But funding shortfalls and the 12 January 2012 arrest of a prominent rebel leader have put the brakes on the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process, the active phase of which got under way in August 2011.
Why is DDR so important?
State security forces have little presence outside the capital, Bangui. Much of the north of the country is under the control of armed groups or criminal gangs. The insecurity has displaced about 170,000 people, devastated basic infrastructure and stifled economic development and agricultural production. CAR, in the recent words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is blighted by “weak national institutions, extreme poverty, corruption, human rights violations and impunity”.
Any progress on these problems depends on consolidating peace, which in turn, depends on DDR, a central provision of a comprehensive peace accord signed in Libreville in 2008.
“We must act quickly to avoid a new cycle of generalized violence leading to the disintegration of the country,” Ban’s CAR envoy, Margaret Vogt, told the security council in December 2011.
What’s happened so far?
DDR preparations took place between September 2009 and May 2010 under the guidance of a Steering Committee (see below). This was followed by an awareness-raising campaign for members of armed groups. Between May and July 2010 lists of combatants were verified. Almost 5,000 members of one group have demobilized.
Which armed groups are involved?
The following groups have taken part in the verification stage, which resulted in a list of 10,600 combatants destined for demobilization.
Only the APRD has actually progressed beyond verification, with 4,800 of its estimated 6,000 members demobilizing in Ouham Pende Prefecture. These former fighters are still waiting for assistance to help them reintegrate into civilian life.
The following two armed groups are foreign, and so not involved in DDR, but their presence in CAR poses a threat to security and therefore, in the absence of effective government forces, a disincentive for other groups to disarm:
Photo: Anthony Morland/IRIN
|Yearning for peace: conflict has devastated much of northern CAR|
The DDR Steering Committee is made up of representatives of the government, armed groups, the UN, the African Union, the European Union, France, the World Bank and MICOPAX (Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in CAR).
What are the problems?
Chiefly, time, money and Démafouth’s arrest.
“Further delays will only exacerbate tensions and compromise an already fragile process, with potentially disastrous consequences,” warned Ban, who added that the onset of rains in June will make it hard to advance DDR in the northwest.
In December 2011 CAR President Francois Bozizé said: "The DDR coffers are empty - a situation that requires further negotiations with our financial partners to replenish the fund."
Vogt said the same thing a few months earlier at a UN Security Council meeting: "The government needs US$3 million to complete the disarmament programme across the country and $19 million for its reintegration programme."
Echoing her, CAR Prime Minister Faustin Archange Touadera, also present at the meeting, said: "This lack of funding could wipe out all efforts to date."
Why was Démafouth arrested?
Justice Minister and government spokesman Firmin Feindiro accused the APRD leader of trying to destabilize the government. He was arrested together with UFDR members Mahamat Abrass, a former member of parliament for Birao, and Abdel Kader Kalil. A month after his arrest Démafouth was charged with endangering state security. He was released on bail after being detained for three months.
Why does it matter?
Days after the arrest, the DDR Steering Committee, of which Démafouth was the first vice-chairman, warned the development would block the DDR process. Vogt echoed this in a 25 January statement, saying it could “jeopardize the efforts already made and those that should be undertaken to consolidate a process that remains very fragile in the country… The will of the Steering Committee is that DDR continue as originally planned across the country to help consolidate a permanent peace throughout the national territory."
The Steering Committee remains inactive; other leaders of armed groups rejected the government’s proposal to appoint one of their number to succeed Démafouth and his position on the committee remains vacant.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]