The situation in the Central African Republic continues to teeter on the edge of catastrophe following the UN-backed French intervention that began last week. But a small victory won in early November—a “republican pact” signed by the country’s leaders—could offer local and international actors an additional tool for promoting reconciliation and a nonviolent way forward for the fractured nation.
Following peace talks in September, the Republican Pact was designed to “facilitate communication between political actors and to lead them to a meaningful election in 2015,” according to Mauro Garofalo, the external relations officer of the Christian community of Sant’Egidio who worked to facilitate the accord in the central African nation. It seeks to provide the country’s leaders with guidelines and expertise “to avoid further ethnic and religious tensions,” Garofalo said in an interview with the Global Observatory.
On December 4, as part of its Resolution 2127 on the Central African Republic, the UN Security Council urged all parties to follow up on the pact, saying it was “a credible framework to promote inclusive national dialogue between all the political parties, social and religious, of the country.”
While articulating strong support for international intervention and humanitarian assistance in CAR, Garofalo added that “it’s also important to support all the local efforts aimed at fostering reconciliation within communities.”
Indeed, religious leaders in CAR have been promoting calm and reconciliation while also offering humanitarian assistance, particularly following a wave of massacres killed more than 500 people in the last week. While the violence seems to be taking on increasingly religious overtones—with Christian militias, or anti-Balaka, now taking revenge against the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels—this polarization between majority Christian and minority Muslim communities is underpinned by an array of longstanding political, social, and economic grievances in the country.
The Republican Pact “comes from a long history of engagement by Sant’Egidio in Central African Republic with political parties and religious communities,” Garofalo said. The organization has provided conflict mediation services in settings as diverse as Mozambique, the Balkans, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In the case of CAR, it is conceivable that the organiztion could be perceived as partial, as a Christian group. However, Garofalo said Sant’Egidio is able to do this kind of mediation work because it is perceived as a trustworthy stakeholder, since it does not benefit strategically or economically from the negotiation. “This is our weakness, but also our strength,” said Garofalo. “We cannot coerce the actors to engage in a political process, but this freedom from pressure and from outside intervention can also provide a space to the actors to take ownership of the process.”
Sant’Egidio plans to continue its work promoting dialogue in the CAR, and a second meeting in Rome is expected within the next two months. “We will continue to support the country in the process of national reconciliation to prepare them for the next election that will take place in 2015,” said Garofalo. “We think that our work is not done yet, and we considered the signature of the Republican Pact a good start, but only a start.”
The interview was conducted on November 26, 2013 by Marie O’Reilly, Associate Editor, International Peace Institute.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Marie O’Reilly: Mauro Garofalo is an officer in the external relations unit of the community of Sant’Egidio, a Christian community that since the late 1980s has provided conflict mediation services, most notably in Mozambique, also in Algeria, the Balkans, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and today in the Central African Republic.
In early November, Mauro, leaders in the Central African Republic signed a Republican Pact drafted by Sant’Egidio. What is the objective of the pact, and how did it come about?
Mauro Garofalo: The first objective of the pact is to facilitate communication between political actors and to lead them to a meaningful election in 2015, to provide them guidelines and expertise to avoid further ethnic and religious tensions. It comes from a long history of engagement by Sant’Egidio in Central African Republic with political parties and religious communities. Since 2003, we have been following the situation with concern, and we proposed to host a meeting of inclusive dialogue in Sant’Egidio to the actual leadership.
MOR: The situation appears to be deteriorating today in the Central African Republic. What is needed to stave off catastrophe in your view, Mauro?
MG: For sure, an international intervention is now absolutely necessary. It’s also important to support all the local efforts aimed at fostering reconciliation within communities. On the humanitarian side, there is a great need to improve the security and to let all the IDPs to come back to their land.
MOR: The conflict in CAR is not the first that Sant’Egidio has played a mediating role in. What are the benefits and drawbacks of an outside nongovernmental organization undertaking these kinds of informal mediation initiatives?
MG: As you said, we’ve been engaged in negotiations and peace talks since the end of the ‘80s. We represent a peculiar example of Track Two mediation. Well, our strength is that Sant’Egidio is perceived as a trustworthy stakeholder since we do not benefit strategically or economically from the negotiation. This is our weakness, but also our strength. We cannot coerce the actors to engage in a political process, but this freedom from pressure and from outside intervention can also provide a space to the actors to take ownership of the process.
MOR: Are there certain contexts in which this kind of approach tends to work best?
MG: Well, every conflict has a different story, it’s a different kind of conflict, but we tend to be more effective in a single-country context. Even if, of course… often a conflict tends to involve neighborhood countries—for example, the Casamance conflict, which is also affecting the whole sub-region.
What I see as very difficult is to act in a conflict between two sovereign actors because there, an engagement of Sant’Egidio is not easy, and there is a great need for an international arbitrator rather than Track Two mediation.
MOR: How does this kind of Track Two work feed into other international initiatives?
MG: Of course, we believe that the two things are complementary and can support each other. Often there is a moment where an official framework of negotiation reaches a stalemate, and then a more confidential track, a more confidential space and reflection is needed. What is really dangerous is to have competitor mediators. That is really a danger for the negotiation. I think an international mediation should speak with one voice.
MOR: And how does Sant’Egidio plan to move forward now in the Central African Republic?
MG: This is a very good question. We think that our work is not done yet, and we considered the signature of the Republican Pact a good start, but only a start. So, a second meeting in Rome is expected within the next two months, and we will continue to support the country in the process of national reconciliation to prepare them for the next election that will take place in 2015. And also in the process of revising the constitution, which is now suspended.
MOR: Thank you so much for speaking with us today.
MG: Thank you for inviting me.