The Forces armées centrafricaines (FACA) are the armed forces of the Central African Republic, established after independence in 1960. Today they are a rather weak institution, dependent on international support to hold back the enemies in the current civil war. Its disloyalty to the president came to the fore during the mutinies in 1996-1997, but ever since then it has faced internal problems. It has been strongly criticised by human rights organisations due to its terror, including killings, torture and sexual violence.
Role of military in domestic politics
The military has played an important role in the history of Central African Republic
. The current president, General François Bozizé
is a former army chief-of-staff and his government includes several high-level military officers. Among the country’s five presidents since independence in 1960, three have been former army chiefs-of-staff, who have taken power through coups d’état. No president with military background has however been succeeded by a new military president.
The country’s first president, David Dacko was overthrown by his army chief-of-staff, Jean-Bédel Bokassa in 1966. Following Bokassa, David Dacko was restored in 1981, only to be overthrown once again by his new army chief of staff, General André Kolingba after only a few months in power.
In 1993, Ange-Félix Patassé became the first elected president of the country. He became soon impopular within the army, resulting in violent mutinies in 1996-1997. In May 2001, there was an unsuccessful coup attempt by Kolingba and once again Patassé had to turn to friends abroad for support, this time Libya and DR Congo were helpful. Some months later, in the end of October, Patassé sacked his army chief-of-staff, François Bozizé, and tried to arrest him. Bozizé then fled to Chad and gathered a group of rebellions. In 2002, he seized Bangui for a short period. In March 2003 Bozizé took power through a coup d’état ..
Importance of ethnicity
When General Kolingba became president in 1981, he implemented an ethnicity-based recruitment policy for the administration. Kolingba was a member of the Yakoma tribe from the south of the country, which made up approximately 5% of the total population. During his rule, members of Yakoma were granted all key positions in the administration and made up a majority of the military. This later had disastrous consequences, when Kolingba was replaced by a member of a northerner tribe, Ange-Félix Patassé.
Army mutinies of 1996 -1997
Soon after the election 1993, Patassé became unpopular within the army, not least because of his inability to pay their wages (partly due to economic mismanagement and partly because France
suddenly ended its economic support for the soldiers’ wages). Another reason for the irritation was that most of FACA consisted of soldiers from Kolingba’s ethnic group, the Yakoma. During Patassé’s rule they were becoming increasingly marginalised, while Patassé created militias favouring his own Gbaya tribe, as well as neighbouring Sara and Kaba. This resulted in army mutinies in 1996-1997, where fractions of the military clashed with the presidential guard, the Unité de sécurité présidentielle (USP)
and militias loyal to Patassé..
- On April 18, 1996, there was a first mutiny of 200-300 soldiers who claimed that they had not received their wage since 1992-1993. The confrontations between the soldiers and the presidential guard resulted in 9 dead and 40 wounded. French forces were supporting (Operation Almandin I) and acted negotiators. The unrest ends when the soldiers finally are paid their wages by France and the President agrees not to start legal proceedings against the soldiers.
- On May 18, 1996, a second mutiny was led by 500 soldiers who refused to be disarmed and denounced the agreement reached in April. The French forces were once again called to Bangui (Operation Almadin II), supported by military from Chad and Gabon. 3,500 foreigners are evacuated during the unrest, which killed 43 persons and wounded 238.
- On May 26, a peace agreement was signed between France and the mutineers. The latter are promised amnesty, allowed to retain their weapons. Their security was ensured by the French military.
- On November 15, 1996, there was a third mutiny and 1,500 French soldiers were flying in to ensure the safety of the foreigners. The mutineers demanded the discharge of the president.
On 6 December, a negotiation process started, facilitated by Gabon, Burkina-Faso, Chad and Mali. The military – supported by the opposition parties – keeps claiming that Patassé has to resign. In January, 1997, however, the Bangui Agreements were signed and the French EFAO troop was replaced by the 1,350 soldiers of the Mission interafricaine de surveillance des Accords de Bangui (MISAB). In March, all mutineers were granted amnesty. The fighting between MISAB and the mutineers continued with a large offensive in June, resulting in up to 200 casualties. After this final clash, the mutineers stayed calm.
After the mutinies, President Patassé suffered from a typical “dictator’s paranoia”, resulting in a period of cruel terror executed by the presidential guard and various militia within the FACA loyal to the president, such as the Karako. It was directed against the Yakoma tribe , of which it is estimated that 20,000 persons fled during this period. But the oppression also targeted other parts of the society. The president accused his former ally France of supporting his enemies and seeks new international ties. When he strengthened his presidential guard (creating the FORSIDIR, see below), he is granted 300 additional soldiers from Libya for his own personal safety. When former President Kolingba attempted a coup d’état in 2001 (which was, according to Patassé, supported by France), the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) of Jean-Pierre Bemba in DR Congo came to his rescue.
Crimes conducted by Patassé’s militias and Congolese soldiers during this period are now being investigated by the International Criminal Court. It says that “Sexual violence appears to have been a central feature of the conflict”, having identified more than 600 rape victims.
