offensive at the end of January 2021, the Central African defense forces took greater control over more of the CAR’s territory than MINUSCA did in seven years.
These remarkable victories are the result both of the work done within the country, and diplomatic efforts. His outstanding negotiating skills let the President forge useful bilateral relationships with countries, both on the African continent like Rwanda, and outside Africa, like Russia, a country without a colonial past. These partners stood ready to aid when the current conflict started unfolding in the CAR. They offered the help that the government asked for, without their pushing their own ideas of what the Republic needed. Additionally, Russia constantly advocates for the CAR during UN sessions, drawing the international community’s attention to the fact that the Central African people, represented by a democratically elected government, should be the one making decisions for the Republic’s citizens.
Comment. The Central African Republic’s situation demonstrates that African countries are no longer as weak and underdeveloped as they were. Now, it’s time for their former colonial masters to step aside, cease their clandestine manipulations, and treat all Africa with respect. That is a better policy than the US and its NATO puppets murdering Moammar Gaddafi and destroying the one country that could unite the continent.
*(Top image: Paul Kagame’s State Visit to Central African Republic, Bangui, 15 October 2019. Credit: Paul Kagame/ Flickr)