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Opinions of Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Mills’ democratic walk into Central African Republic

Despite receiving little media coverage, Ghana’s President Atta Mills’ short stop-over on his way to the just ended 15th Ordinary Session of African Union in Kampala, Uganda in the isolated Central African Republic (CAR) has democratic significance. In other words, it was to throw democratic light into a close, authoritarian African enclave – forget about CAR’s talks of democracy, it is one of the sham democracies in Africa.

No doubt, Mills visit surprised even the Central Africans, Ghanaians and African watchers. But astounded or not, Mills small visit was to send serious message to CAR’s President Francois Bozize, an autocrat who arm-twisted his way to insert “indefinite presidency” in CAR’s new constitution so that he can rule for life. And also to Central Africans that despite their apparent cut off from rest of Africa, because of very bad leadership over the past 50 years, Africans are concerned about their grim situation.

In Mills, Ghana was just showing its famed Pan-African side, its African humanity and its African brotherhood. But underneath all this is democratic radiance. The big message was that if Ghana can re-order itself after years of disorder, CAR, too, can do so, but that has to start from within CAR itself. One of the main ways of bringing CAR out of the cold is engagement – most African countries do not have full diplomatic representation in CAR, including Ghana. That may be one of the reasons for CAR’s seclusion. To break this, Mills is thinking of setting-up diplomatic relations with CAR and bring it into not only the current African democratic governance trend but throw more light into the dark recesses of its excruciating life.

Development-wise, which is the basis of CAR’s existence, like any nation, CAR isn’t doing well, even in the African context. All development indicators about CAR point to depressing existence. The Ibrahim Index of African Governance says CAR is among the six worst governed in Africa. At one point in its life, its former colonial master, France, has to pay its civil servants. The country is so weak that at one point, Libya’s mercurial leader, Murmur Gaddafi, had thought of taking over the country. Today, still hugely vulnerable, CAR has become the playing ground of Uganda’s the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), one of Africa's most brutal rebel groups, and that is bringing CAR into its campaigns of threat to security and stability.

Still, on CAR’s progress, the United Nations, through UNDP’s Human Development Index, says, repeatedly, that CAR “has the most grim human development indicators in the region. A least developed country (LDC), it is ranked 178th out of 179th countries in the 2008 UNDP Human Development Index” that measures human wellbeing. Other yearly UN measures aren’t better either – virtually the same awful news.

Hear this from the UN: “Repeated political and economic crises - including four coups in the last decade - have devastated the country and have resulted in an overall deterioration of living conditions. The country lacks basic services, and hospitals have only the most rudimentary equipment and medicine. The security situation is precarious especially in the north, characterized by the flow of arms and acts of violence. OCHA (The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) currently estimates that 85,000 of the more than 200,000 IDPs (Internally displaced persons) have returned to their villages of origin or resettled elsewhere while there are 108,000 still too scared to return.”

The appalling state of mind of CAR was amply seen in its late President Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who ruled from 1966–76. Bozize is a reminder of Bokassa. With the presidency under his grip for life and consumed with extreme negative African superstition practices (including juju cannibalism) and deeply infested with African Big Man syndrome, Bokassa destroyed human rights to the extent of being involved in the brutalization of protesting school children over school uniforms to death. Bokassa implanted unfreedoms, muzzled the rule of law, and set the stage for CAR’s long paralysis.
With all avenues for dissent and balances crippled, there were numerous attempts to either overthrow or assassinate Bokassa. This gave Bokassa an excuse to implement even brutally tougher decrees to consolidate power, increased arbitrary and authoritarian measures, and in his madness, was involved in the massacre of civilians. Bokassa was implicated in these killings. Bokassa made himself President-for-Life in 1972 and this saw CAR further descending into governance deficit that it has had difficulty shaking itself from. In CAR, the argument of the quality of governance informing progress is more pronounced, despite being endowed with world class natural resources.
From Bokassa’s time to now, CAR, more or less, have not changed – it’s almost the same as it was during Bokassa’s dark period. And that’s why Mill, radiating with democratic order, visit to CAR is instructive to Central Africans and seriously to Bozize and CAR’s undemocratically weakling political class.