Central African Republic: beyond bitcoin, the arm wrestling between Touadéra and France intensifies

By Mathieu Olivier

Posted on Saturday, 14 May 2022 16:14
Central African Republic's President Faustin Archange Touadera is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel during the European Union - African Union summit in Brussels, Belgium, 17 February 2022. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

On April 22, Faustin-Archange Touadéra (FAT) enacted a law on cryptocurrency, making bitcoin an official and reference currency of the Central African Republic alongside – for now – the CFA franc.

Since then, Bangui has faced opposition from the Banque des États d’Afrique Centrale (BEAC), including its governor, Chad’s Abbas Mahamat Tolli. But FAT does not intend to back down and has planned to present the new Central African digital currency in a few days in Dubai.

In addition to the monetary and budgetary gamble – intended to give a boost to public finances that are in a catastrophic situation – the head of state is applying a strategy of breaking with France. According to our sources, this strategy has been pushed for months by five collaborators: ministers Sani Yalo, Pascal Bida Koyagbele, Fidèle Gouandjika and Rameaux-Claude Bireau, as well as his chief of staff Donatien Maleyombo.

An anti-French quintet

Bida Koyagbele, the minister of public works, is in fact the main architect of the so-called bitcoin reform – while finance minister Hervé Ndoba and prime minister Félix Moloua have stayed away from it, contenting themselves with respecting orders from the Renaissance Palace. According to our information, Ndoba even complained several times to his entourage that he had to defend a project that was more “political” than monetary in front of the BEAC.

The public works minister traveled several times to the United States, where the cryptocurrency was born, in order to discreetly set up the law adopted on 22 April. He was accompanied, in particular, by another very close advisor to FAT (at the rank of minister), Mauritian Sandra Boodhun. This businesswoman, who once worked in Miami, is now present on all the President’s international trips.

Pascal Bida Koyagbele, Fidèle Gouandjika (minister and special adviser), and Rameaux-Claude Bireau (defence minister) are among the personalities closest to Russian interests in Bangui and are regular interlocutors of Vitali Perfilev, the representative in the Central African Republic of the Wagner group – which is suspected by France of pushing Bangui towards a break with Paris. The three men also share connections in the diamond industry.

Behind the bitcoin, the breakup…

Above all, the same “group of five” sees the arm wrestling with France as a way to advance FAT’s constitutional reform project. The latter hopes to remove term limits, which would prevent him, at present, from running in the 2026 elections. But Paris has already made known its opposition in principle to such a plan.

“French diplomats are the primary opponent of a third term for Touadéra,” says a diplomatic source. “Beyond the financial, bitcoin is also a political poker move: either it works and FAT succeeds in freeing itself from the tutelage of France and the CFA franc, or it fails and Paris succeeds in putting Touadéra’s back against the wall by pressuring international financial bodies.”

According to our information, several of the head of state’s “pro-breakaway” advisers argue that French diplomacy manoeuvred to obtain the recent suspension of budgetary aid from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. “They claim that France wants to asphyxiate the Central African Republic to force Touadéra not to run again,” continues the source. “So, for them, achieving a break with Paris would mean opening the doors to a third term.”

… and re-election

In Bangui, opponents of a FAT third term are currently keeping a low profile, especially in the ranks of the presidential majority, where a constitutional revision could dampen many ambitions. Former prime minister Firmin Ngrebada, now a member of parliament again and still close to Wagner’s Russians, Henri-Marie Dondra, who has resigned from the presidential party Mouvement Cœurs Unis, and the president of the national assembly, Simplice Mathieu Sarandji, could be the first victims.

While Ngrebada and Sarandji may reluctantly step aside, Dondra seems more determined to play his card, each of these former occupants of the prime minister’s office still hopes to succeed the head of state in the 2026 presidential elections. Supporters of a third term are therefore working to prevent them from doing harm.

Donatien Maleyombo is one of the coordinators, from the presidential palace, of demonstrations in favour of FAT remaining in office (or protesting France and the United Nations presence in the Central African Republic).

The latter benefits from the support of Evariste Ngamana, party spokesperson and first vice-president of the national assembly, within the MCU. During the voting for the bureau of the national assembly, Ngamana received financial and political support from FAT, who wanted him closer to the ambitious Simplice Mathieu Sarandji (who is also secretary general of the MCU). Ngamana is also a regular contact for Russian mercenary boss Vitali Perfilev.

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