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France’s Role in Africa

Can the Central African Republic Carry on Without France?

Pages 28-36 | Published online: 19 Jan 2018


The Central African Republic (CAR) has a long history of internal instability and conflict, which has usually been resolved through French military intervention. These issues resurface generally when political and economic difficulties re-emerge, creating a circle of conflict and intervention in which both countries have been involved for decades. Cynthia Glock takes stock of the current situation and its historical context, and asks how long the CAR and France will continue to be bound by this dynamic.


1 Radio France Internationale (RFI), ‘Threat of Violence Looms in as France’s Sangaris Op Ends’, 30 October 2016.

2 The Central African Republic’s (CAR) first civil war took place between 2004 and 2007, when the armed group UFDR (Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement, Union of Democratic Forces for Unity) organised a rebellion against then President François Bozizé, who took power by a coup in 2003. The CAR’s second civil war took place between 2012 and 2013, when Seleka rebels headed again towards Bangui, chasing Bozizé in March 2013 and installing Michel Djotodia, a Seleka rebel chief, in power.

3 Human Rights Watch, ‘I Can Still Smell the Dead’: The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic (Human Rights Watch, 2013).

4 Peter Bouckaert, They Came to Kill: Escalating Atrocities in the Central African Republic (Human Rights Watch, 2013), p. 5.

5 Amnesty International, ‘Central African Republic: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in Bangui’, press release, 19 December 2013.

6 Author’s interviews with French official, French Joint Military Headquarters, October 2016–July 2017.

7 Ibid.

8 CIA, ‘The World Factbook: The Central African Republic’, <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ct.html>, accessed 23 October 2017.

9 United Nations Peacemaker, ‘Accord de paix de Birao’, 1 April 2007, <https://peacemaker.un.org/car-birao-accord2007>, accessed 10 November 2017.

10 Lesley Anne Warner, ‘Flawed Peace Process Leads to Greater Unrest in the Central African Republic’, World Politics Review, 26 March 2013.

11 BBC News, ‘Central African Republic Rebels Take Diamond-Mine Town’, 18 December 2012.

12 Le Monde, ‘La France obtient une résolution onusienne sur la Centrafrique’, 11 October 2013.

13 Comprising between 4,500 and 6,000 troops (between December 2013 and September 2014), the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) was mandated to protect civilians, restore security, stabilise the country and return the state’s authority.

14 ‘Charter of the United Nations: Chapter VII: Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression’, 1945.

15 Ministère des Armées, ‘Opérations : Opération Boali’, 5 December 2013.

16 Ministère des Armées, ‘Opérations: Opération Sangaris’, 10 December 2013.

17 Ibid.

18 Roland Marchal, ‘Brève histoire d’une transition singulière : La République centrafricaine de janvier 2014 à mars 2016’, Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile de Centrafrique pour la Gouvernance et le Développement, September 2016. Author’s translation.

19 European External Action Service, ‘EUFOR RCA’, <https://eeas.europa.eu/archives/csdp/missions-and-operations/eufor-rca/index_en.htm>, accessed 23 October 2017.

20 EU Training Mission (EUTM) was commanded by a Belgian general from January to July 2017, who has since been replaced by a Spanish general

21 Author interviews with French official, French Joint Military Headquarters, October 2016–July 2017.

22 Ministère des Armées, ‘Opérations : Opération Barkhane’, updated 31 August 2017.

23 Ministère des Armées, ‘Opérations : Opération Chammal’, updated 13 July 2017; see also US Department of Defense, ‘Operation Inherent Resolve: Targeted Operations to Defeat ISIS’, <www.defense.gov/OIR>, accessed 14 December 2017.

24 Direction de l’information légale et administrative, ‘Déclaration conjointe de M. François Hollande, Président de la République, et Mme Catherine Samba Panza, chef de l'Etat de la transition en République centrafricaine, sur la France et l'Union européenne face à la situation en Centrafrique, à Paris le 1er avril 2014’, 1 April 2014, <http://discours.vie-publique.fr/notices/147000764.html>, accessed 16 November 2017.

25 Marchal, ‘Brève histoire d’une transition singulière’. Author’s translation.

26 Ibid. Author’s translation.

27 Central African Republic, ‘National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan: 2017–21’, 2016, p. v.

28 Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2016/17: The State of the World’s Human Rights (London: Amnesty International, 2017), p. 111.

29 UNHCR Global Focus, ‘Central African Republic’, <http://reporting.unhcr.org/node/2528>, accessed 16 November 2017.

30 Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2016/17, p. 111.

31 Author interviews with French official, French Joint Military Headquarters, October 2016–July 2017.

32 Bangui.com, ‘Bangui Denounces the “Inefficiency” of the Blue Helmets in Kaga Bandoro (Center)’, 18 October 2016.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 UN News Centre, ‘Two UN Peacekeepers Killed, Two Injured in Ambush in Central African Republic’, 4 January 2017.

