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Ethnic and Religious Division in the Central African Republic: Crafting a New Nation?

Ivan Gulmesoff

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The Central African Republic (CAR) has continued a path of failed establishments of democracy entangled in conflict. While the Séléka group aspired to resolve this problem, it not only exacerbated it, it laid the foundation for more violence and difficulties for the CAR. To fully understand the extent of this problem, one must grasp the history behind the country’s political instability as well as the ethnic and religious implications. Not taking into account the preestablished ethnic groups during the French Colonial period, government officials identified areas of influence in the CAR and reinforced their boundaries (KŁosowicz 2016). Without a robust political system, ethnic groups began competing with each other in politics (KŁosowicz 2016). This ethnic competition in politics has continued being a factor of insatiability within the CAR government to this day.

Leadersidentifying themselves solely through ethnic groups would continue down a path of violence for the government of the CAR. When Prime Minister Ange-Félix Patassé became president, he was from the Sara-Kaba ethnic group, while his predecessor André Dieudonné Kolingba was from the Yakoma ethnic group (Isaacs-Martin 2016). When André Dieudonné Kolingba became president, he relied solely on his ethnic group, replacing all government officials with tribal members as well as overpaying the army due to their Yakoma tribe ethnicity (KŁosowicz 2016). Every subsequent presidency or coup attempt would rely on their own ethnic group for support. In other words, the country was already divided into ethnic segregation well before French colonization. But the French certainly exacerbated this division in order to concretize their control over the country. Every attempt to form a democratic government post-colonialism reverted to the same ethnic segregation, ending with de facto ethnic authoritarianism.

The general population of the Central African Republic is comprised of eighty ethnic groups with the most conflictual being the Gbaja, Banda, Mandija, and Sara-Kaba (KŁosowicz 2016). This conflict between ethnic groups has only become exacerbated by religion. The CAR is comprised primarily of two religions, Christianity and Islam. These religions not only brought people together for a time of worship but unfortunately also became a conduit in which to unite people of each religion for acts of violence. In 2013, the CAR experienced greater violence through a coup than ever before from the Séléka group (Vlavonou 2014). The Séléka group combined rebels from the local military commander Damane, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), and the Patriotic Convention for Saving the Country (CPSK) (Vlavonou 2014). Striving for a common goal, the leaders of the Séléka group were able to convince other rebel groups to join. Crossing the borders of the landlocked state, the Séléka group recruited other militias from Sudan and Chad as well (Isaacs-Martin 2016). While each rebel group loosely maintained their independence in the coalition, they all fell under the leadership of Michel Djotobia (Vlavonou 2014). The common goal promulgated by Michel Djotabia was that all joining groups agreed the government of President François Bozizé had to be removed for the “better sake” of the country. Once established, the coalition exceeded 10,300 men, an estimated twice the size of the CAR army (Vlavonou 2014). By establishing a militia greater than the CAR military, combined with an unpopular government, Djotabia’s advantage was soon obvious.

A self-proclaimed Islamist group, Séléka effectively took advantage of an already weakened government and replaced President François Bozizé with their leader Michel Djotobia (KŁosowicz 2016). Once Séléka gained government authority, an Anti-Balaka group was established in response. As Kane described, “the Anti-Balaka aimed to liberate the Christian population from the yoke of the Muslims (Kane 2014).” While this might have been the aim, random violence became rampant throughout the CAR, even mistaking innocent Muslim civilians for members of the Séléka group (Kane 2014). Not only had the Séléka group created violence to overthrow the presidency, but it had also effectively ignited tensions between Christians and Muslims across the country in general.

