State fragility in the Central African Republic: What prompted the 2013 coup?

In March 2013 a coalition of rebel groups – Séléka – led a violent coup in the Central African Republic (CAR), ousting the former President François Bozizé from ten years in power and instating the new President Michel Djotodia. CAR is now in the midst of a deepening humanitarian and economic crisis, compounded by violence and widespread human rights violations.

This rapid literature review examines the internal and external political processes, dynamics and actors that have led to the collapse of the state in CAR over the period 2003 and 2013. In particular, it charts the events and impacts of the national dialogue processes and peace agreements, and the resulting political settlements. It then examines the impact, challenges and lessons to be learned from the major security sector reform and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes.

In order to understand the political processes of the past decade, this report follows the events of the national dialogue processes of 2003 and 2008 and the peace agreements of 2008 and 2013, and explores the resulting political settlements. Some key themes that emerge are:

  • Peace negotiations and processes are deeply political, yet in CAR there is little political will to treat them as such. Instead, political and military actors have treated them as technocratic ‘tick box’ exercises, necessary to ensure profile in national affairs, and to secure funding (for example funding linked to disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration initiatives).
  • Inclusion in dialogue processes does not correlate with effective power. While significant efforts were made at both dialogue events to include a broad range of civil society actors, civil society organisations (CSOs) accuse the government of systematically excluding them from any actual decision-making. Again, the political will does not exist within the government to meaningfully include other actors in the political process in CAR.
  • The concessionary model of politics in CAR means that Bozizé, like his predecessors, practises exclusionary politics, to the benefit of his group. The most important resource in CAR is the state and monopoly over its security.
  • The outcomes of dialogue and peace processes have been weak – in terms of state and civilian security, power sharing, and reform. However, the processes, for the first time, have convened and led to a set of consensus decisions on important issues of governance. A key outcome of the dialogue and peace processes is that they have acted to legitimise – within the country and externally – the former President Bozizé, and the rebel groups.
  • Analysis of security sector reform (SSR) and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes in CAR reveals that these issues have moved from the periphery to the centre of policy discussions and programming over the past decade. A significant amount of the literature recognises that the peace agreement and dialogue meeting in 2008 marked a step forward in anchoring SSR in the political discourse on national development.
  • While various SSR and DDR interventions have been used by different actors, this report analyses four donor initiatives. SSR and DDR are sensitive interventions that are highly political. Therefore, while there is a substantial amount of academic, policy and NGO literature, there is a paucity of donor evaluation literature publically available. The evidence that is publically available reveals a spectrum of perspectives of the impact of SSR and DDR in CAR.

In regard to SSR and DDR, the following challenges and lessons to be learned were identified in the literature:

  • Elite capture of power: While Bozizé signed up to various peace and SSR initiatives, he and his administration lacked the political will to implement the reforms, instead preferring to monopolise power through the security services. This has a historic precedent in CAR. The centralised form of governance meant that the security forces were not independent, and the inclusion of other actors (such as CSOs) in reform discussions has been accused as being tokenistic.
  • The non-ideal type state: SSR and DDR programmes are largely based on ideas of the state and statebuilding that do not have local relevance in a country with limited presence or history of the state outside of the capital.
  • Rebel groups and ex-combatants: Long delays, limited communication and unsubstantiated expectations meant that DDR did not meet many ex-combatants’ expectations. Meanwhile, the monetary and training benefits of being an ex-combatant incentivised a wave of recruitment to the rebel groups. Illegitimate ex-combatants were allowed to benefit from the scheme, and the delinking of disarmament with collecting arms meant that many weapons were left in circulation. Finally, DDR does not at present take a regional approach, which would incorporate the significant number of regional fighters.
  • International institutions: As yet, there is still little consensus in CAR as to what SSR reform should seek to change. Some criticise the DDR programmes as being out of touch with local perspectives.

Suggested citation

Herbert, S., Dukham, N. & Debos, M. (2013). State fragility in the Central African Republic: What prompted the 2013 coup? Rapid literature review. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.