Tag Archives: central african republic

Why Hollande’s determination could be a game-changer for Syria

French president François Hollande and foreign minister Laurent Fabius have a strong record on successful and targeted foreign intervention. (Charles Platiau / Reuters)
French president François Hollande and foreign minister Laurent Fabius have a strong record on successful and targeted foreign intervention. (Charles Platiau / Reuters)

With 20 airstrikes on Sunday in the de facto Islamic State/Saesh capital of Raqqa, French president François Hollande made it very clear that he would stay true to his word and launch a ‘merciless war’ against the terrorist camps in Syria controlled by IS/Daesh. Mali Flag IconFrance Flag Iconcentrafrique flagSyria Flag Icon

That may seem like a tall order, especially given the geopolitical conundrums of Syria’s civil war. Russia is also bombing Raqqa and other rebel strongholds, with the explicit goal of boosting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. France, meanwhile, opposes Assad, and Hollande nearly launched airstrikes in 2013 against Assad. The United States, along with France and the United Kingdom, have generally argued that Assad must leave power, and the United States once looked to boost anti-Assad Sunni rebels, some of whom are now allied with IS/Daesh. Now, however, US special forces are on the ground in Syria working with Kurdish peshmerga forces to pressure Raqqa as well. For what it’s worth, Turkey is also boosting the US effort with airstrikes on IS/Daesh, but Turkish forces have also been attacking Kurdish militants in southeast Turkey.

And so on and so on. Last Friday’s attacks on Paris may have simplified the French objective in the region, but it doesn’t make it strategically less messier. Hollande has now made it clear that his goal is to destroy IS/Daesh, not simply to contain it. That makes him, for now, far more hawkish on Syria than either US president Barack Obama or UK prime minister David Cameron. It’s worth remembering that Hollande played a crucial role in bringing Berlin and Athens together for a last-minute bailout deal at the nadir of Greece’s eurozone crisis in July.

The Syrian calculus may also be changing for Obama and Cameron, though. Obama spent nearly a half-hour conferring with Russian president Vladimir Putin over the weekend at the G-20 summit in Turkey, and Hollande is set to meet Obama in person in Washington on November 24, followed by a visit with Putin in Moscow two days later.

An increasingly hawkish France in the Sarkozy-Hollande era

If there’s anyone in world politics today, however, whose record of eliminating jihadist threats and restoring peace in the developing world is decent, it’s Hollande — after at least partially successful operations in Mali and in the Central African Republic.

Throughout most of the world (including France), Hollande is an unpopular and ineffective figure who has neither stood up to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s ‘austerity,’ nor enacted reforms to make the French economy more effective nor lowered France’s persistent unemployment rate. That’s, at least, when his personal love life isn’t making headlines.

But Hollande has developed an impressive record when it comes to engaging and defeating radical jihadists in former French colonies– and in prolonging a new trend of aggressive foreign policy.

His predecessor, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, took office in 2007 with the explicit goal of closer security ties with the United States and the United Kingdom, embracing the once toxic mantle of ‘Atlanticist.’ In 2009, he ended France’s four-decade-long rift with NATO, fully integrating France into NATO’s security regime, and he embraced a muscular, hawkish foreign policy — on Libya and elsewhere.

Perhaps to the surprise of some of the more dovish members of Hollande’s Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party), he has embraced the new French assertiveness on the global stage. Even more surprisingly, it’s Laurent Fabius, a long-time Socialist official, who has carried out Hollande’s muscular foreign policy as France’s foreign minister.

Fabius, who served as France’s youngest prime minister in the 1980s under François Mitterrand, bucked his party in 2005 in advocating a non vote against a European constitution. Nevertheless, he comes from the left wing of the party, and he’s run (unsuccessfully) for the party’s presidential nomination.