As Isaacs-Martin suggests, the image portrayed of segregation or preferential treatment among certain groups tends to be the common theme in a recipe for conflicts in the CAR (Isaacs-Martin 2016). For members of the out-group, the perception of further exclusion may bring them closer together. In the CAR, the negative images portrayed by a specific group are then used to expose, pursue, or condemn other groups (Isaacs-Martin 2016). This perception has led to social conflicts such as social cleansing and total rejection of non-aligned ethnic groups (Isaacs-Martin 2016). However, as previously mentioned, conflict is not new in the CAR and neither are coup attempts. What could have contributed to the drastic escalation of violence with the rebel groups Séléka and Anti-Balaka? As Turner et al. (1984) implies, goals determine a group’s actions while inspired by their sense of belonging (Brown 2000). Adding to the violence was the fact that each group would target what was perceived to be the other’s resources or political support (Isaacs-Martin 2016). Villages were destroyed as well as innocent civilians murdered. While each had different goals and objectives, both rebel groups Séléka and Anti-Balaka displayed a unique ability to influence the groups in their favor while seeking outright destruction of the other.

Empathy has been replaced with hate for generations in the CAR. Ethnic groups have isolated themselves and lacked a necessary trust for each other through every attempt at democracy. It seems the people of the CAR have lived for generations passing down ethnic traditions of customs, beliefs, languages, and religions. Cultural context defines and ultimately allows a causal perception of “how the world works” that justifies an individual’s rationale for conduct by establishing norms(Beasley et al. 2001). As Beasley et al. suggests, the options of solving a problem across groups become more difficult with established cultural norms (Beasley et al. 2001).Cultural norms encompassing an ideology of distrust between ethnic groups have contributed to the coups and violence in the CAR (Vlavonou 2014).  The coups created over the decades are a clear example of strong ideologies being intensified by ethnic cultural norms.

Religion broadened the scope of hate by crossing boundaries of ethnicity while justifying the cause of continued violence. The Séléka and Anti-Balaka groups both took advantage of this fact to pursue their goals and objectives. This alone arguably increased the destruction and violence in the southwest and southeast of the CAR (Vlavonou 2014). The majority of state affairs were managed at the time by Christians, adding more enflamed desire for the establishment of a coup by Islamic ethnic groups (Mehler 2011). This sectarian conflict, led by the Muslim Séléka group, successfully removed President François Bozizé (KŁosowicz 2016). Since 2013, the Séléka group has been disestablished. However, Anti-balaka has continued to create violence, including crimes against humanity (Glawion and Giga 2018). These norms of hate based on ethnicity now included religion and was justified and conditioned in a positive light over time by the Séléka and Anti-Balaka groups.

Recommendations

As Bales (1953) suggests, expressive activities should be used to mitigate tensions within a group (Brown 2000). While ethnic groups might be separated by religion now, they must have a clear understanding that they all fall under the umbrella of the CAR government and must begin peaceful, respectful, active communication. The problems may seem self-evident to a global civil society but not to the people of the CAR without active communication amongst each other. Although they may not immediately like each other, having the same purpose, overseen by international participants, may bring them together. Once this is established, social interactions with each other should be reinforced to build bonds of trust and reliability, thereby mitigating the likelihood of failure. However, overcoming the cultural history and established social norms may be extremely difficult without committed international help.

The key to establishing norms may begin by applying the self-categorization theory for a better understanding of intergroup behavior and in-group norms established in the CAR as a result of the violence created by the Anti-Balaka and Séléka groups. As the theory of self-categorization states, a group’s behavior is a result of a collective understanding (Smith and Postmes 2011). The Anti-Balaka and Séléka groups used religion as an avenue to expand their social categories while developing a collective understanding. The challenge now would be to reverse this through an alternative national collective understanding and bring all ethnic groups together under the same social/national category umbrella. To solve the continued violence and failed establishments of democracy caused by the rebel groups Séléka and Anti-Balaka in the Central African Republic positive norms creating trust and empathy must be established between all ethnic groups. As Roessler implies, a common practice through African countries is the exclusion of certain ethnic groups who threaten their political party (Roessler 2011). While not perfect, South Africa implemented what they call a “rainbow nation” in an attempt to unify groups feeling a sense of national identity (Gibson 2006). While the group dynamics in the CAR may be entirely different, this could be a system to consider as a start.

