Pandora's box may have been opened − or opened even wider − in the Central African Republic (CAR) last week after an extraordinary parliamentary vote at a two-day regional summit in Chad resulted in the resignations of the Transitional President Michel Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye.
Blamed for failing to contain a conflict which has displaced close to one million people since December 2012, Djotodia stepped down in a sudden but unsurprising move that has now triggered another political shakeup in the CAR as the search for a new strongman of Bangui begins.
Djotodia's fate was decided in Chad's capital N'Djamena at a regional summit organised by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), a meeting to which CAR's entire National Transitional Council (CNT) had been summoned . There, under much pressure from many sides, the man who had led the rebel Séléka alliance's toppling of former President François Bozizé just 10 months earlier, was effectively forced out.
In accordance with article 23 of the Constitutional Charter of the Transition Council, the Chairman of CAR's governing body, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, stepped in as acting president and will be in power for 15 days while the CNT chooses a new leader from within its ranks.
Many will be pleased to see the back of Djotodia and some reports from Bangui suggest that the streets are calmer than they have been months. However, violent attacks have continued and if the transition of power is not managed carefully, there is a strong possibility the troubled republic could find plunging even deeper into crisis.
Under Djotodia, authorities failed to bring an end to anarchy and stem the spread of horrifying violence between the Séléka rebels and the so-called anti-balaka, a motley collective of anti-Séléka militias, bandits and Christian vigilante groups. After Djotodia, CAR could feasibly enter a equally volatile period both in the country as a whole and within the CNT as ruthless opportunists vie for power.
On the day Djotodia and Tiangaye resigned, both the largely Muslim Séléka rebels and anti-balaka forces launched new waves of violence. Anti-balaka elements reportedly attacked Muslim quarters in Bangui, while Aurelio Gazerra, the fearless bishop of Bozoum, claims the Séléka burnt over 700 homes in the west of the country. Other Séléka militias meanwhile are said to be mobilising assaults from bases along the Cameroonian border in the north-west and from predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods of Bangui.
As the sound of Séléka and anti-balaka gunfire continues to ring out across CAR's western frontier, the transitional government should also brace itself for some bitter fighting. Djotodia was considered by some to be a lackey for more powerful figures within the Séléka, and the internal tide turned against him partly because he couldn't stop French and African forces from intervening and starting to disarm the wayward rebel force in December.
However, while many are glad that he has stepped down, questions are being asked over the legitimacy of his resignation and over Nguendet's serendipitous rise to Acting President. Nguendet has been accused by some of effectively seizing power, though he has insisted the events at the ECCAS summit were "not a putsch" and that all that passed followed constitutional procedure and had the approval of regional leaders.
The new vacancies for the presidency and prime minister's office have now generated controversy and excitement in CAR as opportunists within and outside of the transitional government are already jostling for power, although the Constitutional Charter states that only members of the CNT are eligible for executive posts. Nguendet is believed to consider himself a potential candidate, while reports suggest a handful of others have put their names forward too, including Beatrice Epaye, a former minister of trade and industry, Joshua Binoua, a Christian pastor and former security minister, and Desire Kolingba, the son of former president André Kolingba.
Parts of the anti-balaka also sense an opportunity to be included in the post-Djotodia administration. At least one minor group led by a protégé of the ousted Bozizé has declared a ceasefire, but warned it would restart attacks if it felt provoked or marginalised by the political process. Meanwhile the main anti-balaka group, the pro-Bozizé Front for the Restoration of the Constitutional Order (FROCCA) issued a conciliatory message calling for peace and national dialogue on the future of the CNT, although FROCCA fighters are still armed and active on the ground.
Levi Yakété, another staunch Bozizé supporter and leader of a number of militia, similarly put out a communiqué which welcomed Djotodia's resignation but added that "any process of nominating people to lead this transition which results in the exclusion of our movement and other movements which opposed the Séléka resistance will be considered a deliberate attempt to perpetuate the chaos in Central Africa." A leading figure in the main groups of the anti-balaka, Yakété is a member of FROCCA and currently heads the Mouvement de Resistance Populaire pour la Refondation de Centrafrique (MRPRC), an armed group formed in mid-December composed of defected government troops and other vigilantes.
As Nguendet takes the helm − temporarily, for now − and calls for all fighters to disarm, CAR could see itself entering a new period of volatility rather than a new chapter for peace. And with multiple actors jockeying for power in government and a ground struggle rumbling in the background, international actors monitoring the transition from Nguendet to the next strongman have a responsibility to engage the forces pulling the country apart.
However superfluous or questionable their demands, all of CAR's battling forces want a stake in the transitional government, and if an inclusive national dialogue with CAR's different militias and civil society is not sufficiently well managed, Séléka bitterness and anti-balaka vengeance could engulf the country in a even bigger and more ghoulish crisis.
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For further reading around the subject see:
|Central African Republic: A Mixed Bag of Foreign Peacekeepers to the Rescue?||Rebels, Anti-Rebels and Refugees in the Central African Republic||New Big Man, Old Politics: The Challenging Road Ahead for CAR’s Djotodia|