Muzzled and threatened, Central African opposition struggles to surviveThu, 07 Mar 2024 21:56:27 GMT

One leading opposition figure faces a trial for defamation and an MP sits in jail over an alleged coup attempt in the Central African Republic where politicians who do not support the government are muzzled, face threats and say they feel abandoned by the West.President Faustin-Archange Touadera won a 2016 election during a lull in a seemingly endless civil war. Last July he pushed through a new constitution enabling him to run for a third term in office at next year’s election.The capital Bangui is already covered in posters lauding his achievements. There is not one poster in the name of the divided opposition.They are “systematically torn down,” said Nicolas Tiangaye, president of the main BRDC opposition grouping, the Republican Bloc for the Defence of the Constitution.Tiangaye is calling for a boycott of the election, following a boycott of the referendum on the constitution.Crepin Mboli-Goumba, coordinator for the PATRIE party, a major BRDC partner, wants the opposition to fight the election. First he has to deal with the high court where he faces a defamation hearing on March 13.Mboli-Goumba, also a lawyer, was this week released on bail after three days in detention, accused of defamation and contempt of court. He was arrested after accusing some magistrates of corruption.- ‘Enemies of the State’ -“People no longer dare to talk for fear of being treated as ‘enemies of the state’,” said a leading human rights activist, asking to remain anonymous.Enemy of the state is a favourite moniker deployed by groups close to the pro-Russian authorities, such as Galaxie Panafricaine. It often posts names, addresses and photographs of supposed state enemies on social media.Others, like Les Requins, or The Sharks, organise patrols, sometimes armed, and beat up suspects. A Shark leader, Heritier Doneng, was appointed the minister for youth in January.The government denies there is any harassment. “Members of the opposition can go about their business freely,” said Fidele Gouandjika, a minister adviser to Touadera.”The opposition is in the National Assembly, deputies are free to express themselves,” he added.Fewer than a dozen of the 140 deputies are opposition members. Parliament is dominated by the president’s all-powerful United Hearts Movement (MCU).Opposition deputy Dominique Yandocka has been in detention since December 15, despite his parliamentary immunity, accused of an attempted coup d’Etat.Details of the accusation have never been made public and no date has been set for him to appear in court.”When we try to demonstrate, we get battered,” said Yannick, a fisherman on the Oubangui river, who refused to give his full name.”Whoever you vote for, Touadera will win,” he told AFP.PATRIE leader Mboli-Goumba recently told AFP that daily life was marked by “intimidation, surveillance, death threats”.He also pointed a finger at Russia and the Wagner mercenary group.”I was followed by Wagner vehicles and they monitor opposition officials, sometimes with drones,” he said.Opposition gatherings are nearly always banned and those who defy the authorities are warned. A Galaxie Panafricaine leader, Blaise Kossimatchi, who is also an official in the ruling party, had threatened in December 2022 to “crush with 50,000 baseball bats the legs” of any protesters.Since 2020, “the intimidation has worsened and the opposition is resigned”, said Paul-Crescent Beninga, head of the Central African Institute of Social Sciences.Central Africa specialist Thierry Vircoulon noted a history full of rebellion and coups “between authoritarian rulers and armed groups”.- ‘Abandoned’ -“The opposition has never really been able to develop,” said Vircoulon, from The French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).”We feel abandoned by the international community in the face of an authoritarian regime,” Mboli-Goumba said in December.France had remained very influential in Bangui and maintained a military presence following independence in 1960.But it pulled back after a large number of Wagner troops arrived in 2020 and probably saved Touadera from rebels who were at the gates of the capital.In exchange Wagner is allowed to mine gold, diamonds and wood.France withdrew its last troops from CAR in December 2022.