Mali — restoring a government in the Sahel

In 2012, in northern Mali, the Tuaregs, nomadic Muslims long resentful of the southern elite, were on the verge of breaking away to form their own northern state. The pressure on Mali’s government culminated in a military coup, deposing Mali’s democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Touré and thereby plunging Mali into even greater chaos. By the end of the year, a relatively stable democratic country had become a magnet for international jihadists, including newly-armed Libyan rebels and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Together, the radicals had overtaken both the Malian army and the local Tuareg forces to create a radical Islamist pocket across northern Mali, introducing harsh sharia law and increasingly threatening the southern capital, Bamako.

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RELATED: Despite fears, Mali’s rushed presidential election seems like a success — for now

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Invited by the new government, Hollande sent a 4,000-person force to Mali in January 2013. Within days, French troops controlled the northern city of Timbuktu and, By April, the international jihadist threat in Mali was significantly reduced, and French troops began withdrawing from Mali, as a regional African force took control over regional security. By August 2013, the country held its delayed presidential election, voting Ibrahim Boubakar Keïta into power and restoring Mali back onto a democratic path, tasked with tough negotiations with Tuareg rebels.

A more wide-ranging force, together with national African troops, remained behind to ensure that the international fighters in Mali didn’t stick around to cause mayhem in other countries in the Sahel.

While IBK, as he’s known in Mali, has not been incredibly successful in pacifying the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who continue to clash with Malian forces and are pushing forward to create their own sovereign state of Azawad. That’s not the best potential outcome for Mali, necessarily, but it did prevent Mali — or the wide Sahel — from becoming the kind of powerless vacuum where international jihadist rule can thrive, like in eastern Syria, western Iraq and present-day Libya. Moreover, even as Mali struggles to consolidate a united country, it can do so without having to wage a war against an IS-style caliphate within its own borders.  Pushing aside hand-wringing about the perception of françafrique, the notion that France continues to play a role in its former colonies to perpetuate its own self-interested political and economic control, Hollande’s targeted and narrowly defined mission made Europe and the Sahel safer as a result.

CAR — giving peace a fresh start

A year later, the Central African Republic, another former French colony, was devolving into chaos.

François Bozizé, the CAR’s president since taking power in a 2003 coup, was himself ousted by the Séléka alliance that first took control of the country’s north in November 2012, then took the capital, Bangui, in March 2013, bringing Séléka rebel leader Michel Djotodia to power.

Yet Djotodia, even after dissolving his militia, failed to control the increasingly intense fighting between Christians-dominated ‘anti-balaka’ militia and the Muslim dominated Séléka. With the country descending back into civil war, the UN Security Council introduced a peacekeeping force, and Hollande sent 1,600 French troops to help disarm militias, after refusing an initial request from Bozizé earlier in 2013 to stabilize his regime.

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RELATED: Does Djotodia’s resignation matter in
Central African Republic?

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Isolated from the elites of the Bozizé regime and increasingly from other rebel leaders in his own Séléka alliance, Djotodia stepped down in early 2014, and the country eventually appointed an interim leader, Catherine Samba-Panza.

The French peacekeeping effort hasn’t pacified the CAR enough to allow for elections that have now been delayed numerous times. But it may helped prevent wider violence, or even mass genocide, in central Africa. Again, French forces have kept the CAR from becoming a fully failed state and a vacuum for jihadist forces that might delight at forming a base in central Africa.

Syria — a chance for a genuine political settlement

Neither Mali nor the Central African Republic today are what you might call model countries today, not even by the standards of sub-Saharan Africa. Mali’s democratic restoration remains fragile and the country is still divided on tenuous north-south lines. The Central African Republic still hasn’t held postwar elections, and it could crumble back into violence at any moment.

But by the standards of Western intervention over the last 15 years, it’s hard to think of any greater successes. Certainly not Iraq or Afghanistan after the end of US-led intervention there, and certainly not Libya, which is barely functioning today after Sarkozy and Cameron led a US-backed charge to dislodge Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. US drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen have done little, either, to make those countries safer. Hollande’s record may not be perfect, but there’s at least some cause for hope.

