Empty Acronyms

Why the Central African Republic Has Many Peacekepers, But No Peace

A man gestures in front of a burning barricade during a protest against French soldiers in Bambari, May 22, 2014. (Goran Tomasevic / Courtesy Reuters)

The current conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) is only the latest expression of an uninterrupted series of military, political, and humanitarian crises that have plagued that country since 1997. In that time, 13 regional and international peacekeeping operations have been organized to quell violence and restore stability. They have been conducted by individual states, such as France; ad hoc coalitions; and regional and international organizations, including the African Union (AU), the Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS), the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), and the UN. None of these patchwork interventions provided a sustainable solution to the crisis.

The recent escalation of violence in CAR has offered another occasion for peacekeeping. But the upcoming mission, to be led by the UN, seems fated to repeat mistakes of its predecessors. Financial resources and troop numbers appear insufficient; it is questionable whether the mandate will be suited to address the root causes of the violence; and key stakeholders continue to assert their particular interests even when they conflict with the communal mission.

ALPHABET SOUP

The history of CAR over the past 20 years is linked to a dizzying number of acronyms. Mission Interafricaine de Surveillance des Accords de Bangui (MISAB) was organized in 1997, following a series of military mutinies. Burkina Faso, Chad, Gabon, and Mali, prompted by France -- which has had an almost uninterrupted military presence in CAR since its independence in 1960 -- established MISAB to help restore peace and security and to disarm the former mutineers. MISAB comprised some 800 troops; France supported the operation logistically and financially, and, after an escalation of violence in June 1997, it also had troops temporarily join the mission.

But because of the financial burden, Paris soon began to insist that the UN share the peacekeeping task. That plea resulted in the 1,350-troop Mission des Nations Unies en République Centrafricaine (MINURCA), which was established by UN Security Council Resolution 1159 in March 1998. In 2000, after CAR managed to hold two peaceful elections, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan replaced MINURCA with the UN Peace-Building Support Office in the Central African Republic (BONUCA), which was composed entirely of civilians.

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