Central African Republic: Powerless UN, helpless government

UN peacekeepers have not adequately protected Central African citizens from brutal attacks. But Prime Minister Simplice Sarandji praised their mission in an exclusive DW interview and voiced hope for reconciliation.

Not a word of criticism about UN soldiers was uttered by Central African Republic (CAR) Prime Minister Simplice Sarandji in an exclusive DW interview. "MINUSCA soldiers are vital, they are a major help in establishing peace in our territory. We are very grateful to the United Nations."

Sarandji welcomed UN Under-Secretary of Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix's calls for increasing the number of peacekeepers in CAR: speaking in Geneva last week, Lacroix said that more UN forces needed to be stationed in the Central African Republic in the face of growing violence. The UN under-secretary said that the UN Security Council must increase the number of peacekeepers deployed from the current mission size of 10,750 soldiers and 2,100 police officers.

Zentralafrikanische Republik Christine Lagarde & Simplice Sarandji, Premierminister

Prime Minister Simplice Sarandji meeting the IMF's Christine Lagarde in January

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With that, the United Nations is reacting to criticism by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations claiming that the MINUSCA mission has failed to adequately protect citizens. Eyewitnesses in the Basse-Kotto prefecture in the south of the country have given accounts of brutal attacks and the targeted killing of Christians.  


DR Congo: UN's largest mission

Since 1999, the UN has been trying to pacify the eastern region of the DR Congo. The mission known as MONUSCO has nearly 20,000 soldiers and an annual budget of $1.4 billion (1.3 billion euros). Despite being the largest and most expensive mission of the United Nations, violence in the country continues.


Darfur: Powerless against violence

UNAMID is a joint mission of the African Union and the UN in Sudan's volatile Darfur region. Observers consider the mission a failure. "The UN Security Council should work harder at finding political solutions, rather than spending money for the military's long-term deployment," says security expert Thierry Vircoulon.


S.Sudan: Turning a blind eye to fighting?

Since the beginning of South Sudan's civil war in 2013, nearly 4 million people have been displaced according to the UN. Some of them are being sheltered in UN compounds. But when clashes between government forces and rebels broke out in the capital Juba in July 2016, the blue helmets failed to effectively intervene. Later, the Kenyan UNMISS commander was sacked by former UN chief Ban Ki-moon.


Mali: The most dangerous UN mission in the world

UN peacekeepers in Mali are monitoring compliance with the peace agreement between the government and an alliance of Tuareg-led rebels. But Islamist terrorist groups such as AQIM continue to carry out attacks making MINUSMA one of the UN's most dangerous military intervention in the world. Germany has deployed more than 700 soldiers as well as helicopters.


CAR: Sexual abuse scandals making headlines

MINUSCA, the UN's mission in Central Africa Republic has not helped to improve the image of the United Nations in Africa. French troops have been accused of sexually abusing children by the Code Blue Campaign. Three years on, victims haven't got any help from the UN. Since 2014, 10,000 soldiers and 1,800 police officers have been deployed. Violence in the country has receded but tensions remain.


Western Sahara: Hope for lasting peace

The UN mission in the Westsahara known as MINURSO has been active since 1991. MINURSO is there to monitor the armistice between Morocco and the rebels of the "Frente Polisario" who are fighting for the independence of the Western Sahara. In 2016, Morocco which has occupied this territory since 1976, dismissed 84 MINURSO staff after being angered by a statement from the UN Secretary-General.


Ivory Coast: Peaceful end of a mission

The UN mission in Ivory Coast fulfilled its objectives on June 30, 2016 after 14 years. Since 2016, the troops have been gradually withdrawn. Former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this was a "turning point for the United Nations and the Ivory Coast." But only after the full withdrawal will it be clearly known whether or not the mission was successful on a long-term basis.


Liberia: Mission accomplished

The UN deployment in Liberia is - as in neighboring Ivory Coast - will soon be history. The soldiers are leaving by mid-2017. Since the end of the 14-year civil war, UNMIL has ensured stability in Liberia and helped build a functioning state. Liberia's government now wants to provide security for itself. The country is still struggling with the consequences of a devastating Ebola epidemic.