It’s also true that Syria is different and, in many ways, from sub-Saharan Africa, and will be a much more difficult challenge for Hollande or any international coalition to pacify. For a country that’s suffered four years of civil war and brutality on all sides, Syrians may not welcome yet another international player to the mix. Intervention from the United States, Russia, Turkey and others only seems to make things worse for everyday Syrians, bringing just fleeting gains to the pro-Assad or anti-Assad forces of the day.

Hollande, like Obama and Putin, must realize that any military victory in pushing back IS/Daesh will ultimately be a Pyrrhic victory without the kind of political settlement that brings an end to Syria’s hostilities, even if that means pushing Assad from power.

Sudan’s Bashir set for expected reelection

SUDAN-POLITICS-OPPOSITION-BASHIRPhoto credit to Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

Guest post by Kevin Buettner

In the span of just a couple weeks, Africa will experience both a historic democratic transfer of power in Nigeria and the stubborn clinging to power by a dictator in Sudan, as scheduled elections begin for the first time since the largely Christian South Sudan split from the rest of the chiefly Muslim country in 2011.sudan

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has ruled over perhaps the most turbulent stretch of Sudan’s post-colonial existence. During the last quarter-century, Bashir watched as Sudan lost South Sudan after decades of conflict, a concurrent genocide in Darfur (for which Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court), and a escalating crisis in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states in the south of the new, truncated Sudan.

The ruling National Congress Party (NCP, المؤتمر الوطني) has ensured its continued power and Bashir’s easy reelection by designating as ‘independent’ all persons running for office without the explicit consent of the NCP leadership. With strict NCP and government control over the Sudanese media, the NCP has created the perception that the opposition is disunited.

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RELATED: Who would win a South Sudanese civil war? Khartoum.

RELATED: Pressing pause — South Sudan at a crossroads

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Moreover, much of the Sudanese opposition is simply boycotting polls that are expected to fall well short of international standards for free and fair elections. No one expects Bashir to lose reelection, despite some of the most strident protests in recent memory in September 2013 when residents in Khartoum, the capital city, turned out to denounce price increases and the economic malaise of the 2010s, many calling on Bashir to resign. Several dissident NCP members denounced Bashir and in November 2013, Bashir dismissed his long-serving first vice president, Osman Taha, who was largely credited with working with South Sudan and the international community to enact the peace agreement that cleared the way for South Sudan’s 2011 independence referendum. Today, however, it seems clear that Bashir has widely survived the 2013 tumult.

Though Bashir rose to Sudan’s presidency for the first time in a 1989 military coup, he only truly consolidated power between 1996 and 1999, when he outmaneuvered Sudan’s behind-the-scenes leader, Islamist hardliner Hassan al-Turabi, in part due to rising US concern about Sudan’s ties to radical Islamic terrorism.

Today, Sudan’s electorate is hardly in the kind of shape to hold a robust election that meets any kind of norm of civil society. Continue reading Sudan’s Bashir set for expected reelection

Can the Obama administration save François Hollande?

2ckb1152No one could miss the undertones of yesterday’s op-ed, co-written by US president Barack Obama and French president François Hollande, in The Washington Post and Le Monde:France Flag Icon

A decade ago, few would have imagined our two countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed. Since France’s return to NATO’s military command four years ago and consistent with our continuing commitment to strengthen the NATO- European Union partnership, we have expanded our cooperation across the board. We are sovereign and independent nations that make our decisions based on our respective national interests. Yet we have been able to take our alliance to a new level because our interests and values are so closely aligned.

It was one of the biggest, wettest, sloppiest kisses that the Obama administration has given a foreign leader — and it’s not something that this administration does often.  It’s part of the red-carpet treatment that Obama is rolling out for Hollande, who visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, in Virginia on Monday, and will be the host of a state dinner tonight at the White House.

