Bottom Line: A new leadership is emerging for this resource-rich country after Seleka rebels seized the presidential palace in Bangui and forced CAR President Francois Bozize to flee, while French soldiers secured the airport and South African troops denounced the rebels. At stake are French uranium interests and South African oil interests—and this will shape support for a new leadership.
Analysis: Bozize himself had risen to power 10 years ago during a military coup that overthrew Ange-Felix Patasse, who had likewise been through a number of coup attempts over a decade in power. The country is often referred to as a phantom state due to the continuing mismanagement of its wealth—which includes vast deposits of gold, diamonds, and uranium, plentiful timber and oil resources—while it’s 4.5 million people live in poverty.
African Union forces, led by South African peacekeepers attempted to prevent the government overthrow, and at least nine South African troops were killed as they advanced to the capital. Bozize is believed to have fled to Cameroon, while Seleka leader Michel Djotodia is already declaring himself president. Djotodia has vowed to support the incumbent prime minister Nicolas Tianhaye, but Djotodia’s nature is more along the lines of a dictator. Djotodia has also vowed to stick to the terms of a peace deal for the national unity government headed by Tianhaye to hold elections within 3 years. It was in January that Djotodia had agreed to a power-sharing deal with Bozize that saw him given the post of defense ministry in the unity government. That lasted two months, before he organized the government’s overthrow.
CAR is largely a lawless free-for-all with vast natural resource potential. It is a safe haven for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, and as such the home of a US special forces base focused on capturing LRA leader Joseph Kony.
Djotodia’s power base has not been secured. There are rumblings among Seleka, which is a fairly incoherent grouping, against Djotodia’s grab at the country’s presidency. There will be challenges from within Seleka.
The French have uranium interests in CAR. In 2007, France’s Areva bought a uranium mine in Bakouma in a dubious deal. Last year, Chadian rebels attacked the mine and publicly aligned themselves with Seleka. The strategy is to play rebels groups and the government against each other. (Bozize was also under fire from his opponents for signing away oil concessions to South Africa and China.)
Recommendations: The thing to watch here is French movements, which will not be as cut and dried as in Mali, and where South African interests may diverge. The French will seek to protect their uranium assets and South Africa will seek to protect its oil assets, which include an oil drilling facility. There will not be a smooth transition of power here.