Attempting to establish a democracy without positive normative change first may result in reliving a history of violence. The rebel groups Séléka and Anti-Balaka not only created an increased state of chaos through violence, they also laid the foundation for new norms of hate for future generations. As Idowu Koyenikan once said as a lesson for all Africans,“You can no longer see or identify yourself solely as a member of a tribe, but as a citizen of a nation of people working toward a common purpose” (Koyenikan 2014). This great challenge needs to be adopted by all of the CAR. Failure to do so may ultimately lead to the failure of the state as a whole.

Ivan Gulmesoff is a doctoral candidate in Global Security in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University. Currently serving as a Naval Aviation Maintenance Officer in the United States Navy, he hopes eventually to transition to an agency like DARPA, specializing in technological innovations/advancements.

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Does the Regime change in Algeria and Sudan signals the advent of “Arab Spring 2.0”?

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With the ouster of Abdelaziz Bouteflika as the president of Algeria and removal of Omar al-Bashir, as the president of Sudan – some scholars are arguing that the world is about to witness a new phase of change or the “Arab Spring 2.0” that might impact the political stability in the whole Middle East region. On April 2, 2019, months-long public protests forced the exit of president Bouteflika, and on April 11, 2019, Sudan’s president al-Bashir was ousted from power by the military. The fall of longstanding regimes in Algeria and Sudan has generated anxiety among the other authoritarian regimes in the region – fearing how the protests and sudden regime change in two important member countries of “Arab League” would impact the wider Arab-world or the Middle East region.

The original “Arab Spring” was a series of mass level anti-government protests and uprising that first started in Tunisia in December 2010. Later on, the uprising in Tunisia ignited protests against the authoritarian regimes in many Arab countries. Effective use social media platforms and large-scale participation of the youth – with men and women playing equal part was one of the the salient features of original “Arab Spring”. Similarly, in Algeria and in Sudan – youth – both men and women have effectively used social media in spreading the message and motivating people to come out for participating in the protests. Particularly, women have played a pivotal role in bringing the people to the streets. The key role of women protestors in the ouster of Bouteflika and al-Bashir is a massively exciting and stimulating moment which could open a window of opportunity for women to play more active role in the domestic politics of Arab countries. Moreover, youth’s persistent demand for the change of entire political leadership in Algeria and in Sudan might trigger a chain reaction in the neighbouring Arab countries to unleash the “Arab Spring 2.0”. However, this factor could also push the authoritarian regimes of the region; Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Iran – to take more strict or punitive measures against any kind of political protests to ensure that no more leaders would be forced to leave the office.

The original or first “Arab Spring” was met with a heavy-handed response and a massive crackdown against the protests was started in many Arab countries which resulted in the arrests and prisons of large numbers of protestors. After almost a decade, the tendency to suppress the opposition through oppressive means is still a key tool of various authoritarian regimes in the Arab/Middle East countries – whether it is Saudi Arabia showing an intent to reform but contradicting its claims by killing the journalists like Jamal Khashoggi and by arresting women rights activists like Samar Badawi, or Egypt which continues to arrest journalists and civil society activists like Esraa Abdelfattahh or Ibrahim Al-Husseini or Iran which is crushing the opposing voices and protests with the methods of repression.

Nearly a decade after the first “Arab Spring”, a whole new generation is coming of age in the Arab/Middle East countries. With the memories of protests and uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria are still fresh in their minds a key question is facing them; will the mass civil society uprising that toppled the oppressive and authoritarian regimes of Bouteflika and al-Bashir inspire this new generation in the Arab/Middle East countries to stage similar popular uprisings against the authoritarian rulers in their own countries? Looking at the chaos and instability in Libya, Syria and Yemen that followed by the Arab Spring, the majority answer to this question might be negative.

