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Tuesday 15 November 2005
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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Major challenges remain one year after end of rebellion

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


BANGUI, 15 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - One year after he ousted President Ange-Felix Patasse on 15 March 2003, Francois Bozize is still challenged to restore security, financial health, educational services and medical facilities to the Central African Republic.

Most of the private and public buildings damaged, destroyed or looted by rebels and civilians remain unrepaired. In the capital, Bangui, half of the Interior Ministry is still a burnt out shell and the Ministry of Education occupies the other half despite the risk of its imminent collapse. Moreover, the entire 36 Villas Neighbourhood in Bangui, which was destroyed, is just as the looters left it.

There are far fewer enterprises still operating. Junior Planning Minister Daniel Boyssembe said on Friday in a radio debate with political leaders that just 100 of the 300 enterprises operating before the rebellion were still productive. This, he said, was one reason why the government's tax-base had been sharply curtailed.

Bozize has tried to rectify some of these problems through legislation and the use of military muscle. Three days after he seized power Chadian troops joined others of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC) in stopping looting in Bangui. In December, the Transitional National Council, the country's law advisory body, passed legislation providing for 10-20 years imprisonment for the looting of public property, life for repeat offenders and soldiers involved in looting, and 10 million francs CFA (US $19,394) for people illegally in possession of firearms.

Countryside still insecure

Although Bangui has been made relatively safe, the countryside is still plagued by instability. Many of the bandits who roam the countryside are former rebels who refused to surrender their weapons when CEMAC troops set out to disarm all illegular fighting forces.

With its military hamstrung by poor logistics, the government was initially unable to do much to bring law and order to the countryside. But after receiving military vehicles and other equipment from China, France, Morocco and Sudan, it deployed in January 1,000 troops into the country and into the previously unaffected southwest, where most of the country's mine deposits are located. Now re-equipped, the military is confident of restoring peace.

"Just give us some [more] days to secure the provinces the way we did for Bangui," Col Jules Wande, the junior minister for public security and disarmament, said during the debate on Friday.

Government troops have been able to reach Bangouti, 1,500 km east of Bangui, on the border with Sudan two years after Sudanese People's Liberation Army fighters occupied the area, the CAR army chief of staff, Gen Antoine Gambi, said during the debate. He said that roadblocks had also been set up to identify soldiers who had been harassing truckers along the highways since December 2003.

Other than re-equipment, a French-trained battalion has been deployed and a second battallion is soon to join the first. France has agreed to train and equip three battalions and 30 gendarmerie units for the new government.

Security issues have became a matter of additional importance as the country takes its first step towards constitutional reform. The process begins with a census of a voters' list in April-June. A constitutional referendum is due in November and general elections in December, by which time the government hopes to have pacified the nation.

"2003 was a year of restoration of security, 2004 will be a year for the preparation of the return to a constitutional rule," Bozize said in his New Year address to the nation.

The transition is due to end in January 2005 with the swearing in of a new elected leader.

Refugees, displaced back home

Despite the marked insecurity in parts of the country, most of the refugees who in May 2001 fled repraisals during the failed coup by former CAR leader Andre Kolingba have returned home. The largest group among them - some 2,500 people - returned in June 2003 from neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. Another 300 soldiers returned two months later and other refugees came back from the Republic of Congo.

But even then problems remain. There are still 41,000 CAR refugees in camps in southern Chad, with no repatriation programme envisaged. Within the country, those displaced by fighting have lost two planting seasons and, having eaten their seeds while hiding in the forests, have no access to food and are explosed to disease and hunger.

Concerned with bringing stability and reconciliation to the country, Bozize reinstated former soldiers and civil servants to their old jobs or gave them new ones. He also granted Kolingba amnesty, restored him to his retired rank of army lieutenant general, and appointed his son to the cabinet. Although considered one of the positive achievements of the Bozize administration, these measures have placed considerable strain on an already weakened public treasury.

Salary issue reappears

After the 15 March 2003 coup, Prime Minister Abel Goumba, who previously led the opposition to Patasse, said that his government would pay salaries monthly and on a fixed date. He kept his promise until August 2003, when arrears reappeared. Two months later, the government was unable to pay salaries monthly because poor rains had reduced incomes.

This situation forced the government to slash salaries, raising a storm of protests from labour unions despite a 30 percent reduction in the pay of ministers and other senior officials. But the demands for a living wage and the need to slash public spending has thrust the government in a seemingly inextricable dilemma.

"We want to increase incomes and decrease expenditure at the same time," Jean-Pierre Lebouder, the senior finance minister, said during the debate.

The cut in salaries has enabled the government to resume salary payments and, since 9 March, civil servants have been receiving their November 2003 salaries while Bangui University students on Saturday began receiving scholarships for three months.

Lebouder said that so far the transition government had paid out 24 billion francs ($46.6 million) in salaries, of which 18 billion francs ($34.9 million) came from loans and grants and six billion francs ($11.6 million) were internally-generated incomes.

