Confidential

Impact of COVID-19 on the MINUSCA Mission

MINUSCA

In this Grey Dynamics report, we will be focusing on the impact of COVID in the two areas above in the case of UN MINUSCA in the Central African Republic.

There is likely to be similarities in how officials go about assessing the risk from a new virus and the threat from terror, based on limited information. What we are finding out about the virus is that the science is far from black and white in this, we are learning new things about it all the time and will likely continue to do so for some while,” he said. “Even the main symptoms have not been fixed”.

Nigel Inkster, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank and a former director of operations and intelligence at MI6

The 21st Century biggest health crisis has affected every single aspect of reality. The “new normal” is here and even those sectors which are usually more hideous and where less information is available have been hardly hit: Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence.

Key Judgements

KJ-1. COVID-19 is a reality both for terrorism and counterterrorism which might force the balance into one or the other side

KJ-2. The impact of COVID-19 on tech will not be so hard for CAR due to by its already weak or even non-existent tech sector

KJ-3. The impact will be mostly economic and in terms of funding for which CAR will receive critiques either for investing in Counter-terrorism or anti-COVID measures

 

Why Does This Matter?

It is essential to take a look at a region like Africa anytime. Nevertheless, in this concrete moment of history, it is even more relevant, since the Pandemic might favour the conflict to one or another side. The UN and the African Governments do have the upper hand in the “game”. Nevertheless, with the abstract nature of the virus, every aspect has widely changed, and no one can be assumed to be leading any fight anywhere in the world. It is thus that this report analyses what might have changed in counterintelligence and counterterrorism in the CAR.

Background of UN MINUSCA

United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). It is headquartered in Bangui (capital of the Central African Republic). The mandate defines itself as “concerned with the security, humanitarian, human rights and political crisis in the Central African Republic and its regional implications” The protection of civilians is their most important priority.

Further tasks include:

  • Support for the transition process
  • Facilitating humanitarian assistance;  
  • Promotion and protection of human rights
  • Support for justice and the rule of law; and disarmament
  • Demobilization
  • Reintegration and repatriation processes
MINUSCA
This graph does not contain any Russian PMCs or government forces due it not being under UN mandate

Insurgents & Militias

  • ISCAP (Islamic State Central Africa Province)

    A Salafist jihadist group and proto-state not recognized by the international community. The date of founding and the territorial extent of the province is difficult to assess. At the same time, the military strength and activities of affiliated groups are questionable. According to media supporting the Islamic State and some other sources, this entity is present in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique.

  • Anti-Balaka 

    The Anti-Balakas are Christian militias formed in the Central African Republic after Michel Djotodia came to power in 2013. Some members were forcibly converted from Islam to Christianity.

In 2014 the CAR signed a treaty with 14 belligerent groups. Two weeks of talks in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, gave rise to the peace agreement that sought to end the acts of violence that began in 2013 when the rebels overthrew President François Bozizé. The following groups left the treaty in a multilateral declaration by the respective leaders accusing the President of not complying with the Agreement and making several demands for his return.

  • 3R (Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation) 

    This is one of the armed groups that signed the peace agreement in the Central African Republic abandoned it. They declared solidarity with the government due to COVID-19. The group led by Abbas Sidiki and one of the signatories of the peace agreement with the President of the Central African Republic (RCA), Faustin-Archange Touadéra, has announced its departure from it, after weeks of uncertainty.

  • FPRC (Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central Africa)

    Central African politico-military group founded in Birao (Vakaga) in August 2014 and born from the explosion of the Seleka.

  • FDPC

    A rebel movement, active in the Central African Republic whose leader is General Abdoulaye Miskine (real name Martin Koumtamadji), who is said to be of Chadian origin. This group appeared during the first Central African civil war. It did not belong to the ex-Séléka or the anti-Balaka. It is rife in the west of the Central African Republic and is said to be of the Ngama ethnic group, which is said to belong to the Saras.

Pre-pandemic Assessment (2015 ~ Sep. 2019)

Progress & Achievements

Until his relief on 15 December, MISCA reached a maximum of 6,023 troops. During this time, both contingents have protected the population in Bangui. However, most of their troops have deployed in different regions and cities throughout the country. The decision to relieve the African forces by the current United Nations responds to very different reasons, which refer to the limitations of its mandate and structure.

MINUSCA takes action since the beginning of the confrontations, both the African Union and the Central African Republic itself have called on the United Nations to be directly involved in the resolution of the conflict. Therefore, MINUSCA becomes the guarantor of the long-term stabilization of the country. Given the seriousness of the situation on the ground, the main obstacles to guaranteeing the immediate effectiveness of MINUSCA were the limited number of its contingent – the 7,500 troops represented only 65% ​​of what is authorized -, its deficiencies in critical military capabilities and, above all, everything, the logistical difficulties.

