Rebels in the Central African Republic have seized another town in their advance on the capital, forcing an army retreat. The rebels, who already have control of four other regional capitals in the centre and north of the country, faced no resistance as they entered the town of Sibut around 150km from Bangui, a military official told Agence France-Presse.
The streets of Bangui were deserted on Saturday night, according to an AFP journalist, after a curfew was imposed from 7pm to 5am (6pm GMT to 4am GMT). Many shops were being guarded by men armed with machetes. "The bosses fear looting so they are paying guards," said one guard. Officials on both sides said the rebels of the so-called Seleka coalition had also repelled army soldiers trying to recapture Bambari, a former military stronghold in the landlocked country, one of the world's poorest despite vast mineral wealth. A military official described "extremely violent" fighting over the town, with detonations and heavy weapons fire audible to witnesses some 60km away.
The rebel advance on Sibut, also a base for Chadian soldiers stationed in the country, forced government forces and their allies to retreat to Damara, 75km from Bangui and the last major town on the road to the south-western capital.
"The rebels entered Sibut. There was no fighting, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) stationed there and the Chadian troops left the town last night [Friday] for Damara," the military official told AFP. Djouma Narkoya, a Seleka leader, claimed that the army suffered "losses" in the fighting for Bambari, while the rebel side had "one killed and three injured" in the fighting. "We are continuing to progress," he added. Sibut residents arriving in Bangui said they saw around 60 Chadian and Central African army vehicles converging on Damara late on Friday. One of the towns under the control of the rebels, who launched their offensive in early December, is the garrison town and key diamond mining hub of Biraosince. Former colonial power France, meanwhile, boosted its military presence to 400 on Friday with the deployment of 150 paratroopers to Bangui airport, and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) announced reinforcements.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stressed again on Friday that French troops were there only to protect French and European nationals, not fight the rebels. Regional efforts to mediate a peaceful solution in the landlocked equatorial country were at a standstill. A day after announcing that the rebels and the government had agreed to hold unconditional peace talks and that more regional troops would head to the country, ECCAS said no dates had been set for either move. The bloc's foreign ministers will meet again next Thursday "and that is when they will announce a date for the meeting in [the Gabonese capital] Libreville," ECCAS's communications director Placide Ibouanga told AFP, referring to talks between rebels and the government.
The coalition of three rebel movements known as Seleka—or the "alliance" in the Sango language—says the government has not fulfilled the terms of peace pacts signed in 2007 and 2001, providing for disarmament and social reintegration for insurgents, including pay. Central African President Francois Bozize, who took power in a 2003 coup, has twice been elected into office. Bozize's appeals for help from France and from the United States to fight the rebels have fallen on deaf ears.
Neighbouring Chad, which has helped Bozize with rebellions in 2010, earlier sent a contingent to the country, however. In Bangui, food prices have soared, further spiking tensions and uncertainty. "I'm afraid of the rebels coming," said vegetable vendor Euphrasie Ngotanga in the city's huge Sambo market. "We're not going to sell our produce if there's no peace.
And then how we will feed our children?" "We don't eat properly any more," said another vendor, Angele Bodero, with her baskets full of condiments before her. "Cassava has become more expensive, everything costs more," she said, referring to the country's staple food. A bag of cassava has risen nearly 50% from 13 000 CFA francs to 18 000 FCFA ($26 to $32). - AFP
AFP - - - Comments by Sonny - - Who is funding these rebels? Who is arming these rebels? It looks as if SA R-5 Assault Rifles were supplied to them? SA Arms Deal Surplus stocks? The Hawks should investigate!! CAR COULD BE THE BEGINNING OF THE AFRICAN SPRING!!
Central African Republic rebels say aim is not to join government
"I take note of his proposals. We need to meet to study them," Seleka spokesman Eric Massi told France 24 television. He said that the rebels also wanted to see what guarantees would be made to them.
"Know that Seleka's aim today is not to enter into a government but to allow the people of Central African Republic to be able to drive the country towards development and self-fulfillment," he said.
(Reporting by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Louise Ireland)
Who’s heard of the ‘African Spring’?
It is true that Africa tends to be a continent viewed through a prism of starvation, disease, violence and most of all, corruption. And when the Arab Spring erupted at the end of 2010, it was largely viewed as a Middle Eastern phenomenon, rather than an African one, even though its main protagonists were all located on African soil. Whilst the media gaze therefore fixed on events to the North-East of Tunisia, events to the South were, and continue to be no less tumultuous.
However, these events have rarely been articulated into an African narrative, with the result that western audiences end up being drip-fed stories reinforcing the impression of stereotypical African instability and ‘Afro-pessimism’. Yet if the under or mis-reported uprisings, protests, revolts and changes of regime in many parts of Africa over the past few years (including, amongst others Cote D'Ivoire, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Uganda, Nigeria, Sudan and Mozambique) have told us anything, it is that politics on the continent does not always, or mostly, take place at the point of a gun.
