Central African Republic Country Profile – Military / Security

From Cia Factbook (Page last updated on October 09, 2020)

Military and security forces: Central African Armed Forces (Forces Armees Centrafricaines, FACA): Ground Forces (includes Military Air Service), General Directorate of Gendarmerie Inspection (DGIG); National Police (2019).

Military expenditures:

  • 1.5% of GDP (2019)
  • 1.41% of GDP (2018)
  • 1.44% of GDP (2017)
  • 1.53% of GDP (2016)
  • 1.69% of GDP (2015)

Military and security service personnel strengths: the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) have an estimated 8,000 Army troops (including an Air Service component of about 150) and 1,500 Gendarmerie (2019 est.).

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions: the FACA is armed mostly with second-hand equipment donated by Russia; since 2010, it has received limited quantities of second-hand equipment from China and Ukraine as aid (2019 est.).

Military service age and obligation: 18 years of age for military service; no conscription (2019).

Military – note: the FACA is currently assessed as unable to provide adequate internal security for the country; the military was dissolved following the 2013 rebel seizure of the government and has struggled to rebuild in the years of instability since; France, Russia, the UN, and the European Union are providing various levels of security assistance.

The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has operated in the country since 2014; its peacekeeping mission includes providing security, protecting civilians, facilitating humanitarian assistance, disarming and demobilizing armed groups, and supporting the country’s fragile transitional government; in November 2019, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the MINUSCA peacekeeping mission another year; as of March 2020, MINUSCA had approximately 13,200 total personnel, including about 10,700 troops and 2,000 police.

The European Union Training Mission in the Central African Republic (EUTM-RCA) has operated in the country since 2016; the EUTM-RCA contributes to the restructuring of the country’s military and defense sector through advice, training, and educational programs (2020).

Other information on Central African Republic – Military / Security

a. National Security Forces. President Touadera has re-established the Central African Armed Forces, also known as the Forces Armees Centreafricaines (FACA). The SG report from June 2019 indicates that CAR has 7,087 national armed forces, a small fraction of which (1,438) are deployed outside of Bangui.[i] Another 1,024 out of 3,686 internal security forces were deployed outside the capital, including 25 female gendarmes and 13 female police officers. With MINUSCA’s support, 1,023 new military recruits have been trained, and plans are underway to recruit 1,000 police officers in 2019. 

The FACA is comprised of an Army, an Air Force, and paramilitary outfits. There is no navy (as CAR is land-locked) but there is a riverine patrol boat squadron.[ii] The 800-strong Presidential Guard Battalion is also known as the Special Forces for the Defense of the Democratic Institution (FORSDIR). 

According to the Secretary General report, armed groups submitted a list of eligible members for the national disarmament, demobilization, repatriation and reintegration program. The MINUSCA disarmament program is currently located in Paoua. 

CAR’s Minister of Defense, Marie-Noëlle Koyara, is working to reconstruct national security forces by instituting reforms such as background checks, training, and deployments throughout the country.[iii] MINUSCA has been providing national armed forces with logistical support and sustainment including fuel supply, casualty evacuation, and weapons storage facilities. 

Prior to the 2013 crisis, successive governments weakened the FACA to mitigate coup threats and it was subsequently disintegrated along with the country’s other institutions. When MINUSCA arrived in CAR in 2014, it began the process of building the new FACA, first by vetting soldiers to determine if any had human rights violations. CAR’s military remains a small force. It also lacks equipment and weapons due to the on-going arms embargo levied by the UN Security Council. 

