Country Report Central African Republic August 1997 Main report

Outlook for 1997-98: Army reform & careful budgeting crucial to peace

The prospects for durable reconciliation between rebels and the regime of the president, Ange-Felix Patasse, will depend crucially on the latter's willingness to allow the long-promised reforms that can restore the credibility of government and create a sense of national cohesion. Mr Patasse must show that he is prepared to allow proper implementation of the recommendations of last year's conference on the role of the military. This means breaking with his past tendency to rely on loyalist troops from his home area in the north-west and accepting the principle of an army recruited on purely professional and technical lines. In the long term, this would imply a much reduced role for the presidential guard. Mr Patasse will also need to allow the technocrats in government to take control of budgets and concentrate on getting the finances of both central government and parastatal companies in order. Unless the state finances are run in a way that regains the confidence of aid donors and ensures a reliable stream of tax revenue, the government will be sure to run into financial problems again. Without money, it will be unable to pay the army on time and the risk of mutiny, and industrial unrest among civil servants, will remain. While the instability of the past year is directly attributable to the readiness of some soldiers to resort to rebellion and robbery, the fundamental causes lie in Mr Patasse's failure to ensure stable and competent economic management, highlighted by his political dependence on ethnic and factional loyalties in politics. In spite of the hard lessons of the past year, there must be doubts over whether Mr Patasse is able or willing to change his style. Nor are the prospects for competent moderation enhanced by the readiness of oppo- sition leaders such as Abel Goumba to opt for confrontation rather than statesmanlike compromise.

© 1997 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
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