Sudan: Ethiopians as peace promoters?

The UNISFA soldiers are patrolling the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei. Sudan and South Sudan both claim to be rightful owners of this territory located between the two countries. More than 4,000 blue helmets from Ethiopia are deployed. Ethiopia is the world's second largest peace-keeping contributor. At the same time, the Ethiopian army is accused of human rights violations back home.


Somalia: Future model AU mission?

UN peacekeepers in Somalia are fighting under the leadership of the African Union in a mission known as AMISOM. The soldiers are in the Horn of African country to battle the al-Shabaab Islamists and bring stability to the war-torn nation. Ethiopia, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria have all contributed their troops for AMISOM.

UN peacekeepers arrive too late

That lack of protection resulted in the massacre of at least 130 people in the city of Alindao this past June. UN peacekeepers stationed in the country arrived in the city a day after attacks began and in such small numbers that they could only provide for the defense of the city's hospital and a center for displaced persons.

Prime Minister Sarandji refused to accept the criticism, saying that it was unfair to place blame for the violence on MINUSCA peacekeepers. Adding that peacekeepers were doing everything possible within the framework of their mandate to protect citizens: "Imagine what would have happened if peacekeepers hadn't been there. Without the MINUSCA mission our country would descend further still into chaos."

Religious component heats conflict

More than any, armed groups are driving violence in the Basse-Kotto region, especially those that have split off from the Muslim-dominated Seleka military alliance. One such group is the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC).

Zentralafrikanische Republik Anti-Balaka Miliz

Different militia group terrorize Central Africans

Just recently, Amnesty International cited eyewitness accounts claiming that UPC fighters had systematically raped men and women, often in front of their children. Afterwards the men were shot and babies beaten to death as their mothers were forced to watch.

Sarandji confirmed that the UPC is clearly using rape as a weapon of war. The most disconcerting aspect of the conflict, however, has been the increasing religious component that has fueled it since the fall of President Francois Bozize in March 2013. Since then, the country has been unable to find calm despite a number of peace accords. For weeks, theUN has been warning of pending genocide.

What is President Touadera doing?

Critics have accused Faustin-Archange Touadera, who was elected president of the Central African Republic in 2016, of inaction, passivity and failure. Central African citizens living in France have regularly organized demonstrations and vociferously demanded his resignation. He has not done enough, they say, to bring about reconciliation between warring factions. His critics add that he has failed in his attempts to create a framework for dialogue between rebel groups.

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Zentralafrikanische Republik - Faustin-Archange Touadera

President Faustin-Archange Touadera

Prime Minister Sarandji rebuts such criticism: "Our president has repeatedly extended his hand and said 'sit down at the negotiating table, all of you, so that we can discuss our country's future.' Bringing about peace is not solely the responsibility of the head of state, the government or parliamentarians. Every citizen must also do his or her part."  

Waiting for help from abroad

All the while, observers say that the economic situation in the Central African Republic is growing ever more disastrous. The European Union has repeatedly pledged millions of euros in aid to the troubled country at numerous donor conferences in Brussels. One of the EU's trust funds was christened "Bekou," which means "hope" in Sango, Central Africa's official language. The fund aims not only to deliver humanitarian aid but also to finance reconstruction and medium-term development projects.

The African Union has also repeatedly put Central Africa on its agenda. At its last meeting it was decided that a committee would be created and tasked with forging a plan to lead the country out of its ongoing crisis.

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The topic of the Central African Republic will also be addressed at the next UN General Assembly. What position will the Central African Republic put forth at the UN? "Our president will continue to appeal to the international community for help, so that the situation does not further escalate," said Prime Minister Sarandji.

'Open hearts for true reconciliation'

Sarandji continually emphasizes that it is important to recognize that responsibility for the violence lies, above all, in the country itself: "The most important condition for ending the violence is that people in our country open their hearts so that we can find true reconciliation." Only then can real peace be established, he says.    

Eric Topona contributed to this article.