Although the people of Algeria and Sudan deserve huge appreciation but the events and happenings in both countries indicate that the regime change has only resulted in the change of faces and there has been no headway made to bring the real democracy. In Algeria, Abdelkadar Bensalah a longtime ally of Bouteflika and the Senate speaker has been brought in to oversee an interim government for 90 days, and in Sudan – Vice President Lieutenant General Awad ibn Auf seized the power with a promise to hold the elections after two years. On Saturday 13 April, bending to public pressure Gen. ibn Auf reversed his decision to head the Sudan military council and named Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan as his successor but the military stated that it will stay in power for two years.

Governments and people in the Arab-world have learned the lessons from the first “Arab Spring” and they are looking at the recent developments through the lens of firstuprising to shape their policy and response. Accordingly, it is more likely that the developments in Algeria and Sudan may not spark a similar kind of chain reaction which was triggered bythe popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. A key reason whythe developments in Algeria and Sudan might have less impact in the Middle East region is that the majority of international community which supported the first “Arab Spring” in a misperceived sense of “democratic triumphalism”, is now much more cautious in its response towards the current uprisings. A careful response of international community shows that they have also learned the lessons from the events of Syria, Libya, Yemen and Egypt. Moreover, international community encouraged the uprisings in Egypt and Libya because both countries were important centers of power in the Middle East and North Africa. Historically, Egypt has remained a traditional centre of power in the Middle East and Libya being a leading Arab country and an important member of African Union has remained a regional power in North Africa. Although, the people have forced the regime change in both countries but these changes are controlled or “pacted transitions” which are brokered by the real power holders of both countries therefore the chances for a second phase of Arab uprising are very low.

From an external perspective, key international actors are carefully observing and monitoring the changes and developments caused by the fall of Bouteflika and al-Bashir regimes. France and Italy are concerned that the exit of Bouteflika might generate instability in the whole region of North Africa. A key reason for their anxiety is the fear that a prolonged political instability in Algeria might bring a rise in the “cross-Mediterranean” migration to Europe. The ouster of al-Bashir could engender some instability in “Horn of Africa”. This is true in the sense that Sudan is part of region which is equally important for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and also for Iran and Israel.

Russia is also keeping a close eye on what is happening Algeria and Sudan as it might have some short-term geopolitical consequences for Moscow which is very keen to develop military and political ties with both countries. In 2006, Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Algeria. During Putin’s visit Russia signed major arms deal with Algeria. In July 2018, Russian ambassador to Algeria revealed that Algeria purchases almost 50 per cent of Russia’s total arms sales to Africa. On March 19, 2019, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed Russia’s concerns over the mass protests in Algeria, declaring the situation as an attempt to undermine the political stability of Algeria. Similarly, on 16 March, 2019, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia and Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov during his visit to Sudan stressed Russia’s confidence in Al-Bashir’s leadership and stated that Russia has strong desire to strengthen its economic, political and military ties with Sudan.

Although the longstanding regimes have been removed from Algeria and Sudan but the situation both countries is still critical and precarious. The protestors are still out in the streets of Algiers and Khartoum fearing that the people in the new administrations are longtime allies of both Bouteflika and al-Bashir. The interim administration in both countries insist that they do not wish to stay in power for long time and the future of the countries will be decided by the people. But at the same, the military leaders of both countries have warned the people that they will not allow anyone to undermine the national security. This shows that the real power is still in the hands of the influential military leadership of both countries and they still holds the key to broke any agreement that will decide the future political setup in Algeria and Sudan.

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Libya: Will the U.N. Appeal for a halt to the March on Tripoli be heard?

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With the administrative-political situation in Libya badly stalemated and a meeting for negotiations to be held 14-16 April unlikely to make progress, on Thursday 4 April 2019, General Khalifa Hafter, one of the key players in the drama decided to start a “March on Tripoli” and to take overall power by force.

