By Janice Freeman
Rebel groups and militias in the war-torn Central African Republic signed a new peace pact in May 2015 with the goal of ending the terrible violence of the past few years. The Seleka, a coalition of northern insurgent groups, seized power in March 2013 and CAR has been ravaged by violence since. When the Seleka came to power and violence began, vigilante groups known as the anti-Balaka re-emerged and led to clashes between rival militias. The leader of the Seleka, Michel Djotodia, declared that the coalition had disbanded in September 2013, which led to the fighters dispersing throughout the countryside and committing violence against civilians. In January 2014, Djotodia stepped down for a civilian interim government led by Catherine Samba-Panza. The May 2015 agreement shows promise but similar accors have unraveled and the implementation of the agreement presents many challenges.
The agreement stipulates that members of all armed groups must end conflict and assemble at agreed sites for the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation (DDRR) process. However, if they arrive to the sites unarmed, they will be sent back to their home communities and participate in programs with UN peacekeepers and the UN Development Programme. There will also be opportunities to join the CAR army if certain eligibility tests are passed. Finally, foreign fighters will be repatriated if they have not committed any crimes.
While this agreement is a big step forward for CAR, there are still many points that require clarification. Power sharing has not been discussed in the agreement so it is not clear how the elections will play out and whether the leaders of various armed groups will be allowed to run in elections. Reintegration of former combatants also requires funding and available jobs. Vocational training and financial inceptives must be available in order to reintegrate combatants and provide a tangible reason to lay down arms and begin returning to a traditional workforce. Another challenge is repatriating the large portion of fighters from Chad and Sudan. Due to the conflict and limited opportunities in those countries, it may be difficult to convince those individuals to disarm.
It will take both commitments from CAR’s leaders as well as from the UN to ensure that his peace deal does not falter as previous accords have. The international community will have to watch closely has CAR’s rebel groups, militias, and interim government make decisions on the remaining stipulations in the deal.