36 France Diplomatie, ‘Central African Republic – Death of a Senegalese Blue Helmet’, 8 March 2017.

37 Kieran Guilbert, ‘Four UN Peacekeepers Killed, Eight Wounded, in Central African Republic’, Reuters, 9 May 2017.

38 Morocco World News, ‘In Pictures: MINUSCA Pays Tribute to Three Killed Moroccan Peacekeepers’, 28 July 2017.

39 Apart from the Front populaire pour la renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC, Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance) and the Unité pour la Centrafrique (UPC, Union for Peace in Central Africa), the Selekas split into the following groups: the Mouvement Patriotique pour le Centrafrique (MPC, Patriotic Movement for Central Africa); the Rassemblement Patriotique pour le Renouveau de la Centrafrique (RPRC, Popular Rally for the Reconstruction of Central Africa); and the Mouvement des libérateurs centrafricains pour la justice (MLCJ, Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice).

40 RFI Afrique, ‘RCA: malgré l’intervention de la Minusca, les ex-Seleka progressent vers Bambari’, 13 February 2017.

41 RFI Afrique, ‘RCA: tentative de sécession par l’ex-Seleka avortée dans le Nord-Est’, 16 December 2015.

42 MINUSCA, ‘La MINUSCA intervient contre des éléments lourdement armés au nord de Bambari’, press release, 26 February 2017.

43 Author interviews with French official, French Joint Military Headquarters, October 2016–July 2017.

44 IMF, ‘World Economic and Financial Surveys: World Economic Outlook Databases’, April 2017.

45 Libération, ‘Central African Republic is “on the Verge of Genocide”’, 21 November 2013.

46 Patrice Gourdin, ‘République centrafricaine : géopolitique d’un pays oublié’, diploweb.com, 1 October 2013.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid.

49 Bernard Lugan, Afrique: la guerre en cartes (Paris: B Lugan, 2014).

50 CIA, ‘The World Factbook: Central African Republic’.

51 Gourdin, ‘République centrafricaine’.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid., p. 11.

54 International Crisis Group, ‘Central African Republic: Anatomy of a Phantom State’, Africa Report No. 136, 13 December 2007, p. 4.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid., pp. 6–7.

57 Ibid., p. 7.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid., p. 8.

60 Ibid.

61 Ibid., p. 9.

62 Centre de doctrine d’emploi des forces (CDEF), ‘45 ans d’opérations militaires françaises en République centrafricaine’, Lettre du retex - opérations no. 8, 9 December 2013, p. 2.

63 BBC News, ‘CAR Coup Strongly Condemned’, 17 March 2003.

64 International Crisis Group, ‘Central African Republic: Anatomy of a Phantom State’, p. 16.

65 Georges Abou, ‘Bangui Traumatized’, RFI, 17 March 2003.

66 Didier Samson, ‘The Disillusioned Tomorrows’, RFI, 16 March 2005.

67 CDEF, ‘45 ans d’opérations militaires françaises en République centrafricaine’.

68 International Crisis Group, ‘Central African Republic: Anatomy of a Phantom State’, Executive Summary.

69 Marchal, ‘Brève histoire d’une transition singulière’.

70 Legifrance.gouv.fr, Decree No. 2011-1109 of 16 September 2011 on the Publication of the Agreement Between the Government of the French Republic and the Government of the Central African Republic Establishing a Defense Partnership (Together an Annex), Signed in Bangui on 8 April 2010 (1), 18 September 2011.

71 Author interviews with French official, French Joint Military Headquarters, October 2016–July 2017.

72 France in Cameroon, ‘Elysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa – Final Declaration’, 7 December 2013.

73 France Diplomatie, ‘Présentation de la République centrafricaine’, <https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/dossiers-pays/republique-centrafricaine/presentation-de-la-republique-centrafricaine/>, accessed 16 November 2017.

74 Le Monde, ‘Le discours de Ouagadougou d’Emmanuel Macron’, 29 November 2017.

75 Marc Voinchet, ‘Centreafrique : les enjeux de l’intervention (Vincent Desportes, Antoine Glaser)’, France Culture, podcast, 3 December 2013, <https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/les-matins/centrafrique-les-enjeux-de-lintervention-vincent-desportes-antoine-glaser>, accessed 16 November 2017.

Additional information

Notes on contributors

Cynthia Glock

Cynthia Glock is a French journalist specialising in defence and security issues, especially French military policy and engagements in Africa and the Middle East. After six years as a military reporter around the world and a Master’s degree in International Relations, she is now based between London and Paris, respectively as a freelance consultant in strategic affairs and a reserve officer in the French Military Joint Headquarters.

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