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January 19, 2021

A deeper problem

Opinion

January 19, 2021

Since hundreds of rioters stormed the Capitol building in Washington DC to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, much of the international community’s focus has been on the United States and its democratic shortcomings.

The US, however, is not the only country that started the new year with a deadly episode of electoral violence. Thousands of kilometres away in Africa, the result of another fiercely contested presidential election also led to violent clashes and raised questions about the democratic future of a deeply-divided nation.

Protests are underway in the Central African Republic (CAR) in response to the December 27 presidential polls that saw the re-election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra with some 53 percent of the votes.

The election was marred by violence and reports of voter-intimidation, which resulted in an influential opposition coalition calling for its annulment. International observers noted the vote in the capital, Bangui, went well, but admitted that violence prevented many from voting in other parts of the country, despite the presence of peacekeeping soldiers and reinforcements sent in by Russia and Rwanda after pre-election attacks.

On January 13, rebel forces launched a coordinated attack on Bangui, presumably to invalidate the election result and assume control of the country. They were eventually pushed back by a coalition of UN peacekeepers and Central African forces.

Today, in their attempts to make sense of the ongoing violence and divisions in CAR, most observers are focusing on the factors that led many to question the fairness and legitimacy of the election. Many hoped that if all players in CAR’s political scene can agree to participate in and respect the results of a free and fair election, this would be a major step towards peace. But, in fact, the disputed election is not the source but merely a symptom of CAR’s myriad deep-rooted problems.

Free and fair elections are undoubtedly an important tool for democracy, but they do not single-handedly hold the key to security and stability in any given country.

The real source of unrest in CAR is the profound disconnect between rural populations and the government in Bangui.

CAR has faced deadly intercommunal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power from President François Bozizé, who had assumed power in a 2003 coup, after long claiming marginalisation. Despite Bozizé’s ousting, fighting resumed between the Seleka and militias called “Anti-balaka”, often seen as Christians, resulting in hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and warnings about a looming “genocide”.

After being led by a UN-backed transitional government for two years, the country eventually held presidential elections in 2016, as a result of which Touadéra came to power.

Excerpted: ‘Free and fair elections alone cannot solve CAR’s myriad problems’

Aljazeera.com