The FACA has been dominated by soldiers from the Yakoma ethnic group since the time of Kolingba. It has hence been considered disloyal by the two northerner presidents Patassé and Bozizé, both of whom have equipped and run their own militias outside FACA. The military also proved its disloyalty during the mutinies in 1996-1997. Although Francois Bozizé has a background in FACA himself (being its chief-of-staff from 1997 to 2001), he has been cautious by retaining the defence portfolio, as well as by appointing his son Jean-Francis Bozizé cabinet director in charge of running the Ministry of Defence. He kept his old friend General Antoine Gambi as Chief of Staff. Due to failure to curb deepening unrest in the northern part of the country, Gambi was in July 2006 replaced with Bozizé’s old friend from the military academy, Jules Bernard Ouandé.
Military’s relations with the society
The forces assisting Bozizé in seizing the power in 2003 were not paid what they were promised and started looting, terrorising and killing ordinary citizens. Summary executions have taken place with the implicit approval of the government. The situation has deteriorated since early 2006 and the regular army and the presidential guard regularly execute exertion, torture, killings and other human rights violations. There is no possibility for the national judicial system to investigate these cases. At the end of 2006, there were an estimated 150,000 internally displaced people. During a UN mission in the northern part of the country in November 2006, the mission had a meeting with a prefect who said that he could not maintain law and order over the military and the presidential guards. The FACA conducts summary executions and burn houses. Only on the route between Kaga-Bandoro
and Ouandago, some 2,000 houses have been burnt, leaving an estimated 10,000 persons homeless.
Reform of the army
Both the Multinational Force in the Central African Republic
(FOMUC) and France are assisting in the current reform of the army. One of the key priorities of the reform of the military is make it more ethnically diversified. It should also integrate Bozizé’s own rebel group (mainly consisting of members of his own Gbaya tribe). Many of the Yakoma soldiers who left the country after the mutinies in 1996-1997 have now returned and must also be reintegrated into the army. At the same time, BONUCA holds seminars in topics such as the relationship between military and civil parts of society.
Foreign military presence in support of the Government
Peacekeeping and peace enforcing forces
Since the mutinies, a number of peacekeeping
and peace enforcing
international missions have been present in Central African Republic. There has been a discussion of the deployment of a regional United Nations
(UN) peacekeeping force in both Chad and Central African Republic. But it is considered to shore up the ineffectual Darfur Peace Agreement. The missions deployed in the country during the last 10 years are the following:
International Peace Supporting Missions in Central African Republic
| Mission Name
|| Greatest Strength
|| Tasks |
| Inter-African Mission to Monitor the Implementation of the Bangui Agreements |
(Mission interafricaine de surveillance des Accords de Bangui, MISAB)
| Burkina Faso, Chad, Gabon, Mali, Senegal and Togo
|| February 1997 to April 1998
|| To monitor the fulfilling of the Bangui Agreements |
| UN Mission in the Central African Republic |
(Mission des Nations Unies en République centrafricaine, MINURCA)
|| April 1998 to February 2000
|| Maintain peace and security; supervise disarmament; technical assistance during 1998 elections |
| United Nations Peace-building Office |
(Bureau politique d’observation des Nations Unies en Centrafrique, BONUCA)
|| February 2000 to present
|| Five military and six civilian police advisers to follow up on security-related reforms and to assist in the implementation of the training programmes for the national police.
|| Consolidate peace and national reconciliation; strengthen democratic institutions; facilitate international mobilization for national reconstruction and economic recovery. |
| Community of Sahel-Saharan States |
|| December 2001 to January 2003
|| Enforce and restore peace |
| Multinational Force in the Central African Republic |
(Force multinationale en Centrafrique, FOMUC)
| Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC)
|| January 2003 to present
|| Ensure security; restructure FACA; and fight rebels in north-east |
In addition to the multilateral forces, there have been bilateral support from other African countries, such as the Libyan and Congolese support to Patassé, mentioned above. Bozizé is in many ways dependent on Chad support. Chad has an interest in CAR, since it needs to ensure calmness close to its oil fields and the pipeline leading to the Cameroonian coast
, close to the troubled northwest CAR. Before seizing power, Bozizé built up his rebel force in Chad, trained and augmented by the Chadian. President Déby
assisted him actively in taking the power in March 2003 (his rebel forces included 100 Chadian soldiers). After the coup, another 400 soldiers were sent. Current direct support includes the 150 non-FOMUC Chadian troops that patrol the border area near Goré, the Chadian soldiers patrolling Bangui, but most of all the Chadian soldiers within the presidential lifeguard. The CEMAC Force includes 121 Chadian soldiers.
There has been an almost uninterrupted French military presence in Central African Republic since independence, regulated through agreements between the two Governments. The French troops were allowed to be based in the country and to intervene in cases of destabilisation. This was particularly important during the cold war era, when Francophone Africa was regarded as a natural French sphere of influence.
Additionally, the strategic location of the country made it a more interesting location for military bases than its neighbours and Bouar and Bangui were hence two of the most important French bases abroad.
