The Central African Republic (CAR) is recovering from violence and armed conflict that broke out in 2013 between Muslim and Christian communities. As of July 2015, nearly one million people – or 20 percent of the country’s population – were displaced and more than 6,000 had been killed. A transitional government established in 2014 helped restore security and state authority, with the assistance of a United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping mission. In December 2015, voters approved a new constitution in a referendum, and shortly thereafter returned to the polls to elect a new president in a largely peaceful process. The new president, Faustin Archange Touadéra, won 63% of the vote in a February 2016 runoff election. Legislative elections proved more challenging; numerous irregularities and the resulting invalidation of results led to four successive legislative elections in the space of three months in late 2015 and early 2016. On the whole, however, the electoral process has been accepted as a peaceful and credible first step to establishing the legitimacy of new political institutions.
One of the new government’s top priorities is to undertake reconciliation efforts and ensure a widespread and lasting peace. While inter-communal clashes continue to take place, they have been less deadly and destructive. President Touadéra is committed to talks with armed groups and a disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, and repatriation (DDRR) process, and international peacekeepers are still present in the country.
An important aspect of reconciliation is to create avenues for citizens to engage with new democratic institutions and policymakers to share grievances in a constructive way. CAR has been ruled by autocratic and ineffective regimes, and in consequence, has little history of constructive interaction between the populace and government officials or elected representatives. The lack of communications infrastructure and the absence of state institutions in parts of CAR exacerbate some citizens’ disaffection from their government. Community-based entities such as local peace committees, are well-positioned to foster the citizen engagement needed to render the new Central African government more responsive and able to sustain peaceful dialogue about citizens’ needs.