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Central African Republic: Mutinies, Civil Wars, and a Coup, 1993-2003

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Central African Republic: Mutinies, Civil Wars, and a Coup, 1993-2003

Posted by Mollie Zapata on April 17, 2012

Central African Republic: Mutinies, Civil Wars, and a Coup, 1993-2003

Editor’s Note: The Lord’s Resistance Army has affected the Central African Republic, or CAR, since 2007. This oft-forgotten country’s tumultuous history has resulted in a near complete lack of institutional capacity, making it both a victim and an ideal refuge of the LRA. This post is a brief history that is part of the series Enough 101, intended to provide a contextual background for understanding the complex issues that the Enough Project works on.

This post is the second in the CAR series. Read Part 1—“Central African Republic: 90 Years of Chaos, 1903-1993” —and watch for Part 3 next Tuesday.

From 1993-2003, CAR was nominally democratic, yet those 10 years were marked by a series of mutinies, civil wars, and rebellions. Beginning in 1993, President Ange-Felix Patassé took full advantage of the free pass granted to him by virtue of his "democratic election." No stranger to oppressive dictatorship, Patassé had served under the brutal Emperor Bokassa as minister and prime minister and during his presidency, Patassé too was responsible for abuses of power, large-scale corruption, and political assassinations. 

Patassé was CAR’s first leader from the north, a fact that could have been a non-issue but was constantly emphasized in Patassés’ and his opponents’ efforts to polarize ethnicity in CAR. And the country was polarized: northern savannah-dwellers against the river people of the south, an army that after years of cronyism was essentially a tribal militia, and a presidential security force that was essentially a rival tribal militia of a competing ethnic group. 

Mutinies of the 1990s

In 1996 and 1997, soldiers staged a series of mutinies in Bangui over unpaid wages. The Presidential Guard battled the Central African Armed Forces, or FACA, and fought them off in April and May 1996, leading France to mobilize its 1,400 troops based in CAR at the request of Patassé. The most protracted army mutiny began on November 15, 1996, neutralizing any steps the 30 political parties had gained toward peace. After two French soldiers were shot in the back at a mutineer roadblock, the French army responded by killing “several dozen citizens, caught in the crossfire with mutineers trying to find shelter in the suburbs,” according to International Crisis Group. To quell criticism and outrage of its violent punitive measures, France convened an inter-African peacekeeping force (the Inter-African Commission to Monitor Implementation of the Bangui Accords, or MISAB) to deploy to the CAR capital in 1997 with French financial support and backing from the United Nations.

While Bangui was terrorized by local militias and the MISAB forces (in May and June 1997 60,000 people were forced to flee their homes in Bangui), CAR’s north was suffering from guerilla warfare and growing insecurity. President Patassé created a special extra-military force to pacify the area, which was subsequently accused of committing atrocities and human rights violations.

In March 1998, the French military, which had been in CAR for over 100 years, finally left the country, leaving Patassé to scramble for control of his territory in the face of almost sure defeat. MISAB could not operate without the logistical support provided by French troops, so the U.N. Security Council authorized the U.N. Mission for the Central African Republic, or MINURCA, to deploy in April 1998. MINURCA was mandated to provide security and replace MISAB. The mission stayed in CAR until April 2000.

The End of President Patassé and Rise of General Bozizé

In May 2001, a new series of attacks and reprisals in Bangui marked the beginning of the end for President Patassé. General Kolingba (former president), Minister of Defense Jean-Jacques Demafough, and Patassé’s former chief of staff General François Bozizé were all accused of orchestrating the coup attempt.

Bozizé fled to neighboring Chad and subsequently Paris, where he orchestrated a rebellion from afar, centered in northeastern CAR. On October 25, 2002, Bozizé’s supporters staged a raid on Bangui and were fended off by troops from Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. President Patassé charged Chad with supporting Bozizé and Patassé’s supporters, along with Congolese allies, subsequently massacred at least 120 Chadian civilians in Bangui. In retaliation, Bozizé’s supporters launched a plundering campaign in the north, robbing religious missions, hospitals, and schools, and raping and killing civilians.

In early 2003, Bozizé returned from exile in France with widespread regional support. In this iteration of the civil war, France, Libya, Chad, Gabon, and both of the Congos cooperated to intervene militarily and guide Bozizé to power on March 15, 2003 while Patassé was out of the country at a summit meeting in Niger. Bozizé’s majority-Chadian troops looted the capital, taking what they saw was their due of CAR’s spoils. In an effort to stabilize Bangui, French troops returned after leaving CAR only four years earlier; their stated mission was to protect foreign nationals.