Refugees sheltering under tarps as they seek to rebuild their home in Bangui, Central African Republic, in 2017. Photo credit: VOA/Z. Baddorf (public domain)
Freedom House Rating
December 27, 2020 (Second round February 14, 2021)
February or March 2020 (due)
The Central African Republic has scheduled its presidential election for December 27, 2020. Legislative elections – in which voters will elect all 100 members of the National Assembly – are also due, but their date has not been set yet. Delays are possible, either due to COVID-19 or general instability or a combination thereof. Local elections – which have not taken place in the Central African Republic since 1988 – are also supposed to happen in 2020/2021.
The Central African Republic (CAR) faces a humanitarian crisis and a crisis of governance. The country has had multiparty elections since 1993, but a series of coups and instability have prevented democracy from flourishing. Sectarian clashes have been taking place since 2013, when Seleka (“alliance” in Sango, a local language) Muslim insurgents forced President François Bozizé (who himself had seized power in a 2003 coup) from office and installed Michel Djotodia, a Muslim and a northerner. CAR is more than 80 percent Christian and animist and about 10-15 percent Muslim, and southern Christians had held the presidency since independence from France in 1960. In response, southern Christian militias called “anti-Balaka” (“invincible” in Sango) clashed with the government and attacked civilians.
Following the collapse of Djotodia’s presidency less than a year after it began, a UN-backed transitional government under Catherine Samba-Panza subsequently took over until the 2015-2016 presidential election. After a first round with 30 candidates, former prime minister and mathematics professor Faustin-Archange Touadéra won runoff against another former prime minister, Anicet-Georges Dologuélé. Dologuélé conceded and urged his supporters to accept the results peacefully. The African Union judged the election to be generally successful despite irregularities and allegations of fraud. On the other hand, the concurrent legislative elections were annulled and subsequently re-run in early 2016 due to fraud.
A 2017 peace agreement between the government and all but one of the armed militias did little to stop the violence. Fighting continues despite a new agreement signed in February 2019 that gave government roles to some of the insurgent leaders. The government has extremely limited – if any – power outside Bangui, the capital. Violence could break out again around the elections. Civilians continue to face attacks from various armed groups.
Touadéra plans to run for re-election. He has a number of potential challengers, including former prime minister (and 2016 runner-up) Dologuélé, plus former presidents Bozizé and Djotodia. Others will likely run as well – it could be a crowded presidential field.
Dologuélé currently serves as a member of the National Assembly. He recently launched and now heads new coalition of opposition parties called Coalition de l’Opposition Démocratique 2020 (COD-2020). While COD-2020 hasn’t yet committed to backing a single presidential candidate, the coalition could potentially unite behind Dologuélé.
Bozizé returned to the country in December 2019 after six years abroad and announced his candidacy for the presidency. However, an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity – in addition to UN Security Council sanctions due to his support of anti-Balaka attacks – could render him ineligible. Nonetheless, his National Convergence “Kwa Na Kwa” party (KNK) announced that he would in fact be their candidate.
Meanwhile, Djotodia returned to the country in January 2020, and while he may harbor presidential ambitions, he has not been campaigning like Bozizé has. Furthermore, Touadéra is actively courting his support, even greeting him at the airport when he arrived back in the country. In contrast to Bozizé, Djotodia does not face any criminal charges despite having been a Seleka leader and remaining the head of a major rebel group that controls the northeast of the country (a group that is currently engaged in violence against civilians).
Political parties in Central African Republic are weak – a large chunk of the National Assembly members are independents and the parties that do function tend to be vehicles for specific politicians rather than ideologies. Opposition party activists – and journalists who write about them – face intimidation.
Following Touadéra’s ascent to the presidency, France withdrew its peacekeeping force, which had been in the country since 2013. As a result, Russia has ramped up its political and military involvement in exchange for mining rights. Last year, three Russian journalists from a newspaper critical of the Kremlin were killed in the country while they were investigating the role of the Wagner Group, a Russian military contractor, in exploiting the CAR’s mineral wealth. A former Russian intelligence officer is Touadéra’s national security advisor, and the Wagner Group handles Touadéra’s personal security detail.
These arrangements have drawn criticism from opposition figures such as former National Assembly president Karim Meckassoua and groups such as É Zingo Biani – a coalition of opposition politicians and civil society activists.
Al Jazeera (September 26, 2020): CAR President Touadera announces candidacy for December election
Al Jazeera (July 25, 2020): Francois Bozize, deposed CAR leader, announces presidential bid
Antoine Rolland, Reuters (June 5, 2020): Central African Republic court rejects bid to extend president’s mandate
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