Most of the significant buildings in Libyan cities were built by Italians during the Fascist  period when Libya was an Italian colony.  Thus, General Hafter has patterned himself on Mussolini’s 1922 “March on Rome”.  In 1922, the diplomats of most States looked away when Mussolini marched or the diplomats  took it as a domestic affair.

liby01In 2019, the “March on Tripoli” has drawn more international attention and concern.  The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Hafter a few hours before the March began.  Guterres was in Libya  to facilitate the 14-16 April meeting on which his Special Representative Ghassan Salomé  has been working for some time in the hope of drawing a road map for long-delayed elections.  On Friday 5 April, the U.N. Security Council held a closed-door emergency meeting.  The Security Council called for a halt to the March on Tripoli and the deescalation of the growing armed conflict.

The Security Council recognized the real possibilities of broader armed conflict and its consequences on the civilian population.  In the recent past the Libyan armed factions have violated the laws of war and have a sad record of abuses against civilians.

We will now have to see if Khalifa Hafter is more open to international appeals than was Benito Mussolini.   My impression is that the goal of holding overall power is stronger than the respect of international law. However, even a successful “March on Tripoli” will not create the conditions for an administration of a culturally and geographically-diverse country. New and appropriate constitutional structures must be developed.

There cannot be a return to the earlier Italian colonial structures, nor to the forms of government at independence developed by King Idris al Sanussi which depended largely on his role as a religious leader using religious orders, nor the complicated pattern of “direct democracy” developed by Muammar  al Qadhafi. The Association of World Citizens has proposed the possibility of  con-federal structures.

The post 2011 Libyan society faces large and complex issues.  Resolving the institutional, economic and political issues is urgent and cannot be settled by elections alone. There are three distinct regions which must have some degree of autonomy: Tripolitania and Cyrenaica both bordering the Mediterranean and Fezzan in the southern Sahara. Within each of the three regions there are differing and often rival tribal societies which are in practice more kinship lines than organized tribes. [1] There are differing economic interests and there are differing ideologies ranging from “Arab Socialism” to the Islamist ideology of the Islamic State which has spread from its Syrian-Iraqi base.

The situation is critical, and the next few days may be crucial for the future of the country.

 [1] See J. Davis. Libyan Politics, Tribes and Revolution (London: I.B. Tauris, 1987)

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Russia and Angola: Stuck Between Diplomatic Rhetoric and Business Reality

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks at the Kremlin with President of Angola leader João Lourenço on strengthening cooperation in trade, the economy and culture, as well as current international and regional matters.

“Angola is a reliable and old partner. We need to consider what we need to do, without delay, to stimulate our trade and economic ties. There are interesting fields of activity, such as the diamond industry, fisheries and space exploration. There are also cultural spheres, such as education and the training of personnel,” Putin told the Angolan President at the meeting.

On his part, the Angolan leader João Lourenço added: “We have come to Russia on an official visit to strengthen our ties and cooperation and, if possible, to promote interaction between our countries. Russia is doing splendidly in the spheres of mineral resources, education, healthcare and defence. But we would like to know about Russia’s potential in other fields so we can promote cooperation in these areas of the Angolan economy.”

He informed further that his opening speech at the Angola-Russia Forum in Moscow was designed to attract the interest of Russian business people to investing in the Angolan economy, and finally added “many countries are doing this, and we are confident that Russia can help with economic diversification.”

Putin and Lourenço signed a joint communique after their consultations. The number of bilateral documents signed included the intergovernmental agreements on the peaceful exploration and use of space, and on fishery and aquaculture, as well as documents on cooperation in diamond mining and processing.

Consultations continue on draft agreements on cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space and nuclear energy, commercial shipping, mutual protection of classified information, simplified access to Angola’s ports for Russian warships, as well as agreements involving Russia’s Justice Ministry, Ministry of Industry and Trade and Communications Ministry, according to the Kremlin Press Service.

