Speculating on crisis: the progressive disintegration of the Central African Republic’s political economy

Lotje de Vries & Tim Glawion


What factors shape the Central African Republic’s volatile present? This report explores the political and economic foundations that underpin the country’s progressive disintegration. It analyses the interlinking factors that have deepened historic divisions, stimulated armed groups and failed to adequately address the countries’ continued instability. It calls for strategic and coordinated international interventions that focus on longer-term measures to promote stability and social cohesion through civil empowerment, attention beyond the centre, access to justice and a redirection of regional interests.

The most recent wave of violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) began sweeping across the country in 2012. Although a transitional government has been in place since 2014, conflict between numerous armed groups continues, and tensions within local communities remain unresolved. The report is based on an extensive review of literature and news reports, and on fieldwork conducted between February and March 2015.

Factors influencing the CAR’s instability:

  • Societal divisions based on geographic, spatial, generational and livelihood differences. Political and economic grievances are often expressed along these lines, resulting in fragmented political movements, trade networks and civil society organisations.
  • Elite capture from political leaders who have used their position of power to provide themselves and those in their political, social or economic network with state positions and benefits.
  • Complex regional power dynamics based on historic factors. This includes: country’s presidents relying on the backing of the CAR’s former coloniser France, and its neighbours – most specifically Chad and Sudan; porous borders; illicit trade of natural resources across borders; and ethnic connections and distrust between groups across borders.
  • Geopolitical interest in the CAR is low comparative to other conflict situations in the region. Aid levels have fluctuated since it gained independence in the 1960s and international support has often focused on the central administration in Bangui and on an uncoordinated agenda prioritising security and stability through DDR and SSR programming rather than strengthening access to justice.


The recent deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation could provide an entry point for positive change, but future international interventions must make strategic and coordinated choices to create stability. There should be a focus on:

  • Longer term engagement that prioritises civilian and political party agendas over armed interests.
  • Decentralised governance and development through local administration, service delivery and justice provision in the provinces to reduce tensions between Bangui elites and those in the periphery.
  • Justice and compensation measures alongside reconciliation efforts 
  • Political dialogue between regional actors to ensure their involvement is redirected towards ensuring the CAR’s stability rather than undermining it.


de Vries, L. & Glawion, T. (2015). Speculating on crisis: the progressive disintegration of the Central African Republic’s political economy. The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael (CRU).