When I appeared on Shaka Ssali’s “Straight Talk Africa” program on January 16, I was very skeptical about the durability of the ceasefire and peace agreement that had been recently signed between President François Bozizi and the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic.
I agreed with Shaka that the “peace” deal looked more like a deal to settle a “mafia turf war” and to share the spoils of government.
Too many critical issues had not been addressed such as: would a neutral army be responsible for guarding a government of national unity or would Bozizi’s soldiers and elements of Seleka provide that protection?
I also said the deal had excluded the most important elements of the Central African Republic — the civilians and leaders of civil society organizations. I said the country needed a national dialogue that would also embrace non-combatants and that the solution could not be only offered by the armed combatants, Bozizi’s forces and Seleka otherwise the agreement could not endure.
I said the “biggest victims are the ordinary people” and “the civilians who suffer” the consequences of warfare.
In response to another question from Shaka Ssali I anticipated that the peace keepers that had come to the Central African Republic from Congo, Chad, Gabon and South Africa would not defend the Bozizi government if Seleka decided to move into the capital. I did not feel that any of those countries had enough at stake in CAR to want to risk the lives of their soldiers on behalf of Bozizi’s government. I said, “I am willing to bet these troops would leave in a hurry.”
Sadly, the January observations on Shaka Ssali’s show have now been borne out.
The Seleka rebels have now reportedly seized the presidential palace and the capital, Bangui, and Bozizi has already reportedly fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are also reports of looting.
Already six South African soldiers are reported to have been killed during Seleka’s fight for the capital. The rest of the contingent is reportedly seeking safe passage to the airport for withdrawal. There are also reports of looting.
Which way forward for the Central African Republic? Will Seleka be able to form a broad-based and inclusive government? Will they have the will and wisdom to call for a national conference to determine the direction the CAR should pursue? Will they end up as power-hungry people who simply wanted to replace Bozizi? Will there be reprisals against Bozizi’s ethnic group and soldiers?
As they ponder their next moves the Seleka rebels may find out that the easiest thing is seizing power from a weak president. However, Seleka’s leaders now bear responsibility and the consequences if there are abuses or atrocities against civilians.
Just this week Rwanda-backed militia leader Bosco Ntaganda was shipped to the Hague to face war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is serving a 50 year sentence having been convicted for his role in the rebel atrocities in Sierra Leone.
Kenya’s presumptive President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial at the ICC is slated to start this summer on crimes against humanity charges in connection to the 2008 violence following Kenya’s 2007 election.
Hopefully these are enough sobering warnings to Seleka’s leadership about the consequences of their own conduct. That they will be held responsible and accountable for their actions.
The choice is theirs.