Cable from US Ambassador Frederick B. Cook, US Embassy Bangui Central African Republic, to the Secretary of State, Washington DC, February 14 2009:
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
SUBJECT: LEADER OF A FAILED STATE: HOW BOZIZE MAINTAINS POWER
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Francois Bozize took power in the Central African Republic on March 15, 2003 overthrowing Felix-Ange Patasse. It was his second attempt at that coup, but may have been only the last in a long series of extra-legal attempts to gain power. This message describes how Bozize, often the man in the background, has none the less consolidated and maintained his hold on power. END SUMMARY
The Man and the Military
2. (SBU) Bozize is always referred to in formal introductions as General of the armies as well as head of state. This is not a mere formality; his father was a military officer and he has been a military man for almost all of his adult life. Moreover, he appears to see the military as both a guarantor of his power and a threat. He had been appointed to ever higher military posts in every Central African government, starting with that of Bokassa and continuing through that of Patasse. (It is rumored that his favor with Bokassa was enhanced by his physical attack on a French non-commissioned officer who his alleged to have insulted Bokassa.)
He has been, at various times, for various governments, Minister of Defense, Minister of Information, and Chief of Staff of the Army. It was during his tenure as Minister of Information for President Kolingba that he was accused of coup plotting, arrested, returned to Bangui and, according to reports (BBC and others), physically tortured. There are also numerous reports of his being the enforcer for various presidents and taking the lead in the violent suppression of various coup attempts and mutinies.
The key point being that Bozize does not appear to be any stranger to violence, both political and personal. He is also no stranger to palace conspiracies and the danger of the military turning on the president as has happened so many times in the cAR's past. His presidential guard has included Chadian and, more recently, South African elements as well as Central Africans such as the notorious Eugene Ngaikosse, responsible for reprisals against civilian populations for attacks on the regime by rebel forces. Bozize has, until recently, maintained for himself the title of Minister of Defense, though he has now appointed his son Francis as Deputy Defense Minister.
The Man and the Government
3. (SBU) While Bozize is clearly a military man, he has long harbored political ambition, dating from at least 1993 when he lost the presidential elections to Patasse. Now in power at last, he is not an impressive president. Most elements of the government are barely functioning, staffed by often unpaid civil servants with no resources, while Bozize fills key ministries with members of his family and clan. Foremost among these is Minister of Mines Sylvain Ndoutingai, a former Colonel in the armed forces, who is usually described as Bozize's nephew. With access to the nation's diamond resources, Ndoutingai is the Bozize clan's money man, often working with individuals such as Saifee Durbar, an Anglo-Pakistani businessman wanted for fraud in France and recently given the position of Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs in a brazenly transparent attempt to establish immunity from prosecution for Durbar.
4. (SBU) Sadly, perhaps, the Opposition is unimpressive; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are simply full of passionate intensity against Bozize, the man - none is evidently more competent or less corrupt. Former Patasse Prime Minister Martin Ziguele, head of the MLPC is an urbane, sophisticated man who ran strongly against Bozize in 2005, but the Inclusive Political Dialogue of 2008 seems to have sidelined him and he has told us that he is content to make his living doing consulting work in Paris and that he no longer seeks any government position. The rest of the unarmed opposition to Bozize is arrogant, disorganized and lacking in any coherent program beyond the questioning of Bozize's legitimacy. Much of their disdain for Bozize results from his membership of the Gbaya ethnic group, described by some Central Africans (including one Minister in the government) as `the stupidest tribe in the nation.'
Bozize's time spent driving a bush taxi is much mocked by better educated opposition figures, some of whom, in their impassioned rhetoric, border on advocacy for violent overthrow. Yet in July and August of 2009, when Bangui was deprived of electricity and water following failure of power turbines at the Boali dam, the opposition was unable to organize planned demonstrations to protest the government's incompetent handling of the crisis.
The members of the former armed opposition have yet to step forward and take any political action. Interestingly, but again, not surprisingly, the unarmed opposition say that they have not yet made any effort to reach out to the former armed opposition to form common fronts, or plan joint actions. The CAR's population was deeply traumatized by the looting, rape, and killing by forces loyal to former DRC rebel turned DRC Vice-President turned ICC defendant, Jean-Pierre Bemba, that came to Patasse's aid. Bozize's coup was eagerly accepted by Bangui and he may be still be seen as the best alternative, being `the devil you know.'