It’s clearly an opportunity for the newly single Hollande to move on after a dismal January, when sensational headlines over his trysts with a French actress overshadowed his his attempts to introduce a new economic reform package.  It became a nearly monthlong saga that sent Hollande’s partner, Valerie Trierweiler, to a Paris hospital for over a week, and that ended with their breakup.

Time magazine, which a wide-ranging interview, asks this week on its cover whether Hollande can fix France.  It’s worth asking whether, first, the White House is trying to help fix Hollande.  Polls routinely show Hollande with an approval rating in the low 20s (or even high teens), making him the least popular president in the history of the Fifth Republic, not even two years into his five-year term.

The White House treatment, including Monday’s joint editorial, undoubtedly hopes to share of Obama’s star power with the widely derided president.  Obama needs Hollande’s help to finalize the US-EU free trade pact, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, even though it could harm French farmers and wine producers by opening the European Union to cheaper US exports.  Obama will also need Hollande’s help to win a long-term nuclear energy deal with Iran while the temporary six-month deal remains in effect.

It’s true that France has been, surprisingly, almost as reliable a partner on US foreign policy as the United Kingdom in recent years.  Hollande has deepened France’s 21st century internationalism, of course, most notably through his decision to mount a largely successful intervention to keep northern Mali from falling to foreign Islamic jihadists, thereby giving Bamako the space to hold new elections and build a stronger national government.  French peacemakers in the Central African Republic may have also helped limit violence between Christians and Muslims in December and January and smoothed the way for Michel Djotodia’s resignation.  Hollande was willing to back a US military attack on Syrian president  Bashar al-Assad last August when the United Kingdom and the US Congress were not.


But credit for the hard work of repairing US-French relations, insofar as it relates to the newly muscular tone of French foreign policy, more appropriately rests with former president Nicolas Sarkozy, whose administration marked the true pivot on foreign policy.   Continue reading Can the Obama administration save François Hollande?

Does Djotodia’s resignation matter in Central African Republic?


With the resignation of the Central African Republic’s president Michel Djotodia over the weekend, the country has its best chance to transcend the violence of the past month — though with grave questions about future Christian-Muslim relations and the CAR’s ability to move forward with any truly secure, representative government.centrafrique flag

When French troops arrived in Bangui, the country’s capital, in early December, their mission was immediately more difficult than the French mission earlier in 2013 in Mali to stabilize the interim government and rid northern Mali of foreign forces that controlled much of the northern two-thirds of Mali.  Instead, French troops were inserting themselves into an entirely homegrown fiasco — the country’s post-independence record on rule of law, security and democracy is one of the worst (and most tragic) in all of sub-Saharan Africa.

Djotodia, as the leader of the Séléka coalition, pushed François Bozizé out of office in March 2013 — Bozizé himself came to power in 2003 in a putsch of his own, pushing Ange-Félix Patassé out of the centrafricaine presidency and organizing elections to ratify his position in 2005 and again in 2011.  Djotodia’s Séléka coalition, which attracted Muslims, but also many Patassé loyalists (Djotodia himself was a former civil servant in the Patassé regime) and a healthy majority of the country’s northern population.

Initially, Djotodia’s selection of Nicolas Tiangaye as prime minister was a strong sign that his new government would actually attempt to unite the country — Tiangaye, a human rights attorney with links to both Bozizé and the Séléka coalition, had a strong record as someone who could unite both rebel and government forces.

But Djotodia, the CAR’s first Muslim president, had a difficult time uniting the country that he spent years dividing, even after his formal inauguration as interim president in August 2013 and after officially disbanding the Séléka coalition in September 2013.  Dismantling  the Séléka rebels, in fact, may have cost him his sole substantial platform, and it left Djotodia’s forces staggering to fight off the newly formed ‘anti-balaka,’ largely Christian militia that opposed his rule.  As a Muslim president and a relatively lesser-known figure throughout the CAR, Djotodia didn’t bring with him any natural base to the presidency, except the Muslim population in the northeastern corner of the country, which amounts to just 10% of the population.  Each of the two main centrafricaine ethnic groups, the Banda of the east-central heartland of the country, and the Gbaya in the western third of the country, mistrusted Djotodia from the beginning.

