Why are SA troops in CAR?

2013-01-14 19:15

South Africa recently announced the deployment of some 400 troops in Bangui, Central of African Republic (CAR), as an alliance of rebels called the Seleka Coalition marched ever boldly towards Bangui to topple the government of President Bozize. There are several motives for this move. These also explain SA’s insistence that it would not pull back the troops after the signing in Libreville of a ceasefire agreement late last week.

An increasing number of voices in debates and talk-show discussions just do not see the rationale for this when many South Africans languish in poverty. Even before the costs are revealed, many already think it will cost SA too much. Many see the CAR to far off to deserve this kindness. I want to suggest that, at least, four key factors come together to explain this move. In a follow-up piece, I will then turn to whether the decision is economically and morally justifiable.

Following the dispatch of the Minister of Defence and War Veterans, Ms. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, by President Zuma to Bangui late in December 2012 to make a strategic assessment of the security situation and recommend to him on how SA should respond. The communication on this also alluded to the fact that Zuma had been constant communication with his counterparts in the Central African region. Indeed, the statement announcing the decision repeats this point about discussions with regional leaders.

The AU operates on the basis of the principle of subsidiary through which it devolves the mandate to restore security and peace in sub-regions to sub-regional bodies like the Economic Commission of Central African States (ECCAS). So, ECCAS is duly mandated to decide also on which countries or what institutions on the continent it involves in stopping conflicts in the region. I surmised from the government statement that there was, at least, regional approval for the SA troop deployment.

The second factor is the obligation to support the AU injunction against unconstitutional change of power, whose violation is growing by the day. As Zuma said in a TV interview, Africa need to send a string signal that poor governance did not justice democracy in a situation where various other options can be explored, while conceding that many of these options also need strengthening to give disgruntled citizens a credible choice when the democratic space is unavailable.

The enthusiastic campaign for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s election, which was run on the promise of a stronger and more efficient AU placed an obligation on the Zuma administration the AU Commission when its credibility is threatened. It could be said that the collapse of CAR would have weakened Dlamini-Zuma and the raised expectations of her leadership.

Thirdly, given SA’s energetic re-engagement of central Africa mainly focused on investment and trade, it feels obliged to support the ECCAS in preventing a potentially damaging collapse in CAR. The 20 years old bilateral relations have not been remarkable although it is said that the SA business community has warmed to opportunities in the country’s agriculture and food, minerals and mining, and the textile and retail industries. There is also a Mutual Defence Agreement that was renewed a couple of months, which provides for the SA military to provide training and capacity building for the CAR military. SA has declared its intention to protect these trainers and prevent the military equipment from falling into rebels’ hands.

Related to the latter point and our fourth factor is a commitment to work on post-conflict stabilisation with a focus on military training for up to five years, which would have been based on the hope that the ECCAS push for a peace agreement would bear fruits. It seems that ECCAS leaders wanted assistance in protecting the peace they were working on. It is important to note that the regional champion on the CAR issue is Congo Republic, which has had warmer relations with SA with its president, Sassou Ngueso, rumoured to have backed Dlamini-Zuma against a central African candidate during the AU Commission chairperson elections. These leaders were aware that the failure of DDR under the Libreville Agreement of 2007 is the main spark for the current rebellion.

Fifthly, it is very possible that SA’s intention was also a desire to be seen to be fulfilling its role as a champion of the AU agenda for stability and peace. Principal to this is the principle of African solution to African problems, which has two sides to it: one is the age-old tradition of solidarity among African countries, helping each to cope with many national and transnational challenges; the second is the preservation of Africa’s dignity as an actor that is able to take care of its own affairs and does not abdicate this responsibility to external powers nor allow them space to intervene opportunistically.

The Cote d’Ivoire experience where a seemingly un-interested French protection force on the ground was quickly turned into an intervention force in support of Forces Nouvelle rebels and others to force Laurent Gbagbo out of power and install Allasane Ouattara, his challenger. So, the presence of some 600 French soldiers raised fears of the repeat of this, which was taken as a sad indictment of African solutions to African problems. But France had indicated that it would not be involved.

The deployment of troops by African countries is important if they are going to take the initiative away from suspected western powers. The injunction against unconstitutional change of powers must be accompanied by the strengthening of the institutions of democracy as many revolters and rebels face serious frustration of democratic means of protest and dialogue. The CAR situation must lead to visible reforms of the political system to allow greater space for citizens to air their views and make a better living than they have so far seen.

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