5. (SBU) Chadian President Deby assisted Bozize in his seizure of power. Although Deby is preoccupied elsewhere, Bozize probably counts on Deby to protect his northern flank. To the south, former DRC Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, currently on trial by the ICC, no longer holds sway in Equateur, neutralizing any threat from across the Oubangui River. The north east of CAR, bordering with Chad and Sudan is so remote from Bangui as to be of little concern to Bozize.
Accordingly, he has been content to let French troops, now wearing EUFOR badges, maintain a presence in Birao until such time as a UN force is deployed as part of MINURCAT. Similarly, while the arrival of the Lord's Resistance Army in south-eastern CAR in February of 2008 attracted international attention, it was virtually ignored by the CARG; Obo is closer, and has better road links, to Kampala than Bangui.
Relations with Cameroon appear to be almost moribund. Bozize has not met Biya in years and the Cameroonian Embassy in Bangui was led by a Charge for over a year until the recent appointment of a new Ambassador; this despite the CAR's almost total dependence on Douala as its only real port. Congolese President Sassou is a friend of Bozize's: he was the only foreign leader to attend CAR Independence Day celebrations in 2007.
The friendship may be based in part on forestry concessions made by Bozize's government to companies controlled by members of Sassou's family as well as on common membership of the same Masonic lodge. At the same time, the CAR forest industry complains that the poor state of the Pointe Noire/Brazzaville railroad, coupled with `processing' delays of up to six months, means that they cannot export logs down the Oubangui River and are forced to use the much more expensive overland route to Douala.
They also note that the Cameroonians are subsidizing fuel costs for their timber industry to keep it competitive during the world market downturn. Bozize clearly has important work to do with his neighbors, but there is no sign that he is even aware of these issues.
Which brings us to Gabonese President Bongo. Bozize was born in Gabon, a fact which may or may not have significance, and President Bongo speaks the Central African national language Sango fluently, according to some reports. What is undoubtedly significant is that Bongo agreed to act as godfather to the peace accords reached between the government and the rebels and to open and close the Inclusive political dialogue. According to at least one observer, Bongo provided the cash necessary to buy off the rebel leadership. COMMENT: Given the political, rather than tribal nature of the CAR's civil war, AmEmbassy Bangui is inclined to believe these reports. END COMMENT
6. (SBU) Although Bozize reportedly received a tongue-lashing from French President Sarkozy during their brief one-on-one meeting at the Elysee in November 2007, tensions appear to be somewhat eased with the settlement of a dispute between the government and French petroleum company TOTAL and the signing of a deal with AREVA for exploitation of CAR's uranium resources. The French Embassy in Bangui, previously tough with the CARG on governance issues, appears to have moderated its position with these developments and the arrival in August 2008 of a new Ambassador who appears more favorable to Bozize.
The appointment of Saifee Durbar as deputy minister of foreign affairs may have ended that honeymoon. The French have demarched the Department in Washington about Durbar and the French ambassador (PROTECT) has had several very quiet conversations with the Ambassador in Bangui. These conversations express his deep frustration with the actions of the Bozize government and his search for ways to make it clear that the Durbar appointment is an unacceptable insult and that the Bozize government will have to suffer a penalty.
While AmEmbassy Bangui had previously thought that the French Embassy in Bangui was ahead of the Quai, it now appears that they may have Paris on board and that we may expect some action by the French. Although China was unwilling to finance the repair of the Boali turbines, Bozize knows that he can count on the Chinese, and the Russians (who have no visible interests in CAR), for at least tacit support.
The Chinese have built a large stadium and continue to build schools and similar projects while running an aggressive public diplomacy program with outreach directly into the poorer neighborhoods of Bangui. The Chinese are also reported to have bought 49 per cent of the French uranium concession at Bakouma. Libya's presence is much diminished since the beginning of the decade, but Bozize has no issues with Gadhafi in particular or with the African Union in general. Bozize does, however, appear to be concerned about the possibility of an ICC investigation into the activities of his forces when he took power, writing a formal letter to UNSYG Ban to suspend the prosecution of Bemba.
7. (SBU) There is a streak of fatalism and resignation among the population. Most Central Africans are poor, many are traumatized by the events of their history and all appear to be tired of the struggle for power among Bokassa's heirs. Bozize, who is an uncharismatic leader, even when he is somewhat more animatedly addressing crowds in Sango, is thus able to portray himself as a force for stability.
He also makes just enough movement in his accommodations with the opposition and in his cabinet appointments (most of which, including that of Prime Minister, come with no real authority) to hold out to optimists the hope for a better future. Pessimists believe that Bozize will allow a certain amount of democracy as long as it will not lead to his being voted out of power.