In January 2019, the UN renewed the arms embargo with some exceptions so that CAR forces could receive needed supplies (UNSCR 2454, 2019). The previous sanctions resolution, UNSCR 2339 (2017) included a new provision recognizing sexual violence allegations as a distinct “asset-freeze listing criterion,” the first of its kind. The U.S. has provided CAR with nonlethal assistance including trucks and communications equipment. Russia’s growing influence in CAR has been controversial. Russia sent 500 trainers to the country that have trained more than 1,000 soldiers, including Special Forces.[iv]

The security situation in CAR remains fragile. CAR’s main security threats include non-state armed groups, unpoliced borders with neighboring countries, intercommunal conflict, and civil unrest which may increase due to unmet expectations after the recent elections. Muslim-dominated ex-Séléka and Christian anti-Balaka factions still control vast parts of the country. The national forces are still a weak institution and are not present in vast areas of the country. 

b. Non-State Armed Groups. There are two prevailing rebel groups, the Muslim-dominated ex-Séléka, and the predominantly Christian anti-Balaka. In the last five years, however, the rebel groups and militias have splintered into other armed factions that often target each other—despite religious commonalities. In addition, these splintered factions may also support other armed groups in alliances of convenience—despite religious differences. Few of the armed groups are inclined to permanent disarmament and reconciliation, although most of them had representatives at recent peace negotiations. In some parts of the country, local communities support neither ex-Séléka nor anti-Balaka armed groups, but have formed their own self-defense groups in lieu of government-provided security.

1) Ex-Séléka (or, Séléka). “Séléka” is the Sango word for “coalition” (or “alliance” or “union”). While Séléka was not originally a religious movement, it was dominated by persons of Muslim faith. Séléka was comprised of two major groups based in north-eastern CAR: the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), but it also included the lesser-known Patriotic Convention for Saving the Country (CPSK). Two other groups based in northern CAR were considered allied with Séléka: the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) and the Chadian group Popular Front for Recovery (FPR).

The Séléka overthrew the CAR government in spring of 2013, committing atrocities across the country, but mostly against former government members and Christian communities. In the fall of the same year, Michel Djotodia (the installed post-rebellion president) allegedly dissolved Séléka. However, the various militia groups, then called ex-Séléka, continued their atrocities against government and Christian communities, sometimes in conjunction with Muslim herders known as the Fulani.

Today, among the various ex-Séléka groups, the most well-known are the Union pour la paix en Centrafrique(UPC), consisting mostly of ethnic Peuhl, and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC). Following the election cycle, the FPRC tried to reestablish the Séléka coalition, merging with other groups such as the Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC) and the Assembly for the Renaissance of Central Africa (RPRC). However, the UPC refused to join them, and the groups have been in conflict with each other since then. These groups were accused of several atrocities in November 2016. In particular, many Fulani—previously aligned with some ex-Séléka groups—were killed in door-to-door assassinations by the FRPC, which had aligned itself with anti-Balaka elements.

In recent months, some observers have, once again, labeled these particular armed groups as “Séléka”—dropping the “ex-“—in recognition of their reemergence as a coalition. 

2) Anti-Balaka. “Balaka” is the Sango word for “machete”. “Anti-Balaka” has come to mean, also, “invincible”—in part to the power allegedly bestowed by the charms that hang around the necks of most members. The anti-balaka are predominately Christian and were initially designed for self-defense against bandits and cattle raiders. However, the “anti-Balaka” phrase has since become a generic term for the people resisting the Séléka.

The word “balaka” may also refer to the French phrase for bullets of an automatic rifle, “balle AK

3) Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is active in the country’s east, far from Bangui and the majority of MINUSCA’s operations. In spring 2017, the U.S. and Uganda forces ended their six-year-long partnership to capture the group’s leader, Joseph Kony, by withdrawing approximately 2,500 Ugandan troops (although some reports suggest the number of troops was never more than 1,500 in total) and 100 U.S. Special Forces soldiers.

