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The Bangui Carousel: How the recycling of political elites reinforces instability and violence in the Central African Republic

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The Bangui Carousel: How the recycling of political elites reinforces instability and violence in the Central African Republic

Posted by Enough Team on August 2, 2016

The Bangui Carousel: How the recycling of political elites reinforces instability and violence in the Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The successful February 2016 election of President Faustin Archange Touadéra marks a new beginning for the Central African Republic (CAR) and provides hope that the country is now stabilizing after three years of violence and political transition. Touadéra has been endorsed by many of his political opponents, and the country remained largely peaceful in the weeks following the elections.

But CAR is still a long way from political stability. If policymakers fail to address the structural issues that led to the crisis in CAR, the country is likely to repeat its violent past. Sworn in on March 30, Touadéra, a former math teacher and prime minister, faces massive challenges. Armed groups and criminal gangs continue to destabilize the countryside, controlling valuable mining areas and commercial towns where they extort illicit taxes and trade diamonds and gold. More than 2 million people, or half of the country’s population, are experiencing hunger; close to 415,000 people remain internally displaced, and 467,000 refugees are only slowly trickling back. Thousands of people have been killed since the March 2013 military coup by the Séléka alliance and the violence that followed.

CAR has endured persistent violence and instability for decades. Institutional weakness, poverty, and exclusion do much to explain the country’s history of disorder. But by significant measure, it is also the deliberate maintenance of such weakness by a small political elite that is at the root of CAR’s endemic kleptocracy, a source of political instability, and a driver of violence in the country. Whether ushered in by coup or popular election, successive governments have proved unable to bring about meaningful change in CAR, in part because of the pattern of appointing many of the same people—often relatives and personal friends—to senior government offices. 

In sum, successive rulers in CAR have maintained authority largely by centralizing control where possible, and extended personal rule by dispensing patronage in return for political support, in particular by personally appointing to senior posts those who served in previous governments or trusted family members. This system has fostered division between the capital and the countryside, incubated the grievances of armed groups, and above all, created significant incentives to hijack the state through violence. This occurs as groups have competed for control of the state to access resources and privileges, instead of to benefit Central Africans. 

This elite recycling is a key component of what we present here as the “Bangui Carousel” to reflect the many people who rotate through the country’s regimes, time and again.  This pattern of elite recycling, which is not per se unique to CAR, is more critical in this country than elsewhere because it is interwoven with a near-complete lack of governance.  There are few effective state or local government institutions, making the role and impact of the recycled individual leaders that much more potent. Unfortunately, it has been the complete dismantling of institutional checks and balances, the weakening of political parties and civil society organizations, and the use of violence to suppress opposition that have been the hallmark of many of these leaders.

This combination of elite recycling on top of a governmental and civic system with little to no capacity and that often reinforces its hold on power through violence defines the Bangui Carousel. It is at the heart of what passes for Central African governance. The recycling and maintenance of a small group of elites—regardless of leadership at the top—combined with the absence of effective state institutions is a fundamental feature of government in CAR. Understanding this matters most to address the structural roots of the country’s persistent instability and eventually stop the Bangui Carousel from spinning, so that government can bring about the change the country desperately needs.

The recycling of elites is present throughout much of CAR’s modern history. To illustrate patterns of elite recycling, the report focuses on appointments to government ministries since early 2013. To gather information and supplement field research, the authors analyzed hundreds of presidential decrees, 15 of which provided information about government reorganizations ordered by former Presidents François Bozizé, Michel Djotodia, and Catherine Samba-Panza. This was then used to develop an overview of the members in each government and their inter-connections.

The report then focuses on some of the individuals who have participated in or benefited from the Bangui Carousel.  Those in the report were selected for different reasons: their affiliations with different armed groups, their mere affiliation with past regimes, potential connections to corruption, or their family ties, each of which tends to undermine the possibility of good governance. The analysis has been done with the objective to understand how groups and individuals get access to the Bangui Carousel and how they often benefit from their political appointments at the expense of CAR’s citizens or simply forfeit the government’s ability to earn the public’s trust.  Reference to any particular individual in this report does not, in and of itself, mean the individual is responsible for the violence or corruption that typically flows from the Bangui Carousel system. Rather, we highlight these individuals simply to demonstrate how the elite recycling element of the Bangui Carousel has worked. Subsequent reports will examine the governance elements in more detail, as well as the role of foreign powers, such as France and Chad, in perpetuating the system.

To disrupt, and eventually, stop the entirety of the Carousel, accountability and effective governance must exist in CAR. And in place of the Carousel, a system of principled governance and greater merit-based criteria for appointments responsive to the needs of ordinary Central Africans must be established. A way forward to accomplish this in part is addressed in the recommendations below. To this end, the Enough Project recommends the following:


Bringing change to the underlying governance structures in CAR, ending decades of misrule, and eroding widespread poverty requires clear direction and leadership from Touadéra.  He must set forth policies targeting practices that sustain both the elite recycling and poor governance that mark the Bangui Carousel, and follow through with action against individuals who would seek to undermine any such positive efforts for their own benefit.  This will take time and persistence, and will require sustained attention and engagement by the international community, both with financial support and accountability through sanctions and other multilateral measures.  Such policies must ultimately strike at the core of elite behavior in CAR, steering governance away from nepotism and self-promotion and towards inclusion, accountability, and broad-based development.