8. (SBU) The conventional wisdom in Bangui today is that the opposition is incapable of mounting any real action against that Bozize government and the general population is too resigned to take action. The Ambassador was thus very attentive when the French let him know, very privately, that they are dusting off their Emergency and Evacuation plans and are concerned by what they see.
At least some in the French embassy believe that popular patience does have limits and they note that confrontations in Bangui have always been violent. There is no way of knowing if the French have information that causes them to be worried or if this is merely a result of the arrival of a new Defense Attache, a special forces officer with a previous tour in Bangui during one of the spasms of fighting. In any case, we continue to work on our emergency preparedness.
9. (SBU) What does this mean for U.S. policy and activity in the CAR? A full discussion can be found in our Mission Strategic Plan, but in simplest terms: The peace accords provide an opening in 2009, but the history of problems in CAR is long and the challenges of engaging with this government start at the very top. We must thus keep our expectations low. We must do all we can to protect the fragile peace and prevent the failure of the upcoming elections. Any other programs that we may attempt will be rendered irrelevant if the CAR slides back into civil war. COOK ##
Cable from US Ambassador Frederick B. Cook, US Embassy Bangui Central African Republic, to the Secretary of State, Washington DC, June 16 2009
UNCLASSIFIED/FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
SUBJECT: THE WEAKEST LINK
1. (SBU) SUMMARY:
With an abundance of arable land, rainfall, a plethora of minerals and wildlife and a low population, the Central African Republic (CAR) should be a wealthy nation. However, despite this potential, most of its population lives in increasing poverty. Male life expectancy declines six months every year and recently the CAR dropped from number 172 to 177 out of 178 on the Human Development scale and now has a GDP per capita of $456. Why is the CAR declining at a time when so many other African states are advancing? While factors such as the CAR's landlocked location and low levels of assistance are certainly important, the fundamental problem is that President Francois Bozize, and his government (CARG), have never made national development and good governance a priority.
He appears instead to concentrate on schemes to enrich himself, his family, and his clan; schemes which not only retard development, but actively destroy commercial enterprises essential to the economy. Efforts by AmEmbassy Bangui, the European Commission, and even the very influential French to persuade Bozize to focus his government on development and good governance have been ignored or actively rebuffed.
One reason for Bozize's lack of concern may well be a belief that no matter what he does, the French will always intervene, militarily if necessary, to save his government, as they did at Birao and Bria in early 2007. As reported SEPTEL we do not believe that this is a valid assumption on his part. At best, our best efforts notwithstanding, we may be unable to achieve our foreign policy goals in the CAR. At worst, we could well see the Bozize government collapse in the coming year.
Anatomy of a Hollow State
2. (SBU) The Central African Republic is dangerously close to being a failed state. Though named a ``ghost state'' in an International Crisis Group report in 2007, the CAR is perhaps better classified as a ``hollow state''. On the surface, the CARG appears to function and can credibly claim that its problems are the result of demographics, AIDS, historic poverty, and isolation. But this is misleading. While it has a structure that is able to feign functionality and has agents in most parts of the country, few of these agents actually conduct the business of the state or achieve any results. It has executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and a military, but outside of disparate geographic pockets, its control is exceedingly limited. The CAR is a country defined by its borders on the map and not by effective state control of its territory.
3. (SBU) In Bangui, the government provides less than the bare minimum of services. Most roads are unpaved and the few paved ones are pock marked with potholes. The wealthy parts of Bangui suffer from prolonged power outages (and damaging surges) and only intermittent running water while poorer parts of town have gone months without water and electricity. (NOTE: This is one reason that Post recently built wells at the CMR and the Chancery. The well at the chancery has markedly reduced the levels of Locally Engaged Staff (LES) absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness.) Violent crime, sometimes committed by government employees, particularly the Presidential Guard, is disturbingly common throughout the city.
4. (SBU) Outside of Bangui, things are worse. Only the largest towns have any running water or electricity at all. Medical care is almost unavailable - it is estimated that there are fewer than 300 doctors practicing western medicine in the country and fewer than thirty outside of Bangui. Worse, many of the doctors in Bangui are no longer practicing medicine. Ironically, armed rebel bands provide the only real security and governance in almost half the country.
Not For a Lack of Support
5. (SBU) Despite claims by some in the CARG to the contrary, the international community is deeply engaged in promoting development in the CAR. Examples include:
-- Many international/national non-governmental organizations (NGO) actively engaged in humanitarian and developmental projects,
-- European Commission funded infrastructure projects,
-- French direct budget support and development projects. (NOTE: They have, however, cut back on almost all military programs).
