The Court decision raises questions over the next steps for the electoral process since the former French colony could now find itself with a president but no new parliament. Prior to those elections many questioned the feasibility and timing of last December elections. The matter fact is CAR is not ready to organize any elections as long as the country remains riddled with violence, insecurity and instability. The voices of those who claimed that the electoral process was rushed have been justified by this court annulment.
Although CAR's transitional President, Catherine Samba-Panza claimed supporting the December elections, many in the country believed that CAR was not ready for an election. The mandate for CAR's political transition, which established a temporary government after the overthrow of President Francois Bozize by the Seleka rebel group in 2013, expired on December 31. So the international community, in particular France, pushed for the country to hold elections before that date, at all costs, in order to bring that transition to an end.
Last December legislative and presidential elections were originally scheduled to take place in February 2015, but were repeatedly delayed due to security concerns and the failure to register all voters. Another outbreak of deadly violence in the capital, Bangui, last September-in which 77 people were killed, 300 injured and 40,000 people displaced, forced the delay. In Oct 9 2015, Dieudonné Kombo Yaya, former president of the National Election Authority, resigned, citing pressure from CAR presidency and the international community.
Significant obstacles remained in the way of a free and fair vote. Following the Bangui violence last September, there had been almost daily reports of unrest in several regions of the country, including around the central towns of Bambari and Kaga Bandoro. It was clear that elections in that climate it would not had been inclusive and fair. In fact it was dangerous and feared that rushed elections could fuel further instability.
The September clashes had chilling echoes of the inter-religious violence that wrecked the country in 2013 and 2014 and highlighted how little progress has been made in neutralizing armed groups and bringing perpetrators of that violence to justice. That includes both those affiliated with former Seleka rebels, a mainly Muslim group, and predominantly Christian militias known as anti-balaka. No formal process of disarmament, demobilization and reconciliation has been launched, despite pledges to do so as a national transition reconciliation forum in May 2015. Meanwhile, armed groups remain in control of several districts in Bangui and other parts of the country.
Although the United Nations peacekeeping force in CAR, known by its French acronym MINUSCA, has around 11,000 boots on the ground, it has been unable to make much progress reining in these groups and providing security. There have been claims that leaders of both the former Seleka and the anti-balaka militias are actively contributing to the continuing instability.
In early October 2015, international forces had to intervene to stop militiamen loyal to a former Seleka leader, Nourredine Adam, from marching on Bangui. On his return to CAR after almost a year out of the country, Adam announced that he was opposed to holding elections at the end 2015.
Beyond security, there had been ongoing delays in voter registration in a country where millions of people have no official documentation and citizenship verification processes, had been heavily criticized. Registration was yet completed in the the country's camps for internally displaced persons, many of which were inaccessible areas of the country where the poor condition of roads were exacerbated by rainy season. Particularly in the north and west of CAR, there continued deep-seated suspicious of Muslims, many of whom have family links with Chad and Sudan, among some Christian communities that considered them foreigners who should not have the right to vote.
France's desire to see elections held in 2015 stemmed its wish to withdraw its remaining 900 peacekeepers, referred to as Sangaris after the name of France's operation in CAR. France already has a considerable security burden in West and Central Africa in the form of the 3,000-strong Operation Barkhane, a counterterrorism force across the Sahel region that is headquartered in Chad's capital, N'Djamena. But France's apparent need to relieve its overstretched military by distancing itself from CAR's transition raises questions about who else can act as a guarantor to secure a future peace.
Chad, which has in the past often played a behind-the-scenes but deciding role in CAR's political affairs, has kept something of a low profile since the withdrawal of its troops from MISCA, the African Union's peacekeeping force in CAR, in 2014 after they killed civilians in Bangui.
Although Adam, the Seleka leader, reported recently visited Chad, President Idriss Deby has only reiterated the official French line, saying in Paris in early October that the transition period must end as soon as possible. Many question whether the Economic Community of Central African States, which has been involved in approving CAR's electoral timetable, has the political clout to push though the process.
Now the clock is turned back on CAR's electoral process, The prospects for a durable peace in CAR look dim, and another round of rushed elections could only compound that. Questions remain about whether the relatively short phase of talks for a political transition has been able to achieve anything concrete.
Without disarmament and genuine reconciliation, CAR risks having a repeat of the same violence in years to come. The international community, particularly France and the UN, must back off, allowing a more realistic timetable for new elections and instead focus on security, stability, reconciliation and the restoration of state authority. Bringing the CAR back from decades of misrule and interreligious violence requires patience and broad based development efforts.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: Le Monde--