Central African Republic: revolution or rebellion?

By Ilmari Käihkö

When I learned about the breakdown of the latest Libreville peace agreement and the rebel takeover in the Central African Republic on March 24, my first thought was Henrik Vigh’s differentiation between rebellions and revolutions: which path would the new rulers of Bangui, the leaders of the Seleka rebel coalition, take? Would they attempt a revolution through reforms that would increase democracy, promote human rights and reduce corruption? Or would they simply replace the old actors of the Bozizé regime, but leave the constellation of power essentially unchanged?

However, there was soon a new thought, as voices of dissent were raised among the very coalition that had assumed power. According to one rebel leader, it had not been agreed that Michel Djotodia would become the new president, or that he would rule for three years before the next elections. So when a Swedish journalist asked me who the central player is at the moment, I hesitated. Was it the new oversized government, in which Seleka is represented alongside civil society and the opposition? Was it former President Bozizé, who has allegedly fled to Cameroon and now accuses his former supporter Chad of ousting him? Or is it some other actor, such as France or South Africa, whose roles will present interesting cases for future analysis? After all, the takeover was only possible because Chad and France had grown tired of Bozizé and withdrawn the military support that ultimately kept him in power. This, of course, raised the question of whether the old regime – or the new one – could survive on its own. After some reflection, I concluded that the new government is, after all, the central actor, as political solutions need to come from within. That said, the new president, who has dismissed the constitution and the national assembly, remains unrecognised by the international community, including the African Union. Nor have the new rulers come up with concrete plans on how exactly they will govern the estimated five million citizens of the country. So far, little support for democracy or good governance has been shown.

While my hesitation stems from the weakness of the new rulers, this can also be an opportunity for good: now would be the time to push for a revolution in the form of democratisation. There are some signs that this process has already begun: after a recent Economic Community of Central African States summit in neighbouring Chad, pressure on the new regime resulted in a promise by Djotodia to hold elections within 18 months, as well as to set up a council that will select an interim president to lead the country until those elections. As he is not excluded from this selection, this may be the first real test of which path the new rulers of Bangui will take. However, at the moment there is an opportunity to influence this process towards revolution. The alternative is, to use Vigh’s term, political inertia, a condition that arguably led to the uprising in the first place, and will probably lead to a further uprising in the future.

Ilmari Käihkö
Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute and PhD candidate at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University


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