CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Boko Haram ‘eyeing power vacuum’ as CAR heads to polls

Three years into a devastating conflict that has pitted the Central African Republic’s Christians against its Muslims, Sunday’s referendum, followed by nationwide elections on December 27, could be a deciding factor in the future of the country.

The UN’s Central Africa chief, Abdoulaye Bathily, briefed the Security Council in New York this week, stressing the importance of the elections as peace-hungry voters counter both the immediate danger of armed groups and the longer-term concern of Boko Haram militants taking advantage of the unrest.

Bathily spoke to RFI’s Sophie Pilgrim at the UN headquarters in New York:

The situation in Central African Republic remains volatile. How much of a concern is that Boko Haram, as they get pushed out of other areas, will take advantage of that ongoing unrest?

If it is not resolved in a timely manner, this crisis can become a safe haven for some elements of Boko Haram who are eyeing that vacuum to establish themselves, all the more so since Boko Haram has suffered heavy losses in the Lake Chad basin area, militarily, because of assaults made by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, it has changed now its modus operandi for suicide bombing, which is a sign of weakness, but at the same time it could try to find a safer haven from there again to launch new attacks and try to recuperate land they have lost.

How important is it to prevent them from having that kind of a base?

The whole Boko Haram issue is an issue if international peace which goes beyond the countries immediately concerned. When you look at the geographical location of Central African Republic and Chad and northern Cameroon, it is an area where linkages can be made between Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in the Sahel and therefore in Mali, in Niger, and further up to Libya… and to Europe. This is what is at stake in the Central African Republic.

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Would you compare Boko Haram with the Islamic State in terms of level of threat?

When you look at the havoc created by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and the Lake Chad basin area in general, well, the magnitude is the same — destruction of human lives, destruction of cultural sites, the economy is at a standstill in those countries, so I think we shouldn’t take lightly what is happening in that region.

How might the Central African Republic move away from this clearly vulnerable position?

I think it is important for the crisis in Central African Republic to be resolved very quickly and I sincerely hope that the elections will enable the country to recuperate its sovereignty and also peace. The people of Central African Republic are really aspiring for peace, for development, which they have not benefited from since independence.

In this regard I would like to appeal to all the stakeholders in CAR to have mercy and compassion for the people of CAR who now really want peace.

They have registered in great numbers for the elections which is a sign of their willingness to participate in a democratic process, and I hope that those armed groups who intend to disturb the elections won’t have their way and the international forces – MINUSCA, and Sangaris forces which are in CAR will react promptly to any attempt by those armed groups to disturb the electoral process.
 

Source: rfi afrique