By the same token however, it is important to point out that the protest movements we have seen emerge or consolidate over the past few years cannot be reduced to a simple victory for the development industry’s efforts to mainstream western policies of good governance, transparency and liberal democracy in African states. Shrinking the state in Africa (an outcome of these policies as enforced by international donors) has produced the very conditions which protestors have revolted against: corruption, rising utility prices, and growing inequality. African protestors have demanded African solutions to their predicaments, and we should listen carefully if we want to be on the right side of history on the continent.
Of course, African protest movements do not face an easy route. Confronted with the deregulatory pressures of global development frameworks these movements must contend with mushrooming food and utility prices, and the violence meted out by states when faced with meaningful opposition to neo-liberal economic programmes. Indeed, the negativity questioned by the audience member in London referred to the state-sponsored violence visited upon African protestors which the different protestors repeatedly referred to.
However, whilst it is easy to become disheartened at stories of violence, land appropriation and joblessness, we can interpret such events differently. Indeed, if we are to learn anything from the rapidity with which revolution occurred in Egypt and was then rolled back, it is that social change takes time, and requires a broader social base than just the urban middle class elite which characterised the Tahrir Square phenomenon. What we hear from protest movements across Africa therefore is not negativity, but struggle. And struggle for sustainable indigenous solutions to Africa’s problems requires the kind of mass mobilisation which takes time and effort to build.
What then are these African solutions? For sure, protestors in any number of the countries which have experienced protests over the past few years have made it clear that they are fed up with the corruption of ruling elites. From Nigeria’s Enough is Enough movement to the protests which rocked Malawi in summer 2011, it has been obvious that the actions of ruling elites, and in the case of Malawi, the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of the late President Bingu wa Mutharika, provided sources of public anger. However, to interpret these protests as an outpouring of anger against singularly corrupt African regimes would be a mistake. Calls for greater democracy in Africa are not framed purely within the actions of specific corrupt ruling elites. Rather it is the relationships between these ruling elites and the agents of global free-market capitalism which are the source of much public anger. It is these relationships which have amongst other things shrunk public services and robbed the continent of the bulk of the profits from its most valuable natural resources. And these relationships have been enabled by international donor policies which have shrunk the state in Africa in the belief that it is the state which has been the source of African’s problems.
So when international donors and western commentators respond to protests in Africa by calling for better governance and accountability amongst ruling elites, they are missing the most vital aspect of these protests; that they are directed just as much against institutions such as the Word Bank and IMF as they are against the corrupt practices of their rulers. This is because it has long been the case that the policies of the former in widening the space between the state and citizens in Africa (through enforced privatisation and subsequent public service disintegration) has enabled the corruption of the latter by contributing to the breakdown of the social contract that had been established in many African states in the immediate post-independence years.
And so, if we search for images of recent African protests what we will find is not an overwhelming number of crowds with placards calling for greater openness in government, but a set of explicitly socio-economic demands relating to price rises and unemployment, or the withdrawal of affordable public services and utilities, all brought on by the skewed position of Africa in the global economy, and the enforced privatisation of land, energy and other resources which have largely fallen into the hands of foreign profit-extractive companies and their collaborators in the ruling elites of African countries.
Those then who see in these protests a simple continuum of public revolt against African elite corruption dating back to the post-independence regimes are simply missing the point. These protests are much more about the relationships between African elites and international political and economic elites. This is a fundamental point which is often missed by both sides of the critical divide on Africa.
African elites are not uniquely corrupt, nor do they exist in a vacuum of African corruption, but neither is Africa a pure victim of contemporary economic imperialism. African elites are as complicit in processes of resource and profit extraction as the multinational corporations such as Shell Oil who so often come in for the vitriol of social justice and anti-corporate activists. What Africans have been railing against over the past few years then is what Thandike Mkandawire called at the turn of the century Africa’s ‘choiceless democracies’. In other words, Africans want a true choice. It is not enough for international donors to call for ‘free and fair’ elections, only for them to enforce, by dint of the implicit threat of aid withdrawal, a complicity amongst all the candidates with neoliberal economic orthodoxy. This is what we find repeatedly in African elections, and in this respect at least it would be fair to say that African elections differ very little from elections in many other parts of the world, including the UK.
This points towards a second issue worthy of consideration. Anti-austerity activists in the west need to understand the close relationship between what they are protesting against in countries like the UK and what people are protesting against in parts of the world where they have been at the blunt end of austerity for decades rather than years. African activists have much to teach the rest of the world in resisting austerity, and the many obstacles that lie in the path of such resistance, and it is about time more of us started to listen.