The Forum for National Reconciliation and Political Dialogue for the Central African Republic wrapped up yesterday with the announcement of a cease-fire agreement, following three days of negotiations in the Congolese capital, Brazzaville. The peace talks, which brought together the transitional government, civil society stakeholders as well as the two key warring factions – the (mostly Muslim) Seleka and (mostly Christian) anti-balaka – are the first step in a long process of restoring peace and bringing about reconciliation. Following 15 months of intense confrontations, growing resentment between communities and an unstable security situation, the cease-fire brings some hope – albeit fragile – for a positive resolution of the crisis.
Indeed, the cease-fire agreement is not a comprehensive peace deal, leaving out fundamental, key questions about disarmament and political reconciliation. The agreement is narrowly focused on the question of ending violence and the promotion of violence and hatred in the CAR. It does, however, include a reference to the territorial integrity of the CAR, following a “curveball” Seleka demand for partition halfway through the negotiations. The negotiators – including the President of Congo and CAR transitional government representatives – were not expecting this request, and it initially created some confusion and chaos in the process. Within a day, however, the Seleka had dropped this demand, and signed the cease-fire agreement which stipulates that “all parties are renouncing to the partition of the Central African Republic.” According to the Seleka representative, the request was made obsolete once political power sharing was agreed upon.
Historically, Muslims have been left out of CAR governance, and a key dimension of success for building sustainable peace in the country will be whether there is an acceptable level of Muslim representation in the ranks of power. The transition from the current, temporary government to a democratically elected, representative government is going to present some challenges, particularly as the security situation also needs to be resolved in parallel. The lack of agreement regarding disarmament is also of concern, and will need to be addressed in short order. The prime minister just announced a voluntary disarmament campaign for civilians to begin over the weekend, but a more comprehensive – and compulsory – campaign will be vital. In the context of a precarious cease-fire, where self-restraint is key, it is all too easy for the fragile equilibrium to be broken.
For Douglas Yates, African affairs analyst at the American University in Paris, “this conflict is not sustainable. In the long run, it will peter out.” Assuming that rational self-interest prevails in the CAR, this means that the warring parties have to be willing to work together to determine what mutually beneficial outcomes might look like. As shaky as the cease-fire is, it still represents a “much needed and encouraging first step” for CAR and the millions of people affected by crisis.