Concerning the monitoring mechanisms, some relevant signs of progress were made. These tools have been useful in helping to monitories. At that time, these mechanisms permitted, for example, the Muslim population to return to Bossangoa (City in the CAR). Disarmament and demobilization continued with 583 having being shut down since December 2018. There was also some progress in justice and reconciliation. Several participation consultancies were launched to better address citizens needs. Signs of progress were achieved with the help of UN Women and the Peacebuilding fund for a better quality of life for children, women and religious leaders.

Assessment

As President Mr Matijla stated in the Council meetings, all that progress has been made possible by the commitment of the Government, supported by MINUSCA, and of guarantors and other partners. “Despite this progress, fundamental challenges remained which, seriously hampered the collective efforts to stabilize the Central African Republic. Violations of human rights and international humanitarian law continued, although the number of incidents, attacks against civilians, sexual violence, restrictions on the freedom of movement and kidnappings had been halved over that past year.

Later on, in the same meeting Mr Chergui mentioned talked about the fact that despite the improved security situation, there were seen several cases of violations of the Agreement, including in Paoua on 21st of May and in September and in Birao in October, which resulted in considerable loss of life and which we have firmly and collectively condemned. These were the most critical interventions at the time which pictured a positive future, but a slow and limited process at the same time. At the time, not enough assets were assigned to the mission due to probably undervaluing the relevance and difficulty of the mission.

Inter-pandemic Assessment (Sep. 2019 ~)

According to the highest Security Organization latest reports on MINUSCA and CAR, no significant changes have been yet recognized in the inter-period. The next is the essential highlights which although seemingly far from counterterrorism and counter-intel operations might directly affect the same:

  • Working in tandem with national authorities:

    “Systematic checks at border entry points and the self-isolation of passengers from countries at risk to mass communication initiatives and the prohibition of mass gatherings and movements.”

  • Reinforcement measures:

    “Few commercial flights, humanitarian flights, cargo flights, aircraft in difficulty and for technical stopovers without disembarkation; restrictions on the operation of educational establishments, places of recreation conducting mourning and marriage ceremonies; movement restrictions from Bangui to the provinces”. 

  • Temporary suspension of leave and the return to the Central African Republic of staff

Assessment

According to the UN Counter-terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), next will be the short-term impacts for counter-terrorism.

  • Emergency Measures: this measures might interfere in Counterterrorism operations making the processes more difficult
  • Reallocation of Resources: As the CTED puts it “some Member States have already announced the reallocation of resources, including the withdrawal (or planned withdrawal) of foreign armed forces involved in operations against ISIL and Al-Qaida,14 and the relocation of armed forces to support domestic pandemic relief efforts”.
  • Travel & Trade Restrictions: Big impact on humanitarian organizations with a massive negative impact on IDPs and refugees.
  • Prison Releasement: Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus, some states released individuals, an action of a possible negative impact.
  • Health Protocols: more strict protocols with better IA used for containing the virus might make counterintelligence work easier in using it for counterterrorism purposes (digital surveillance).
  • Higher Disinformation Levels: As the CTED puts it COVID-19 Crisis is the perfect storm for the spread of misinformation.
  • A Captive Audience: As the CTED puts it “the global population, including over 1 billion students no longer in full-time education, two is spending more time online. The increase in the number of young people engaging in unsupervised Internet usage – particularly on gaming platforms – offers terrorist groups an opportunity to expose a greater number of people to their ideas.”
  • Furthering narratives: As the CTED puts it “a wide variety of terrorist groups have already integrated COVID-19 into their narratives and propaganda, seeking to exploit current events for their purposes and to use the pandemic to exploit divisions and weaknesses among their enemies.”
  • Alternative service providers: As the CTED puts itimpacts on operational activities. Limitations imposed by Governments on citizens’ freedom of movement have resulted in far fewer crowded spaces, potentially reducing the effectiveness of common terrorist tactics; stabbings, bombings and vehicle ramming.”
  • Impacts on operational activities: As the CTED puts it “limitations imposed by Governments on citizens’ freedom of movement have resulted in far fewer crowded spaces, potentially reducing the effectiveness of common terrorist tactics, include stabbings, bombings and vehicle ramming.”
  • Impacts on resources: As the CTED puts it “because of disrupted global, regional and national supply chains, terrorist groups (particularly those operating in remote areas) may struggle to access food, medicine, money and weapons reliably.”
  • Impacts on popularity: As the CTED “the overwhelming focus on COVID-19 may temporarily reduce the media attention given to terrorist attacks, potentially reducing their wider terrorizing or radicalizing impact.”

Image: MINUSCA / Twitter (link)

Author

Javier Olaechea

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