What’s more, Djotodia and Tiangaye soon found themselves at odds over the country’s future, depriving the country of one of its most thoughtful and careful leaders (Tiangaye himself stepped down as prime minister on Friday as well).


Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, previously a member of the National Council for Transition (NCT), will serve as acting president until the NCT selects a new president.  Nguendet recognized Djotodia’s presidency shortly after Séléka troops overran Bangui.  Nguendet was quick to call an end to the anarchy, imploring an end to fighting between Muslim and Christian groups, and it’s a strategy that just might work — French and African Union troops have worked for the past two months to keep the violence as minimal as possible.  That hasn’t stopped over 1,000 deaths in December alone and the internal displacement of nearly 500,000 people, but it has prevented the kind of genocide or massacre that the international community worries might otherwise have resulted.  The anti-balaka rebels listed Djotodia’s resignation among their chief demands, so there’s a solid chance that the CAR can retreat from the worst of last month’s fighting.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, and a proponent of liberal interventionism on humanitarian grounds, even made a trip to the Central African Republic on December 19 (pictured above), demonstrating how seriously the US government is taking the crisis.  Though the United States has ruled out sending troops to central Africa, they have pledged to assist the 1,600-strong French military force already there.  Notwithstanding Power’s humanitarian concerns, the United States has cause to worry that a militant Muslim minority could transform an anarchic CAR into a staging ground for terrorism — and to foment unrest throughout central Africa, west Africa and the Sahel.  Continue reading Does Djotodia’s resignation matter in Central African Republic?

14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014


Though I rang in the new year with a list of 14 world elections to watch in the coming year (and 14 more honorable mentions to keep an eye on), I wanted to showcase a few more thoughts about what to watch for in world politics and foreign affairs in 2014.

Accordingly, here are 14 possible game-changers — they’re not predictions per se, but neither are they as far-fetched as they might seem.  No one can say with certainty that they will come to pass in 2014.  Instead, consider these something between rote predictions (e.g., that violence in Iraq is getting worse) and outrageous fat-tail risks (e.g., the impending breakup of the United States).

There’s an old album of small pieces conducted by the late English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, a delightfully playful album entitled Lollipops that contains some of the old master’s favorite, most lively short pieces.

Think of these as Suffragio‘s 14 world politics lollipops to watch in 2014.

We start in France… Continue reading 14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014

CAR debacle a military, diplomatic and political blow to South African leadership


For the past two weeks, while Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s legendary first post-apartheid president battled pneumonia, at age 94, in a Pretoria hospital, the successors of his political inheritance have squandered yet a bit more of the moral power Mandela bequeathed to them.centrafrique flagsouth africa flag

It’s not the first time that South African president Jacob Zuma and the current iteration of the governing African National Congress (ANC) have failed to live up to the larger-than-life image of Mandela, but the death of 13 South Africans troops (or quite possibly more) in the Central African Republic, along with 27 additional injured soldiers, out of a contingent of around 200 that came to Bangui in January, has come to a shock to South Africans — the action was South Africa’s deadliest since clashes resulting from the end of minority rule in 1994.  The deaths occurred in late March when the Séléka rebel coalition ousted current president François Bozizé (pictured below, left, in happier times with Zuma) from office, bringing to an abrupt end a short-lived January ceasefire between the Bozizé government and rebels.

bozize zuma

South Africans, moreover, aren’t used to seeing dead South African soldiers in bodybags, not least of which resulted from the defense of an autocratic president — who took power himself in a 2003 coup — against another group of rebels in a small, landlocked central African nation half a continent away.

