Over the weekend, the Séléka rebel alliance seized Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). This most recent offensive was the latest development in a rebellion that commenced in December 2012 over President François Bozizé’s failure to implement the 2007 Birao Peace Agreement (.pdf) and the 2008 Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement (.pdf). In those deals, Bozizé’s government had agreed to provide amnesty for former combatants; to pursue the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the rebel forces; to provide compensation for those demobilized and the integration of some former rebels into the official armed forces of the Central African Republic; and to share political power. But with little if any progress made since the signing of these agreements, it was only a matter of time before the conflict reignited.
Between 1,000 and 2,000 Séléka fighters swept across the country in December, coming within 40 miles of Bangui before Bozizé and Séléka agreed to peace negotiations mediated by the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC). Entering the talks in January 2013, Séléka’s demands included the release of political prisoners, the withdrawal of foreign troops sent to assist the Bozizé regime and Bozizé’s immediate resignation. A new set of agreements -- a cease-fire (.pdf), a declaration of principles (.pdf) and a peace agreement (.pdf) -- were hastily negotiated and signed in Libreville, Gabon, on Jan. 11, stipulating that Bozizé would remain in power until the end of his term in 2016 and putting in place a unity government for a renewable period of 12 months. This government would include members of the political and military opposition, and among its tasks would be to restore peace and security, organize new legislative elections in anticipation of the dissolution of the National Assembly and conduct DDR and security sector reform with assistance from the international community. Unsurprisingly to most observers, the Libreville agreement was never implemented.
Part of the problem was that the negotiations in Libreville were more like “peace talks without the talks” -- the agreement was the result of negotiations among the heads of regional states rather than the warring parties themselves. In addition, given Bozizé’s track record of reneging on peace deals, an effective agreement would have required more-powerful international guarantors who were perceived to be nonpartisan, carried significant diplomatic clout and were willing and able to back up their diplomacy with military force to prevent either party from breaking the cease-fire. In the absence of these elements, the January 2013 Libreville agreement was not worth the paper on which it was written.