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17 March 2003
Dan Kashagama, AUF General Secretary

The Military Coup in the Central African Republic has been condemned by the African Union government. The condemnation was expected. Already disorder in the Central African Republic is displacing thousands of people and may lead to more economic instability in the region.

Although the change in the CAR government is illegal, it is not surprising. In a general way it is the lack of action in establishing key AU institutions (parliament & army) that is to blame for coups and the maintenance of unconstitutional powers by some African leaders.

However, the AU also bears direct blame for the coup in the CAR. The decision, by the commander of the CEMAC troops, Colonel Basile Sillou, to offer no resistance to the small ragtag force that captured the capital Bangui, was the most important element in the events that unfolded on 15th March 2003 in the Central African Republic. The AU was responsible for exchanging the Libyan troops that were protecting the government of the CAR with the troops of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States CEMAC. With whom did CEMAC force commander Colonel Basile Sillou consult before making his decision to hand over facilities under CEMAC control?

Amara Essy, Chair of the AU Commission participated in several of the Summits of CEMAC devoted to peace and security in the region, including the Libreville Summit of 2 October 2002, which deployed the CEMAC force in the CAR. The AU Central Organ of the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution on the situation in CAR is the implementing body directly in command of the CEMAC forces. The communiqué of the Extraordinary Summit of the CEMAC held in Libreville on 2 October 2002, and in subsequent sessions of 11 and 29 October 2002 in Addis Ababa, the AU Central Organ expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the Libreville Summit.

Unlike the non-statutory armies of Pierre Bemba (President of the MLC - Movement for the Liberation of Congo), and former CAR Army Chief of Staff Francois Bozize, or the "national" army of the CAR, the CEMAC force is ultimately and directly unswerable to the AU Commission and the Assembly of Heads of States, represented by Amara Essy and Thabo Mbeki respectively. If Addis Ababa and Pretoria were concerned with maintaining the constitutional integrity of the CAR, why were there no orders to the CEMAC to deny the rebels access to the strategic CEMAC locations?

Ange-Felix Patasse, the deposed president of the CAR, had an administration that was plagued by the same neocolonial problems facing other states. The AU stepped in with a plan to prevent chaos and instability. In the case of the CAR, the only thing the AU had to do directly was prevent a coup d'Etat...and if the CEMAC commanders failed to understand that this was their mission, I wonder what kind of information their pre-deployment briefing consisted of. Why did Colonel Basile Sillou feel that his job was to stand aside in the event of a coup? What was the point of deploying CEMAC if not to prevent an unconstitutional change of government?

The fact is that the AU government had the muscle to prevent the coup. Did the AU place its forces under the command of army officers who didn't understand their orders? The Point of Inevitability in the sequence of events was reached because of decisions taken by the AU, and the CEMAC force commander (who is on record for stating that his units were quite capable of stopping a Coup d'Etat).

As things stand it appears that the AU and its subsidiary, CEMAC, passively participated in a coup d'etat and then issued supposedly "strong" statements in the aftermath. It appears that the AU in implementing the policy clauses banning the use of unconstitutional powers, it was betrayed by a Colonel named Basile Sillou who ignored to apply information detailing a course of action on how to prevent, counter or reverse coups. If the Colonel had offered even symbolic resistance and then surrendered, it would have been consistent with the spirit and purpose of the long and complex peace efforts that led to his deployement in Bangui. Colonel Basile Sillou claims his orders were merely to protect the president, not the statehouse or the other strategic facilities. Did Sillou understand that the prevetion of a coup was his job?