So Zuma’s announcement this week that South African troops would withdraw from the Central African Republic entirely has been welcome news, but South Africans are still asking asking pointed questions about why South African troops were defending François Bozizé’s regime by fighting against a rebel force that included, in part, child soldiers.  Defense minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula last weekend rejected critics by mockingly asking if the troops should give sweets and blow kisses to the child rebels.

The truth seems to be that the troops were defending cozy contracts between the Bozizé administration and South African businesses, including top ANC leaders.  Zuma’s story has already changed since January: first, the troops were part of a training mission, then they were part of a security contingent to protect the trainers.

At a memorial earlier this week for the fallen troops, Zuma struck out at his critics in some fairly unsettling terms that indicated he didn’t want any further public discussion of the matter:

“The problem in South Africa is that everybody wants to run the country,” [Zuma] told a memorial service for the 13 soldiers killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) last week.

“There must also be an appreciation that military matters and decisions are not matters that are discussed in public, other than to share broader policy.”

The resulting furor has been an incredible embarrassment for South Africa — in diplomatic, political and military terms alike — drawing considerable international criticism: Continue reading CAR debacle a military, diplomatic and political blow to South African leadership

Longtime centrafricaine attorney Tiangaye key to peaceful CAR resolution


Though the January centrafricaine ceasefire between the administration of François Bozizé and Séléka coalition rebels didn’t last much over two months, its elevation of Nicolas Tiangaye to government may yet provide a solution for governing Central African Republic in a diplomatic impasse that’s become a tricky international issue for African countries from Chad to South Africa.  centrafrique flag

Séléka coalition rebels took control of the capital, Bangui, on March 24, forcing Bozizé into exile, and proclaiming Michel Djotodia as the country’s new interim president.  But the new government just as quickly reappointed Nicolas Tiangaye as the country’s prime minister.  Tiangaye (pictured above), a well-respected constitutional attorney and human rights activist whose role in centrafricaine politics goes back to the 1980s and before, became prime minister pursuant to the January ceasefire agreement.

Where Tiangaye was once the figure that the rebels looked to as ‘their man’ in Bozizé’s government, Tiangaye has now become the man who pro-Bozizé forces now look to as ‘their man’ in the rebel-led government — indeed, both sides continue to praise Tiangaye, who founded the Central African Human Rights League in the 1990s:

“A man of integrity in a sea of corruption,” says one diplomat. “He has integrity. His record is impeccable. He doesn’t compromise,” adds top opposition figure Martin Ziguele. “A good person,” says Eric Massi, spokesman for the Seleka rebels. “We respect him,” adds a member of government.

To the extent that the international community can force a political settlement, all paths go through Tiangaye.

That hasn’t been enough to win the international stamp of approval — Chadian president Idriss Derby, speaking on behalf of the Economic Community of Central African States today, has refused to recognize the self-appointed Djotodia government, and other countries, including the United States, those from the African Union and those from the European Union, have been hesitant to recognize Djotodia, a former civil servant in the administration of Ange-Félix Patassé (Bozizé’s predecessor) and leader of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), only gained power of the broad Séléka rebel group in recent years.

As it stands now, the CAR has been suspended from the African Union, which also froze the Séléka rebels’ assets and imposed a travel ban on Séléka leaders.

That’s in part because Djotodia, days after taking power, dissolved the country’s parliament and suspended the country’s constitution for a three-year period, claiming that he would hold power through 2016, when new elections would be called — a timeline that much of the international community thinks is too slow.  Djotodia was appointed in February 2013 as a deputy prime minister for national defense under the auspices of the ill-fated ceasefire agreement.

It’s also because, in taking power, rebels killed 13 South Africans troops, out of a contingent of around 200 that came to Bangui ostensibly to protect South African mining, oil and other contracts.

Continue reading Longtime centrafricaine attorney Tiangaye key to peaceful CAR resolution