Reforms in leading sectors

One measure the government has taken to increase its revenue is to uproot corruption in the timber and diamond mining sectors. The mining code was updated but is yet to be enacted, an armed brigade has been set up to fight corruption in the industries, and the country's 800,000 individual miners have been asked to form cooperatives to protect themselves against exploitation by diamond firms.

"The updated mining code authorises simple miners’ associations to sell and even export stones on their own," Sylvain Ndoutingaye, the minister for mines, said during the debate.

The government has taken similar steps to increase its revenue from loggers, and got them and mining firms to accept to repatriate their entire profits to the country and to use local banks for their transactions.

These two revenue generating sectors have not made money since March 2003 because the government suspended their activities until the completions of an audit.

Forestry Minister Michel Sallet said during the Friday debate that most of the country’s 10 timber firms had been engaged in corruption, in an industry that usually generated some 11 billion francs ($21.3 million) annually, from the sale of 600,000 cu.m. of timber extracted from the country's five million hectares of rain forest.

"Unfortunately, we have bad [tax] payers to deal with," Sallet said.


Besides the lack of security from banditry, people in the northwest have been subjected to disease outbreaks because health workers had fled the area during the rebellion. As a result, there have not been immunisations against preventable childhood diseases. Measles outbreaks were reported in Sibut, 185 northeast of Bangui; in Nana Bakassa, 370 km north of Bangui in July; in October in Bozoum, 384 km north of the capital; and in November in Bossangoa, 305 km north of Bangui.

Several cases of diarrhoea were also detected in Bocaranga, 510 km north of Bangui and meningitis was reported in Batangafo, 386 km north of Bangui, and polio in Bossembele, 157 km northeast of Bangui. The resurgence of polio meant that the CAR could not meet the 2005 target for the eradication of the disease.

Concerned by the poor state of medical care in the area, the special humanitarian adviser on CAR for the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Ramiro Lopes Da Silva, visited the affected areas from 22 February to 10 March. His assessment was that the country needed substantial aid to enable the UN World Health Organization to conduct a nationwide epidemiological control drive.

With no government presence in the war-affected zones since June 2003, the health sector has been handled by charities like Italian NGO Cooperazione Internazionale which implemented an EC-supported emergency programme until December 2003. With funding from the EC, the French-based Secours Catholique and US-based Catholic Relief, the Association des Ouevres Medicales des Eglises pour la Sante en Centrafrique implemented a similar medical programme in eight eastern provinces from June through December 2003.

When both progrmmes closed, the government reintroduced a system by which patients had to pay for drugs, despite their obvious level of poverty, prompting most patients to rely on medicines sold on the street and on traditional healers.

Reconciliation in the making

Almost all the country's political actors and all of civil society met in September-October 2003 to discuss their differences and to reconcile. Former leaders David Dacko (who died in November 2003 and who ruled from 1959-1965 and from 1979-1981); Kolingba who ruled from 1981-1993 and other personalities like Bozize and Goumba, Bozize's current deputy, publicly apologised for the mistakes they might have committed in the past.

Patasse, who was democratically elected in 1993 and again in 1999, was not invited after having fled to Togo into exile on 15 March 2003. Instead, Bangui prosecutor Firmin Feindiro issued in August 2003 an international warrant for Patasse's arrest over embezzlement allegations.

Despite the achievement of the reconciliation forum, Patasse’s absence and the arrest and imprisonment of some of his aides were perceived as a hindrance to true reconciliation. But this did not dampen official confidence that the process would succeed.

"The reconciliation process has many stages. But I am convinced that the dialogue constitutes a very good starting point," the Rev Isaac Zokoe, who chaired the reconciliation forum, told IRIN on 27 September 2003.

Also the announced calendar for a meeting of the military tribunal will contribute to the reconciliation process, since soldiers were reported to have been involved in crimes and abuses that could affect the reconciliation process negatively.

The tribunal met from 15 December 2003 to 14 January 2004 after eight years of suspension and will, from now, be meeting every three months. Twenty-five cases were examined and sentences ranging from acquittal to life imprisonment pronounced. The five presidential guards who gang-raped a woman in October 2003 in Bangui were sentenced to five-year imprisonment.

 Theme(s) Democracy
Other recent CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC reports:

Sudanese refugees visit home ahead of repatriation,  14/Nov/05

Civil servants reach agreement to end strike, for now,  14/Nov/05

Regional Summit postponed,  8/Nov/05

Food shortage looming, FAO official says,  7/Nov/05

CEMAC troops deployed to mining town of Bria,  31/Oct/05

Other recent Democracy & Governance reports:

ETHIOPIA: More protesters released from jail, 15/Nov/05

SYRIA: UN investigators deadlocked over interrogation venue, 15/Nov/05

DRC: 150,199 cases of electoral registration fraud uncovered, 15/Nov/05

SUDAN: Political developments raise concern, analysts say, 15/Nov/05

AFGHANISTAN: Election results finalised, 14/Nov/05

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