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Achieving Peace

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Origins of the Conflicts

As discussed above, peace is the most frequently cited priority among study respondents. In order to understand the population’s perception of what needs to be done to achieve peace, we first need to understand what, in their opinion, are the root causes of the conflict. For a majority (61%), the root cause is fighting over power among the political elites. About a third (33%) believed the conflict to be rooted in poverty, and 22% mentioned ethnic divisions. Respondents were allowed to provide several answers and a range of other causes, often interlinked, including exploitation of natural resources, money, access to land were identified. The respondents’ perceived root causes of the conflicts are consistent with the literature that accuses “the militarization of [CAR] politics and the ethnic exclusiveness of successive governments.”[1] At the same time structural problems, including deep poverty, are also identified as root causes of violence.

Figure 10: Perceived Root Causes of the Conflicts

Means for Peace

Next, we asked respondents if they believed it is possible for the people in CAR to live together peacefully or to live peacefully with neighboring countries. For both questions, about one half of the population responded affirmatively, but nearly one in four respondents did not believe it was possible. The rest were uncertain. Perhaps because of the chronic security and economic problems in the north, respondents in Ouham and Ouham Pende generally felt least confident that peace is possible.

Figure 11: Achieving Peace

When asked what needs to be done to achieve a lasting peace in CAR, over half of respondents mentioned political dialog was needed, 23 percent mentioned elections, 17 percent mentioned the armed groups needed to be disarmed, 16 percent said there needed to be some sort of reconciliation or rebuilding of unity, and 9 percent said political power should be shared. Few supported a military solution.

Figure 12: Means to Achieve Peace

Elections and Participation in Society

Holding free and fair elections and respecting civil and political rights have been the core elements of the contemporary practice of peace-building. However, elections can also drive parties apart rather than reconcile them.[2] Considering CAR’s history of coups, counter coups and recurrent violence, elections present a dicey situation.  Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled in CAR in 2010. Struggles for political power have been a root cause of the violence here, yet many respondents see elections and changes in government as a step toward peace-building.

A large majority of respondents (94%) plan to vote in the upcoming elections. Those who plan to vote say they will do so because it is their duty (38%), because they have to elect someone who will help the country (34%), or because elections will help bring peace and security (12%).  Those who did not plan to vote claim they simply did not want to (28%), that it was useless (33%), and /or that they are not interested in politics (15%). Intentions to vote are consistent with actual voting behavior during the 2005 presidential elections. A majority of respondents (80%) said they voted in 2005 and those who did not were most frequently too young to have voted (39%). Most voters also felt confident they would be free to choose whom to vote for: 77 percent said they would be totally free, and 15 percent said they would be somewhat free to do so. Only 8 percent said they would not be free at all, or not very free to choose whom to vote for.

The survey also explored respondents’ involvement in their community and society as a whole. Strengthening social ties within communities and between individuals and the state is critical to the transition from war to peace.[3] Overall, 85 percent of respondents reported being part of a group or association. The majority of them were members of a church or religious group (84%). The second most frequent type of group or association was farmers’ associations, with 17 percent of the respondents reporting being part of such a group. Farmers’ associations were especially frequent in Ouham Pende (42%). Other groups included youth groups (9%), women’s associations (9%), political organizations (8%), and loan/credit groups (5%). Most respondents felt totally free (70%) or somewhat free (20%) to join any organization, while 10% felt not very free (6%) or not free at all (4%) to do so. However, respondents experienced freedom of expression less frequently. Only 43 percent felt totally free to say what they want. Freedom of expression was least frequently reported in Bangui, Ouham, and Ouham Pende, possibly because of the ongoing conflict and presence of armed groups.

Figure 13: Self-Reported Freedom of Expression

While respondents reported active engagement in society, only one in four (28%) reported having contacted a leader of any sort (local, political, civil society, etc). In over half the cases (58%), respondents contacted a religious leader, while 24 percent contacted the local village chief, 14 percent contacted regional leaders such as a mayor, prefect, or deputy, and 14 percent contacted other government officials (12%). The subject matter of the contacts between individuals and leaders was not explored.

Local Conflicts and Conflict Resolution

While the exposure to violence and peace-building questions were related to the large-scale conflicts in CAR, this study also explored respondents’ experience of local conflicts. One in four (25%) respondents mentioned having experienced some sort of conflict over the one-year period prior to the survey. Most of those reporting conflicts said the nature of the local disputes were domestic (48%) or concerned relations with neighbors (13%). Fewer than 10 percent reported conflict over theft (9%), building (7%), money lending/borrowing (6%), and land (5%). The conflicts were most frequently resolved within the family (40%), followed by the village chief (29%) or by religious leaders (15%). Police (5%) and the judicial system (4%) were rarely mentioned.  Furthermore, the data on local conflicts and conflict resolution showed little variation across prefectures.

DDR and Perception of Former Combatants

Former belligerents must be disarmed before progress toward peace-building can be made.[4] Yet, the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants has been a challenging process. At the time of the survey, a DDR process had been initiated as a way to to end the rebellions in the north, however, it has experienced several delays, causing tensions between armed groups and the government. Yet, some respondents held high expectations that the DDR process will contribute to peace: 17 percent mention disarmament as part of the means to achieve peace. The survey further asked respondents to rank their level of comfort in the presence of former combatants, regardless of the armed group they were affiliated with, in a range of hypothetical situations that reflect common daily events.

Figure 14: Respondents’ Perceived Level of Comfort towards Former Combatants

Overall, respondents were least comfortable sharing a drink with former combatants: 83 percent said they would be uncomfortable in that situation. In-depth interviews showed this was due first to the social function of sharing a drink, seen as a sign of cooperation and cohesion, and second to the fear that former combatants would become violent under the influence of alcohol. Respondents also frequently felt uncomfortable living in the same household (75%) or living as close neighbors (72%). Over half the respondents also felt uncomfortable having former combatants marry a household member (61%), working with former combatants (59%), sharing a meal (57%), and going to the same market (51%). The least stigmatizing situations were in situation where direct contact may not be necessary as when former combatants go to the same school as the respondents or their children (39%) or the same church (30%). There were no or few differences across prefectures.

The results further suggest that while some respondents have high expectations for the DDR, reintegration of former combatants in the community will not be easy. Interventions are needed to address the population level of comfort interacting with former combatants in various settings and ensure that bridges are built between the community and former combatants. One possible strategy of the DDR program is to build education or outreach programs. A second strategy is to develop a community-based program that would provide the population opportunity to interact with former combatant in a non-threatening scenario. A third possible strategy is to develop an economic program that would include both former combatants and the community, permitting both to benefit from the DDR programs without the perception of favoring former combatants.

[1] International Crisis Group. Africa Report N°136: Central African Republic: Anatomy of a Phantom State. Nairobi/Brussels: ICG; 2007.

[2] Paris R. Peacebuilding and the Limits of Liberal Internationalism, International Security, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 54-89; Paris R. International peacebuilding and the ‘mission civilisatrice’, Review of International Studies (2002), 28, 637–656.

[3] Colletta, J. J. & Cullen,M. L. Violent Conflict and the Transformation of Social Capital. Washington, DC: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/World Bank, 2000.

[4]  Chester A. Crocker and Fen Osler Hampson , Making Peace Settlements Work, Foreign Policy, No. 104 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 54-71