The Build-Up – Repeated Postponements and the Return of an Exile
If the election does take place on January 23rd, it will already be nine months late. The contest has now been postponed on five occasions. These delays have, for the most part, been supported by opposition groups and seem to have been necessary; election preparations have been laborious.
The State of the Nation – Violence on Several Fronts
Just over a week after the UN handed control of Birao back to the government, it was seized by a rebel group. The Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace attacked on November 25th and were only driven out by the efforts of the Chadian army. In the East, the government is struggling to protect civilians from attacks by a Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army.
The CAR approaches this election as a barely coherent nation-state; the reconciliation process with rebel groups is incomplete and military strength is insufficient.
Exit the UN, trust in MICOPAX
The recent departure of MINURCAT, the UN peacekeeping mission in Chad and the CAR, was poorly timed. This force of just over a thousand troops would not have been big enough to ensure peaceful elections. The fall of Birao, however, proved its importance. The UN's exit was prompted by Chad, which had long objected to the presence of international combat troops. It is worth considering whether the UN could not have ignored Chad's wishes and persisted with a mission that was evidently needed.
The UN believes that MICOPAX, the peacekeeping force of the Economic Community of Central Africa States, can create stability. With just five hundred troops, it is capable of little more than self-protection. Its future success will say much about one of Africa's fledgling regional organisations. At present, however, it cannot contribute much to the electoral process.
CAR under Bozizé – No change here
With over 80% of the population living on less than two dollars a day, CAR remains poor even by the standards of the surrounding region. While economic growth has picked up over the last few years, it has stuck around the 2% mark. This compares poorly with its neighbours, including the DRC and Sudan.
International Crisis Group recently released a damning report of Bozizé's management of the CAR's diamonds. It shows how the government's excessive demands drove industrial diamond companies out of the country, leading to unemployment among the miners. The report goes further, arguing that anger over failure to distribute wealth has fuelled support for rebel organisations.
“Bozizé accelerates. Central Africa is on the road”(£). While his slogan speaks of rapid change, perhaps Bozizé's only selling point is stability; citizens fear the upheaval of a major power struggle.
The controversy in the run-up to the last election centred on which candidates would be allowed to run. In the end, Bozizé banned only one: Ange-Félix Patassé, the leader who he had overthrown. Bozizé defeated Martin Ziguélé, Patassé's former Prime Minister, in the second round of voting. He secured 64.6% of the vote.
While the opposition were quick to highlight irregularities, international observers judged the poll to be free and fair. It has been suggested that the French, supporters of Bozizé, requested that monitors judged with leniency. In the aftermath, The Economist ran this quote from an anonymous observer: “Of course they weren't really free and fair. Sometimes you journalists can be so naive.”
Francois Bozizé – The Incumbent
The current President seized power through a coup in March 2003 and has ruled since. He is the leader of the Kwa Na Kwa party.
Ange-Félix Patassé – The Returning Exile
Seven years ago, Bozizé removed Patassé in a coup. His decision to allow him not only to return but to stand in the election deserves commendation. Patassé's ten year reign as President (1993-2003) does not make an impressive CV. Occasional years of strong economic growth were funded by foreign aid. His reign faced a series of rebellions. He is running as an independent.
Martin Ziguélé – The Runner-Up from 2005
Ziguélé finished second in the previous election and was Patassé's Prime Minister from 2001-3. He leads the opposition party originally founded by Patassé, the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People.
Jean-Jacques Démafouth – Rebel Group Leader and Former Defense Minister
Démafouth currently leads the People's Army for the Restoration of Democracy, a rebel group that now works with Bozizé's government. He was a defense minister under Patassé.
Leader of the CADR, an opposition party formed by André Kolingba, who ruled the CAR from 1981-1993.
Justin Innocent Wilite - Leader of the Central African Republic's Congress for Renewal
Leader of a small opposition group.
Bozizé is unlikely to allow a truly free and fair election and will certainly not give up power. It will be interesting to see if there will be a second round and who will contest it with him if there is. While Patassé's performance is hard to predict, a repeat of 2005 with a Ziguélé/Bozizé run-off, seems most probable.
The election will increase rebel activity and it is not clear that the government has the capacity to cope. If violence does escalate, it will say something about the wisdom of the international community demanding an election in such volatile conditions. Bozizé's hope is that the added legitimacy of being democratically elected will lead to an aid payday that would considerably increase his power.