New President, Same Political Crisis

BMI View: The appointment of a new transitional president in the Central African Republic is a positive sign, but it does not mark the end of a political and social crisis which has been described by UN officials as pre-genocidal. President Catherine Samba Panza takes the helm of a state which has effectively ceased to exist and faces the daunting challenge of reconciling a nation wracked by sectarian violence.

January 20 saw a brief show of unity from bitterly divided political elites in the Central African Republic (CAR) as politicians from all communities welcomed the appointment of Catherine Samba Panza as the country's new transitional president. Ms. Samba Panza replaces Michel Djotodia, whose failure to consolidate power following a December 2012 rebellion is widely blamed for precipitating the CAR's descent into anarchy and sectarian violence. The mayor of Bangui and a respected businesswoman, the new president is widely seen as a politically neutral mediator.

While BMI believes that Samba Panza will likely be an improvement compared to her divisive predecessor, we stress that the implosion of the CAR's always weak state institutions means a change of leadership will have little immediate effect. An improvement in the security situation will be largely dependent on the ability of French and African peacekeepers to restore order and prevent a wave of tit-for-tat revenge killings. BMI predicts that violence will continue over a multi-month time horizon, and sees little reason to believe that the structural weaknesses that make the CAR prone to periodic political and institutional crises are likely to be addressed.

Crisis At The Heart Of Africa
Central Africa - The CAR And Its Neighbours

BMI View: The appointment of a new transitional president in the Central African Republic is a positive sign, but it does not mark the end of a political and social crisis which has been described by UN officials as pre-genocidal. President Catherine Samba Panza takes the helm of a state which has effectively ceased to exist and faces the daunting challenge of reconciling a nation wracked by sectarian violence.

January 20 saw a brief show of unity from bitterly divided political elites in the Central African Republic (CAR) as politicians from all communities welcomed the appointment of Catherine Samba Panza as the country's new transitional president. Ms. Samba Panza replaces Michel Djotodia, whose failure to consolidate power following a December 2012 rebellion is widely blamed for precipitating the CAR's descent into anarchy and sectarian violence. The mayor of Bangui and a respected businesswoman, the new president is widely seen as a politically neutral mediator.

While BMI believes that Samba Panza will likely be an improvement compared to her divisive predecessor, we stress that the implosion of the CAR's always weak state institutions means a change of leadership will have little immediate effect. An improvement in the security situation will be largely dependent on the ability of French and African peacekeepers to restore order and prevent a wave of tit-for-tat revenge killings. BMI predicts that violence will continue over a multi-month time horizon, and sees little reason to believe that the structural weaknesses that make the CAR prone to periodic political and institutional crises are likely to be addressed.

Crisis At The Heart Of Africa
Central Africa - The CAR And Its Neighbours

In late 2013 we predicted that sectarian violence in the CAR would lead to an almost total state collapse, and that this would force France to intervene militarily in the country (see 'French Intervention Will Not Prevent Economic Collapse, 16 October 2013). This view has played out, with Paris deploying 1,600 troops in December 2013 in order to secure Bangui, the CAR's riverside capital. These troops are cooperating with a 3,600-strong African mission, and will be joined by 500 EU soldiers in the first quarter of 2014.

While French commander Francisco Soriano claims that his troops have succeeded in reducing the level of violence in Bangui, violence between Christians and Muslims continues to affect the capital. Much of the city's Muslim population has fled the country, and half of the population of Bangui is currently living in makeshift camps.

New Office, Few New Powers

President Samba Panza has been mayor of the chaotic city for months, and has been unable to prevent clashes between Christian and Muslim militias, both of whom blame the other for violent abuses. Given the lack of resources, this is neither a surprise nor a personal failure. Even so, we stress that the collapse of the CAR's political institutions is such that Samba Panza's appointment to the presidency has granted her few new powers. Armed only with the gravitas of a more impressive title, we doubt that she will be able to bring an end to the crisis, even in the capital.

The situation in rural areas may be worse, but poor roads and what European Union Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva has described as the 'evaporation' of state institutions make it difficult to determine. The UN estimates that over a million people have fled their homes, and there are mixed reports of sectarian violence, especially in the North West. The Red Cross reported discovering 50 charred bodies in the region in late January.

A Costly Crisis
CAR - UNOCHA Estimate Of Financial Needs

The political vacuum has created a massive humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that it needs US$553mn to provide basic care to only some of the affected population. It is unlikely to receive this total; a December UN appeal for US$247mn resulted in just US$15mn worth of grants. What aid is being pledged is difficult to deliver; the World Food Programme said that 1,500 tonnes of food was blocked at the border after Cameroonian truckers refused to transport it across the CAR.

No Easy Answers

Even if President Samba Panza is able to calm tensions in the capital and peacekeeping forces succeed in restoring order to the country, BMI stresses that the CAR will remain fragile, divided, and impoverished. Weak institutions, a massive displaced population, and an economy in free-fall make a sustainable recovery highly unlikely. We predict that the country's political and economic structures will remain brittle over the long term.

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Sector: Country Risk
Geography: Central African Rep.
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