With almost constant coverage of debates, candidates, and poll numbers, the United States presidential election is likely to become America’s biggest source of news in 2016. But the United States is not the only country with a presidential election this year. In fact, the Central African Republic held the second and final round of its election just last Sunday. Picked up by some international news outlets, the event was reported on with only vague explanations of the platforms of each candidate and the violence that has gripped the country over the past few years. So how is this election tied to the country’s recent turbulence? How do the final two candidates differ in platform? Will they be able to pacify the country? These questions are crucial to understanding the future of this fragile nation.
The Central African Republic has long been an unstable country. As the name suggests, it is located roughly in the center of Africa. A former French colony, it now has a population of around 4 million people. Like much of Africa, it became a repressive one-party state after its independence in 1960 and has since been plagued by a chain of coup d’états that eventually led to the current crisis that has gripped the country.
In 2003, Ange-Félix Patassé, the president at the time, was overthrown by François Bozizé, setting of a chain of events that are crucial to understanding the Central African Republic’s instability over the past few years. Bozizé’s actions prompted a low-level civil war, called the Central African Republic Bush War, that lasted from 2004 to 2007. Peace was finally reached in 2007 when the government granted amnesty to rebel fighters and allowed them to organize into a political party. But peace would not last.
Eventually, rebel leaders accused the government of violating the terms of the peace agreement. Rebel groups, primarily from the Muslim north of the Christian majority country, joined together under the name Séléka. The group succeeded in overthrowing Bozizé in 2013, installing their leader, Michel Djotodia, as transitional president. But the violence did not end. Séléka continued to carry out atrocities against civilians, and in response the mainly Christian Anti-Balaka militias were formed. They, too, committed mass atrocities and slaughtered civilians. The country had descended into sectarian strife.
It was under these circumstances that Central Africans headed to the polls late last year and early this year. The first round of the elections were held in December. 30 candidates were approved to run, including three former prime ministers. It was two of these former prime ministers, Anicet-Georges Dologuélé and Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who took first and second place, respectively, and advanced to the runoff that was held on Sunday.
The candidacies of Dologuélé and Touadéra have many similarities, with both advocating primarily for a restoration of national unity while also emphasizing the importance of economic development. Both served as prime ministers under Bozizé, indicating ties to the former government. Dologuélé, who won first place with only 24% of the vote, was endorsed by Bozizé’s political party and has emphasized his economic and business credentials. He has stressed the importance of foreign investment to the country’s economic future. Touadéra, unlike Dologuélé, is running as an independent, which strengthens his pro-unity position. Portraying himself as a man of the people, he surprised many with his second place finish in the first round of the elections.
The similar platforms of Dologuélé and Touadéra indicate that both men understand the primary concern of the people: peace. Central Africans have grown weary of the violence in their country, and these candidates are promising to restore peace and bring economic growth. But will they succeed in doing so? If history is any indication, success will be an enormous challenge. In countries as poor and uneducated as the Central African Republic, changes in leadership often rotate among members of the same corrupt elite. But so far, the Central African Republic has followed its plan for a democratic transition to peace. If its new leader can mimic this success and follow through with his own program, this election, the result of which will be released within a few weeks, will hopefully mark the end of the country’s long period of instability.