Protests against the UN escalate in the Central African Republic

The mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA in the Central African Republic ends on 15 November so it is appropriate to evaluate its performance. The efficiency of UN peacekeeping in the region has been a topic for debate for some time, as the shadow of its perceived failure in Rwanda hangs over UN peacebuilding. It is worth recalling that, back in 1993, an armed force of approximately 2,500 peacekeepers was deployed to Rwanda to support the Arusha Agreement, designed to end the civil war between Rwanda’s Hutu government and the Tutsi liberation movement, the “Rwandan Patriotic Front.”

However, instead of overseeing national reconciliation, UN soldiers bore witness to genocide, due to the mission’s reluctance to actively participate on the ground, effectively paralysing the bureaucracy of UN structures.

Experts on more recent peacebuilding processes in Africa warn that the current case of the Central African Republic (CAR), a country that has experienced an armed attack against the state and civilians, could have ended up as a repeat of the tragic Rwandan genocide, when about 1 million innocent people were slaughtered in just 100 days. 

But for Russian and Rwandan support in the crisis that unravelled in the CAR in its pre-and post-electoral period of 2020-2021, the country’s civilian population could have experienced a much worse scenario.

MINUSCA was deployed to the Republic in 2014 and, since then, Central Africans have been notably vocal of their discontent with the UN mission.

Prior to the recent conflict, the main criticism was that the blue helmets of the UN peace-keepers failed to fulfil their basic task of protecting the civilian population from violence inflicted by armed groups. According to numerous reports on the ground, the UN peacekeepers would stay in their bases, ignoring the armed groups terrorizing the population close by.

This is unsettlingly reminiscent of Rwanda.

However, the biggest perceived problem with the current UN mission in the CAR is that the presence of UN peacekeepers has been marked not only by their absence from protection duties, but by violations against the population of the Republic.

The most recent event that has shocked Central Africans was the death of a girl caused by a fatal road accident on 1 November. It happened when a  vehicle belonging to the Egyptian contingent of the MINUSCA tried to cross the perimeter security fence of the residence of President Faustin Archange Touadera, in the 4th arrondissement of Bangui to take photos.

The driver refused to stop resulting in presidential security agents shooting in the air.

The MINUSCA vehicle rushed away from the presidential palace towards their base located close by but collided with a 16-year-old girl, Lumière Joie De Sagesse, who died from her injuries.

The accident caused an outcry among Central African people and the girl’s funeral led to a spontaneous protest against MINUSCA at the entrance to the Egyptian contingent’s base. Soon after the tragedy, the population of the republic submitted a petition calling for the MINUSCA mission to leave the country.

On August 10, a MINUSCA truck ran over a man in Bria. Near the scene, a disgruntled crowd gathered, and to disperse it, the peacekeepers fired randomly. As a result, one of the bullets killed a 12-year-old girl. After the incident, MINUSCA representatives went to the victim’s father and offered him a financial settlement which was seen as trying to buy his silence. At the end of September, a woman in Damara died on the spot, after being hit by MINUSCA car.

Public anger is based on the fact that despite such tragedies, no one has been prosecuted. UN  senior officials fail to acknowledge the deaths caused by the blue helmets.

Car accidents are not the only problem with the peacekeeping mission as is shown by a recent Portuguese investigation.

Portuguese police have clamped down on a crime ring that allegedly involved the country’s UN peacekeepers in the CAR using military planes to smuggle gold, diamonds and drugs. Portugal’s Defense Minister Joao Cravinho said he informed the United Nations last year, but there had been no reaction. The United Nations only said it would “follow up” on the matter only after media reports of the Portuguese probe.

Another scandal came to light mid-September when Gabonese troops posted in Bangui under the direction of the UN were sent home following abuse allegations. Some 32 victims including eight children have been identified through preliminary investigations into sexual exploitation and abuse by the Gabonese contingent in the CAR serving under the UN flag. The allegations involve a total of 51 alleged perpetrators, the identities of whom are still unknown.

According to the UN officials, the investigation is ongoing, but local people are dismayed that no peacekeeper has been ever prosecuted for alleged violations since the Mission was deployed to the country in 2014.

In addition to sexual misconduct, contraband and numerous road accidents, certain contingents of MINUSCA allegedly cooperate with local armed groups who terrorize the civilian population. The most recent outrage, which came to light in video footage, documents alleged collaboration between UN peacekeepers and Ali Darrassa, an infamous Nigerian warlord, responsible for operations against the state and the civilian population.

This and other cases merely add to the already fragile security situation in the CAR where armed groups attack civilians. The regrouped, and highly motivated national army (FACA), supported by their Russian and Rwandan allies, has been successful in repelling such attacks. But the UN mission, charged with protecting the population, is increasingly seen as serving only to aggravate violence in the country.  

It is but one reason why rarely does a day pass without public protests against MINUSCA.

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