However, in 1997, following Lionel Jospin’s expression “Neither interference nor indifference”, France came to adopt new strategic principles for its presence in Africa. This included a reduced permanent presence on the continent and an increased support to multilateral interventions. In Central African Republic, the Bouar base and the Béal Camp (at that time home to 1,400 French soldiers) in Bangui were shut down, as the French concentrated its African presence to Abidjan, Dakar, Djibouti, Libreville and N’Djamena and the deployment of a Force d’action rapide, based in France.
However, due to the situation in the country, France has retained a military presence. During the mutinies, 2,400 French soldiers were patrolling the streets of Bangui. Their official task was to evacuate foreign citizens, but this did not prevent direct confrontations with the mutineers (resulting in French and mutineer casualties). The level of French involvement resulted in protests among the Central African population, since many took party for the mutineers and accused France of defending a dictator against the people’s will. Voices were also heard in France where some blamed France for its protection of a discredited ruler, totally incapable of exerting power and managing the country. After the mutinies in 1997, the MISAB was a multilateral force, but it was armed, equipped, trained and managed by France. The Chadian, Gabonese and Congolese soldiers of the current Force multinationale en Centrafrique (FOMUC) mission in the country also enjoys logistical support from French soldiers.
A study carried out by the US Congressional Research Service reveals however that France has again increased its arms sales to Africa and during the 1998-2005 period, France was the leading supplier of arms to the continent.
Components and units
The Air Force
is almost inoperable. Mirage F1
planes from the French Air Force regularly patrol troubled regions of the country and also participate in direct confrontations. According to some sources, Bozizé used the money he got from the mining concession in Bakouma
to buy two old MI 8
helicopters from Ukraine and one Hercules C 130
, built in the 1950s, from USA. The air force operates otherwise 7 light aircraft, including a single helicopter:
| Aermacchi AL-60
|| AL-60C-5 Conestoga
| Eurocopter AS 350 Ecureuil
| utility helicopter
|| AS 350B
Garde républicaine (GR)
GR consists of so called patriots that fought for Bozizé when he seized power in 2003 (mainly from the gbaya tribe), together with soldiers from Chad. They are guilty of numerous assaults on the civil population, such as terror, aggression, sexual violence. Only a couple of months after Bozizé’s seizure of power, in May 2003, taxi and truck drivers conducted a strike against these outrages.
New amphibious force
Bozizé has created an amphibious force
. It is called the Second Battalion of the Ground Forces and it patrols the Ubangi
river. The staff of the sixth region in Bouali (mainly made up of members of the former president’s lifeguard) was transferred to the city of Mongoumba, located on the river. This city had previously been plundered by forces from MLC, that had crossed the border.
A program for disarmament and reintegration of veteran soldiers is currently taking place. A national commission for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration was put in place in September 2004. The commission is in charge of implementing a program wherein approximately 7,500 veteran soldiers will be reintegrated in civil life and obtain education.
Discontinued groups and units that are no longer part of FACA
- FORSIDIR: The presidential lifeguard, Unité de sécurité présidentielle (USP), was in March 1998 transformed to the Force spéciale de défense des institutions républicaines (FORSDIR). In contrary to the army – which consisted mainly of southerner Yakoma members and which thereby was unreliable for the northerner president – this unit consisted of northerners loyal to the president. Before eventually being dissolved in January 2,000, this highly controversial group became feared for their terror and troubled Patassé’s relation with important international partners, such as France. Of its 1,400 staff, 800 were subsequently reintegrated into FACA, under the command of the chief-of-staff. The remaining 400 recreated the USP (once again under the command of the chief-of-staff) .
- Unité de sécurité présidentielle (USP): USP was Patassé’s presidential guard before and after FORSIDIR. When he was overthrown by Bozizé in 2003, the USP was dissolved and while some of the soldiers have been absorbed by FACA, others are believed to have joined the pro-Patassé rebel group FDPC that is fighting FACA in the north of the country.
- The Patriots or Liberators: Accompanied Bozizé when he seized power in March 2003. They are now a part of Bozizé’s lifeguard, the Garde républicaine, together with soldiers from Chad.
- Office central de répression du banditisme (OCRB): OCRB was a special unit within the police created to fight the looting after the army mutinies in 1996 and 1997. OCRB was guilty of numerous summary executions and arbitrary detentions, for which it has never been put on trial.
- MLPC Militia: Le Mouvement de libération du peuple centrafricain (MLPC) was the former president, Patassé’s political party. Its militia was active already during the 1993 election, but was strengthened during the mutinies 1996 and 1997, particularly through its Karako militia. Its core consisted of Sara people from Chad and Central African Republic but during the mutinies it recruited many young people in Bangui.
- DRC Militia: Rassemblement démocratique centrafricain (RDC) is the party of General Kolingba who was president during the 1980s. Its militia is said to have camps in Mobaye and have bonds to former officials of Kolingba’s “cousin” Mobutu Sese Seko in DR Congo.