-- World Bank and IMF programs.
-- International companies attempting to invest in gold and uranium.
The point being that the CARG has access to the financing and assistance that it needs. And while it is true that the CAR is not as well known as some other nations in crisis and that aid flows are probably below what is needed to speed development, it is even more true that even a dramatic increase in international assistance will do little to improve the situation until the CARG makes it a priority.
6. (SBU) From the top down, a culture of entitlement from foreigners pervades Central African government. The 2009 budget contains no/no provision to pay for the 2010 election preparations because, as many observers, in one way or another, have said, ``they [the Bozize government] know you [the international community] will not allow elections to fail. If they know you are going to pay for it, why should they?'' This sentiment is mirrored in the Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration effort.
Though the international community is paying the cost of Demobilization, it is still looking to fund the last D and R, with no money coming from the CARG itself. Bozize has reacted with personal anger at the insistence by the United Nations that the money provided by the CEMAC nations for DDR be used for DDR. (The CARG had argued that this money was intended for general economic support.)
As part of security sector reform, the CARG used all of the money granted by the international community to retire, i.e. pay off, a large part of its bloated officer corps. Predictably, the CARG is seeking more funds from the international community to conclude the process.
International NGOs, who reentered the CAR in a wave after the violence of 2006, all echo the same frustrated sentiment that sums up the attitude of the international community in the CAR: ``we cannot want it more than the Central Africans do.'' After six years of President Bozize's rule, the international community is increasingly impatient and there are rumblings that perhaps letting the country fail and forcing its population to right itself is the only solution.
The Path Not Taken
7. (SBU) Bozize has thus far been unwilling to take the steps that we, and most other observers, would consider the minimums needed to secure his country and indeed his own hold on power. These would include: - Upgrading of the military and police to allow him defeat the various rebel factions and assure security, if only in Bangui. It is likely he feels threatened by strong armed forces and thus purposefully keeps the Central African Army (FACA) and the police weak. This in turn means that the CARG can neither defeat rebel forces nor effectively control its territory, leaving it rife with rebels, bandits and poachers. In this context, we note with dismay that the FACA pulled their previously approved candidate for U.S. sponsored training in Rwanda at the last minute with no substitute offered.
At least enough development projects/public works, such as roads, water, electricity and trade, to send a clear message to the population (again, of Bangui at least) that they live better with Bozize than without him. Instead, President Bozize's kleptocratic government appears content to control Bangui, the wood and diamond reserves of the southwest, and isolated regions with diamond, uranium and mineral deposits in the east.
From this, they are able to steal enough money to buy large properties in Burkina Faso and South Africa and live comfortably, but not particularly luxuriously, in Bangui. Even recent observers, like the United Nations' Undersecretary General for Political Affairs, former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, B. Lynn Pascoe, are shocked. He commented to the Ambassadors of the United States, France, and the European Commission his surprise that President Bozize made no mention of development during their conversation on June 9th, 2009.
Instead, Bozize's entire focus was on DDR and SSR (security sector reform). When Pascoe finally raised the issue of development, Bozize made it clear that he considered development to be the responsibility of the international community, not the CARG. (Interestingly, he made the same comment on human rights; another issue for the international community.)
To be fair, this was a brief meeting at the airport, as Bozize was en route to Libreville for the funeral of President Bongo. But it is clear that the United Nations is concerned enough to have briefed Pascoe on this issue and thus he pursued it. And Pascoe's reaction is the same of that of the resident ambassadors: the CARG simply does not see development and governance as a priority.
What We Want, But Are Not Getting
A former Prime Minister once commented that, at a minimum, a CAR government had to keep the power and water on in Bangui in order to stay in power - the CARG has not done this for nearly a year. United States goals in the CAR are limited: we seek a stable, developing state in the center of Africa that can resist the spillover of the crises in Chad/Sudan/Congo, does not serve as a base or transit point for neighboring combatants, and has enough peace and prosperity not to aggravate conditions in neighboring states by producing refugees.
We are engaged in two efforts: The end of hostilities by rebel groups and encouragement of good governance by the CARG (humanitarian relief, protection of human rights, economic development). These messages are matched with a third; that the CARG should look to the private sector, domestic and international, to fund development. Unfortunately, Post fears that we do not have an engaged partner in the President and the CARG. Worse, the steady decline of all indicators and renewed violence in the North may lead to a tipping point where Bozize's weak governance becomes untenable and leads to further chaos.
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