Despite its limitations in size and funding, the AU-RTF appears to have been successful in reducing the LRA from over 2,000 in number to “less than 120 armed men,” with a corresponding decrement of the LRA’s operational territory. However, the remote eastern areas of CAR appears to be “the perfect hideaway” for the remainder of the LRA. Notwithstanding its alleged “disarray,” most of the LRA attacks against the population in the past six months—which includes kidnappings—have occurred in CAR

4) Organized Criminal Elements (Domestic and Transnational): Organized crime exists in many forms, the most prevalent being poaching, extortion, and illegal control of the country’s natural resources. Much of the poaching and looting of CAR’s natural resources is by transnational terrorists or other armed elements, such as the LRA and even the Janjaweed militia from Sudan’s Darfur region. According to one observer: “They are involved in looting food, looting gold, diamonds, killing elephants in [Congo’s] Garamba national park and Zemongo national park in CAR…It is a revenue stream that could keep them armed for years.”[v]

c. Other International Actors

1) Regional Neighbors

Chad. Chad has long sought to influence the fortunes of its southern neighbor, CARDuring the coup period of 2012-2013, then Chadian President Idriss Deby sent troops to support the Séléka-backed new government of Djotodia. Many of the CAR population still perceive their northern citizens as more “Chad” than CAR in loyalties.

DRC. CAR has important historical connections to the South. For over twenty years, from its mid-1960s independence through the 1980s, two of Africa’s most notorious and flamboyant dictators, Zaire’s President Mobutu and CAR’s Emperor Bokassa, reigned over the Central African sub-region ruthlessly, while eating at each other’s table regularly as self-professed brothers. 

South Sudan. In 2017, South Sudan offered to assist in training the FACA, “with a view to enabling them to better contribute in the fight against the LRA.” This is an ironic offer, as the South Sudanese military forces are, themselves, in need of professionalism and training.

Uganda. Uganda had between 1,500 and 2,500 troops operating in eastern CAR as part of the AU-RTF toterminate the LRA. Although Uganda withdrew from CAR due to the end of the LRA mission, it has indicated a willingness to support “capacity-building” of its national forces.

2) Other International Countries.

China. While China does not provide troops to MINUSCA, it is a TCC for MINUSCO and other African peace missions. It has also provided the African Union with US$100 million in military assistance for its peacekeeping operations.[vi] China certainly has significant—and increasing—business interests in Africa. Some observe that: 

In essence, China deploys peacekeeping troops because it needs to protect its multi-billion investments and numerous assets, enterprises and citizens abroad. Through its peacekeepers, Beijing can also elevate its status as a responsible stakeholder and security provider in the international community and improve operational capabilities of Chinese military and police forces.

France. In October 2016, France ended a three-year military peacekeeping operation, called Operation Sangaris.France’s presence in the country, which eventually grew to 2,500 soldiers, provided a stabilizing force and enabled Samba-Panza’s transitional government to take over from Djotodia, who had been incapable of asserting his government’s rule. France still has some forces in CAR.

Russia. Russia has played an important role in CAR by providing national forces with weapons and advanced military training. Russian national Valery Zakharov is a security adviser to President Faustin-Archange Touadera, and has helped him negotiate with armed groups and militias.[vii]

[i] UN Report of the Secretary General on the Central African Republic, 17 June 2019, https://undocs.org/en/S/2019/498

[ii] Global Security, Central African Republic Army, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/africa/car-army.htm

[iii]Solomon, Samuel and Fall, Idrissa, “CAR Defense Minister: Efforts to Rebuild National Army Continue,” Voice of America (VOA) News, 31 October 2018, https://www.voanews.com/africa/car-defense-minister-efforts-rebuild-national-army-continue

[iv] Ibid, VOA News, October 2018

[v] Okiror, Samuel. “End of Joseph Kony hunt breeds frustration and fear,” The New Humanitarian, 26 April 2017, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/analysis/2017/04/26/end-joseph-kony-hunt-breeds-frustration-and-fear

[vi] New China News via Xinhuanet, “Interview: China-Africa cooperation in peace, security to play vital role for Africa’s Stability,” 18 July 2019, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-07/18/c_138237777.htm

[vii] Ross, Aaron. “How Russia moved into Central Africa,” Reuters, 17 October 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-africa-russia-insight/how-russia-moved-into-central-africa-idUSKCN1MR0KA

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These products are the results of academic research and intended for general information and awareness only. They include the best information publicly available at the time of publication. Routine efforts are made to update the materials; however, readers are encouraged to check the specific mission sites at https://minusca.unmissions.org/en or https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/minusca.

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