Before their final departure from the Kremlin, João Lourenço presented Vladimir Putin with a high Angolan award – the Order of Agostinho Neto, the first President of Angola – as a sign of gratitude for the years of support for the Republic of Angola.

Agostinho Neto Order is the highest distinction of the Angolan State with a single degree, granted to nationals and foreigners, in particular Heads of State and Government, political leaders and other heavyweight individuals.

Earlier at the Angolan-Russian Forum, the Angolan leader said that political and diplomatic relations with Russia were “excellent and privileged” but asked for more Russian private investment.

In his objective assessment about economic engagement by foreign players, only few Russian companies are comparatively operating in the Angolan market and limited solely to the exploration and production of diamonds, to the financial system and to the construction of hydroelectric dams.

“Angola wants to change that scenario through public-private partnerships or by creating Angolan-Russian companies with a focus on the manufacturing industry, agro-industry, fishing, energy, tourism, geology and mining, among other sectors,” he added.

Lourenço, however, recalled the long-lasting tradition of “friendship and solidarity” between the two countries, which have remained firm and strong despite the great changes the world has seen in the last decades. Angola counts with Russia’s solidarity and support at a time when it must guarantee economic cooperation and sustainable development, the president said.

Russia-Angolan interaction in the Kremlin has attracted attention of a former Russian diplomat. “Angola is a priority area of Russia’s cooperation in Africa. To begin with, that was the case since the time when Angola fought for its independence. Secondly, this is due to Angola’s huge economic potential,” explained Sergei Nenashev, who served as Russia’s Ambassador to Angola from 2007-2012.

“Now the country lives off oil, gas and, partially, diamonds. On the other hand, Angola has vast resources. Today, Russia and Angola maintain ties in all areas of interstate relations, including culture, education, personnel training, military-technical, financial and economic cooperation.” the former Ambassador told the Kommersant daily newspaper.

Russians like historical references. As expected, the local Russian media were awashed with articles highlighting Russia’s historical contributions to the independence of Angola, the development and strengthening of friendly relations with the country during the Soviet era. That Russia has promoted political dialogue, including the exchange of visits at the high levels, as well as trade and economic cooperation and cultural relations between the two countries.

Media reports offered a number of examples of many areas of cooperation. But Russian companies, at least over the past ten years, have made little results or impact on development of the country. Alrosa is involved in diamond mining in Angola’s largest Catoka deposit. Global Resources is involved in geological prospecting. Rosneft has won a tender for working in Angola. Russia and Angolan companies are cooperating on high technology.

Itar-Tass reported that Russian truck-maker Kamaz may organize assembly of trucks in Angola and Russian Railways may participate in upgrading the rail infrastructure in this country. Russian Railways (RZD) in restoring and upgrading the railroad infrastructure are among looking-forward cooperation projects.

But, Professors Vladimir Shubin and Alexandra Archangelskaya from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for African Studies, have argued that “both Russia and Angola still need to be more strategic in aligning their interests, and more proactive in carving out efficient bilateral instruments and mechanisms in order to promote economic exchanges and reap the benefits of a fully-fledged partnership.”

Cooperation between Angola and Russia date back to 1976, when the two countries signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation. But official figures are still staggering, trade between the two countries stood at US$500 million in 2016, 15 times higher than that of 2012 (US$25 million).

Angola has diamonds, oil, gold, copper and a rich wildlife, forest and fossil fuels. Since independence, oil and diamonds have been the most important economic resource. It’s a member of the Southern African Development Community, an inter-governmental organization that has made its goal to further socio-economic cooperation and integration as well as political and security cooperation among 16 Southern African States.

The Republic of Angola is a country in south-central Africa, the seventh largest by territorial size and bordered by Namibia to the south, Democratic Republic of Congo to the north and Zambia to the east, and on the west the South Atlantic Ocean.

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