The French mission in the Central African Republic is over. The official ceremony marking its end took place earlier this week. I have been investigating the on-goings of the recent crisis in the country since its inception in late 2012.
Sectarian conflict in the country has left families without fathers, mothers without their children and neighbourhoods emptied. The conflict in the Central African Republic led to an exodus of communities and what the United Nations called "ethno-religious cleansing". Recent security concerns over renewed violence have led to the suspension of some humanitarian activities with tens of thousands of people fleeing to displacement camps over the weekend. But the dusty streets of Bangui today, are not filled with militia as they had been over the last few years. Relative stability has allowed for protestors to present their anger towards MINUSCA peacekeepers, the integrated UN and AU operation for what they deem to be ineffectiveness in keeping them safe.
The election of President Faustino Archange Touadera early this year put to bed many international concerns of a potential "failed state" though the reality of the country cannot be escaped. The cyclical nature of events in the Central African Republic reminds us that this isn't the first time peacekeepers were called in and is one among many hastily held elections. His election, inauguration and the international announcements that came thereafter have a feeling of a train arriving at a platform that's not yet ready to receive it.
In March, following the inauguration of President Touadera, French defence Minister Jean-Yves Ledrian announced that operation Sangaris would be preparing to make its way home with President Francois Hollande re-affirming the end of the mission whilst speaking in the capital, Bangui. Around two hundred and fifty French soldiers currently remain in the country, a force which at its peak consisted of two thousand five hundred. An operation leaving behind a juxtaposed legacy of assistance in quelling violence in the country alongside costly mistakes, and allegations of sexual abuse for which there are on-going investigations.
"The French troops are some of the world's best and they have armour and air support, their departure will have a huge impact on the ground. With the Sangaris gone there is a higher chance for renewed insecurity. However, Operation Sangaris may be remembered not for their peacekeeping efforts but for the string of sex abuse scandals of which they stand accused. These allegations, which broke last year but continue to emerge have seriously damaged the credibility of the mission in the country." Lewis Mudge, Africa Researcher, Human Rights Watch
French soldiers have been accused of sexually abusing women and children alongside further cases against the MINUSCA. The high profile revelations led to a resolution from the UN and investigations into the cases. The former head of the mission Senegalese Babacar Gaye was effectively removed for the mishandling of allegations.
"Currently there is around 13 cases of allegation against French soldiers of such crimes in Bangui those allegations are currently under investigations by CAR and the French for about a year". Florent Geel, International Federation for Human Rights
The office of Jean-Yves Ledrian declined to comment on the allegations of sexual abuse laid against them, though they reiterated the forces impact in quelling violence in the country. The Ministry of Defence said "The people who say the situation is not stable do not remember the situation before, Operation Sangaris was a real success, in December 2013 the country was about to face civil war."
French intervention in the Central African Republic was vital to controlling some of the violence taking place in the country. Operation Sangaris was deployed in 2013 to restore stability and help end violence following the Seleka rebel imposed military coup and violence towards Christian communities. But the French oversight in the rise of the Christian Anti-Balaka militia has left great resentment within some Muslim communities.
The Anti-Balaka militia group began as a vigilante movement to protect Christian communities but indiscriminate violence from the group saw an unprecedented level of conflict unfold. Attacks on Muslim communities became widespread; leaving thousands killed, maimed and lynched. The Seleka rebels became the de-facto protectors of the Muslim minority.
"French soldiers underestimated the Anti-balaka. At the really beginning of the operation, they started to disarm only the Seleka combatants... this first disarmament of the Seleka soldiers by the international forces in the streets of Bangui was followed by heavy massacres of Muslims perpetrated by the Anti-balaka." Thibaud Lesueur, International Crisis Group
The Central African Republic's minority Muslim community no longer have a visible presence in the country, with many communities driven out of the country. Mosques throughout the country were torn down, with remaining Muslims forced to abandon the religion. The minority traditionally made up about fifteen per cent of the countries six point six million population with over one hundred thousand residing in the capital, but now the majority of the four hundred and fifty thousand refugees outside the country are Muslim. Violence in the shape of ethno-religious genocide took place in the presence of international peacekeepers. Communities left helpless to attack, having to flee for their lives.
But regardless of problems faced by the Sangaris, Human Rights organisations have expressed deep concern over the French departure.
"The withdrawal of French troops is not good news for several reasons. Even though several mistakes were made at the beginning of the intervention (they certainly underestimated the Anti-balaka for instance), French troops still became a safety net for the capital and were also able to impose some "red lines" and ultimatums to armed groups." Thibaud Lesaur, International Crisis Group
Three years on from the worst instances of violence, development has been made in the war torn country though the lack of institutions is seen as an incremental problem.
"With the absence of effective state institutions (police, courts, civil administration), it is hard to see how this stability will be maintained. Moreover, following the very serious inter-religious and inter-ethnic spates of violence throughout much of the country since 2012, there will undoubtedly be many people who still have scores to settle or who will be looking to profit from an unstable situation." Professor Phillip Burnham, Director of the International African Institute
In a nation and peoples ravaged by years of violence and sexual crimes by armed groups and peacekeepers with a mandate to protect them, little hope of reconciliation and peace between communities exists. The mounting allegations of abuse in the Central African Republic has fragmented the trust of peacekeeping forces be they the French or the UN with victims still receiving little or no support. Revelations of abuse continue to mount, with the most recent leak made public by Aids Free World, the advocacy organisation behind similar revelations last year. The report was released the day after President Faustin-Archange Touadera's inauguration including the following incident.
"A French military commander allegedly had four girls tied up and forced them to have sex with a dog". AIDS-Free World told me "These allegations are unassailable proof that Sangaris soldiers ran wild in Central African Republic"
The Sangaris, have met their objective of holding democratic elections and assured the Central African Republic of its continual support, but as spats of violence continue to occur there are legitimate concerns over how long any semblance of stability will remain. Twenty five people were killed in just two days last month as the vulnerable situation in the country looks increasingly volatile. The Central African Republic is one among many countries suffering from incredible levels of injustice and abuse, though the cyclical nature of abuse suffered by the people in the landlocked nation has meant they are continually required to replay the same tape. CAR requires long term structural investment and parties willing to assist them in doing so, without this, it seems all that the parties involved in trying to heal this burnt and bruised nation are leaving behind, are their own legacies of abuse.