  1. Establish robust and independent anti-corruption institutions. The CAR government should implement a transparent and accountable system for financial management, including a strong auditor general-type function, empowerment of tax authorities to ensure proper revenue collection measures are followed, and review of major contracts issued by both past and current governments. Anti-corruption bodies must be established within the new government, and senior officials should declare their assets upon appointment and annually thereafter. Although too early for the country to attain eligibility and seek membership, the principles and criteria of the Open Government Partnership should be used as a guidepost for the government. The U.S. government, European Union, the World Bank, and others should emphasize the importance of these steps and be prepared to provide assistance to support them.
  2. Prioritize transparency in natural resource revenues, contracting, and spending to prevent corruption. The U.S. government and other donors should urge the CAR government to set up mechanisms to prevent high-level corruption and provide technical assistance to help implement them. These should include a transparent bidding process for the awarding of natural resource concessions, the annual publishing of the government budget and establishing a requirement that natural resource exploitation contracts are made public. The government should engage with international institutions, such as the Open Contracting Partnership and the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency, for assistance in this area, including in capacity building to use their data standards and governance models. Finally, the government should establish robust and independent anti-corruption mechanisms and implement budget and fiscal transparency measures.  
  3. Impose targeted sanctions and strengthen enforcement against those who undermine peace. Development of the types of strong institutions referenced in recommendations #1 and #2 requires a complementary level of accountability. To this end, the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. government, and the European Union should impose additional sanctions on individuals and companies that attempt to undermine stability and the transition to good governance through acts of armed violence or through facilitating public corruption. Particular attention should be made towards enforcement of sanctions, as individuals in particular have been able to circumvent the sanctions because of insufficient enforcement. This includes direct outreach to ensure neighboring countries, particularly Cameroon, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—and their financial institutions—implement asset freeze measures and travel bans imposed by the Security Council, as they are obligated to do as U.N. member states.  Where these governments and their financial institutions lack in necessary capacity for effective implementation, the U.S. government and other donors should offer technical assistance.
  4. Ensure that the restart of the Kimberley Process prevents the flow of conflict diamonds. The restart of the Kimberley Process (KP) for rough diamonds in the Central African Republic could give the government legitimate revenue streams, or conversely, allow armed groups to profit from a conflict diamond trade again, depending on how it is run. The CAR government, United States, European Union, and the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) should help ensure that the voices of Central African civil society are truly included at all stages of the KP decision making process in CAR. Donors should also provide capacity building to CAR civil society organizations to properly monitor KP implementation and provide legal aid for civil society protection. In the key trading and manufacturing centers for CAR diamonds, specifically Antwerp, Dubai, Tel Aviv, and Mumbai, KP authorities should be communicating to industry actors about the need to demonstrate meaningful due diligence and following up to ensure such due diligence is occurring.  Industry bodies should inform the trade about the KP’s steps and ensure necessary vigilance by members of the trade. Where authorities or industry bodies discover violations or suspicious activity, action should be taken and reported publicly.
  5. Restart the EITI process to make resource revenues more transparent. If fully implemented, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) can help prevent and reduce corruption in the natural resource trade by making revenue payments and receipts transparent.  CAR was suspended from EITI in 2013 because of the political instability.  The newly installed CAR government should prioritize the work necessary to apply for removal of the 2013 suspension from EITI. This will include reconstituting the EITI multi-stakeholder group (with civil society and business participation), ensuring space for civil society and that necessary assistance is available, further developing the new work plan to implement EITI, and beginning to implement the new EITI 2016 standard, including identifying areas for data coverage and focusing on the pilot effort investigating beneficial ownership. The international EITI board should only move forward with CAR’s efforts to rejoin EITI once meaningful progress has been made towards these goals.  
  6. Strengthen the judiciary in CAR and promote Special Criminal Court prosecutions. International donors such as the U.S. government, the European Union, and the World Bank should increase funding to rebuild the crippled judiciary in CAR, and in particular, make sure that the Special Criminal Court has sufficient funds, international expertise, and independence to operate and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations and abuses.
  7. Help improve capacity and safeguards for civil society and the media. The role of civil society and the press is critical in monitoring, and eventually diminishing, the Bangui Carousel and ensuring that those involved in government in CAR are serving the people rather than their own interests. The new CAR government should opt in to the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability, so that the country can benefit from the bank’s capacity building opportunities for civil society. The KP and EITI should ensure that civil society focused on the natural resource trade is able to monitor, report back, and participate in the processes without fear for safety. Separately, the U. S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) should seek ways to foster and support press freedom in CAR, a country where working journalists operate in a “Not Free” country, according to Freedom House.
  8. Reform the government appointment process. It is not unusual for political patronage to inform government appointments, but in CAR this has been extreme. The CAR government should develop and incorporate merit-based criteria for the appointment of ministers and other political appointees in CAR such that patronage is much more balanced with merit. CAR should also implement a process that requires appointed officials to declare assets.