Country Report Central African Republic August 1997 Main report

Political scene: Opposition coalition withdraws from government--

Mr Patasse's office did its best to maintain calm and defuse the threat of resurgent violence. A presidency spokesman assured the rebels that those who had killed three of their comrades would not go unpunished. Opposition political parties opted for a more confrontational stance. On May 5 members of the so-called G11 alliance headed by Abel Goumba--who lost the 1993 presidential contest to Mr Patasse--suspended their membership of the governing coalition in protest at the deaths of the three mutineers. The G11 had held nine of the 26 ministerial portfolios in the Gbezera-Bria government. Mr Goumba, whose own Front patriotique pour le progres (FPP) has been one of the most hardline opponents of Mr Patasse, accused the government of using the state security and intelligence services as "instruments of repression and crime". He called for the closure of some of these agencies. Only four G11 parties had held government posts: the FPP, the Alliance pour la democratie et le progres (ADP), the Mouvement pour la democratie et le developpement (MDD, founded by the former president, David Dacko) and the Rassemblement democratique centrafricain (RDC, led by another former head of state, Andre Kolingba, and the party closest to the mutineers). But these parties were the heart of hardline opposition to Mr Patasse. Their entry into government was a crucial achievement for Mr Gbezera-Bria; their withdrawal effectively ended his claims to be leading a government of national unity. However, the impact of the G11 move was dampened by the lack of public response to its call for a protest strike in Bangui on May 6, in contrast to a widely observed strike over salary arrears a few days later. Clearly, many workers saw the G11 action as little more than a spiteful attempt to gain party advantage from the killing of the mutineers. Mr Gbezera-Bria speeded the return to partisan squabbling by treating the G11 suspension of government membership as a definitive resig-nation, and promising a reshuffle to replace the G11 ministers, which only served to anger the opposition even more. Each side appeared anxious to blame the other for the collapse of the Bangui accords, the political compromise agreed in January in a bid to restore peace to the CAR. On May 19 the junior ministers appointed to represent mutineer interests, General Ndayen and Lieutenant Evariste-Martial Konzale, also resigned from government.

--despite public pressure for compromise

The party leaders' politicking inspired increasing frustration among the ordinary citizens of Bangui. The former president, David Dacko, so often a figure of moderate commonsense in Central African politics, called for calm in an interview with the Libreville-based Africa No 1 radio station on May 22, and appealed to the G11 ministers to return to government. He argued that the ministers should have registered their anger over the killing of the three rebels simply by staging a public walk-out from a cabinet meeting, rather than by pulling out altogether. "I think that if we change the composition of a government after two months, it projects an image of instability and a lack of seriousness to our foreign partners," Mr Dacko declared. These views seemed to be shared by many ordinary voters. Two days later, several hundred women marked Mother's Day by marching through the centre of Bangui calling for an end to fighting. They also urged the unions, which have staged several strikes, to work for peace in the workplace, and called on politicians to save the national unity government.

© 1997 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
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