Touadera favourite as troubled Central Africa heads to vote

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The President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadéra delivered a speech at the fundraising day at the sixth World Fund Conference in Lyon, France, on 10 October 2019. (Photo by Nicolas Liponne/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Voters in the Central African Republic head to the polls on Sunday, with incumbent President Faustin Archange Touadera on course to win a second term in an impoverished country haunted by violence.

In the week before voting day, Touadera accused his predecessor Francois Bozize of plotting a coup, a militia briefly seized the country’s fourth biggest town, and Russia and Rwanda sent military personnel to help shore up his government.

The mood in the capital Bangui is unsurprisingly bleak.

On Wednesday, rumours circulated that rebels had entered the city, sparking moments of panic.

The UN’s human rights office on Wednesday said it was “deeply alarmed” at accounts of escalating violence “stoked by political grievances and hate speech,” and warned of a threat to the right to vote.

But Touadera, the UN, and the EU — including France, CAR’s former coloniser and its staunchest Western ally — all fiercely insist the vote will take place.

Touadera has had to engage in a tricky balancing act with the armed groups since he first took office.

In February 2019, he signed a peace deal with 14 militias, in which their chiefs were offered government positions.

The accord helped to support a decline in violence that had begun the previous year, although bloodshed remains an ever-present threat.

Bozize, however, has added a further factor of volatility since he slipped into the country in December 2019 after years in exile.

His return sparked fears that the 74-year-old is planning a violent comeback.

The government last weekend accused groups of banding together and advancing on Bangui in a plot allegedly fomented by Bozize, a charge he denies.

The advance stopped after the rebels seized a few hamlets, the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA said on Wednesday.

In a statement dated Wednesday that was authenticated by two of its six members, the rebel coalition announced a 72-hour “unilateral ceasefire.”

On Tuesday, the CAR’s fourth largest town, Bambari, 380 kilometres (240 miles) northeast of Bangui, was overrun by an armed group called the Unity for Peace in Central Africa (UPC).

Security forces backed by UN peacekeepers regained control the following day.

Since 2013, thousands of people have died and more than a quarter of the population of 4.9 million have fled their homes. Of these, 675,000 are refugees in neighbouring countries and cannot vote.

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