power imbalance

‘Central African Republic and Touadéra are being held hostage by the Wagner group mafia’

By Pacôme Pabandji

Premium badge Reserved for subscribers

Posted on June 15, 2023 12:22

 Crepin Mboli-Goumba, in 2013. © PATRICK FORT / AFP
Crepin Mboli-Goumba, in 2013. © PATRICK FORT / AFP

Standing firm against Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s draft constitutional reform, politician Crépin Mboli-Goumba and the opposition say they intend to continue the fight for democracy and against Russian private mercenary company Wagner’s stranglehold on the country.

Sitting on the terrace of his luxury flat in the 200 villas district in Bangui, the Central African Republic, Mboli-Goumba, sweating and holding a glass of juice, is on the phone. On the other end of the line is one of the leaders of the Central African opposition. The men are discussing the content of the constitution of the CAR, which Touadéra intends to have amended by referendum.

Mboli-Goumba is determined to thwart the president’s plans.

A year ago, the lawyer and former minister played an active role in founding the Bloc républicain pour la défense de la Constitution (BRDC), a platform bringing together opposition political parties and certain civil society associations.

He is the coordinator of the BRDC and is considered the number one opposition figure in Bangui. For Mboli-Goumba, the referendum, slated for the end of July, carries a major risk – the imposition of a life presidency for Touadéra – which the opposition must prevent.

The Africa Report: Faustin-Archange Touadéra has just announced the organisation of a constitutional referendum. What is the position of the opposition that you represent?

Crépin Mboli-Goumba: The President of the Republic decided illegally to call a referendum, even though the Constitutional Court had already ruled on the issue. The head of state’s plan had been deemed unconstitutional by the court, whose decisions are irrevocable, and by its president, Danièle Darlan.

The court itself cannot reverse a decision that has already been taken. And yet, to impose his plan, the head of state decided to declare war on Darlan and then sack her. We are in a situation where democratic gains are being revoked, more than 40 years after the tragedy of the martyrs under [former 1966-1976 CAR president Jean-Bédel] Bokassa.

We are back to square one, but we are not going to stand by and watch Touadéra impose a lifelong presidency for himself.

How do you intend to oppose this project?

The Constitutional Court had said that the Senate must be in place before a referendum could be called. To date, it is not, for the simple reason that local elections have still not taken place. We have been beyond the bounds of constitutional legality for a very long time. We are not going to stand idly by.

We have legal means. We have no weapons, but we do have the most powerful tools, which are the illegitimacy of the action and popular support. We are going to appeal to the people of the Central African Republic. We are calling for a national uprising because the risk today is clear.

What do you think prompted the president to stay with his idea of calling a referendum?

Faustin-Archange Touadéra is being held hostage. The word does not come from me, but I’m confirming it. The Central African Republic and Touadéra are being held hostage by a mafia – not a national but an international one – the Wagner group.

I remind you that the new president of the Constitutional Court, Jean-Pierre Waboé, was recently in Russia. The chairman of the National Elections Authority also signed a partnership agreement with the Russians. It’s clear what kind of democracy we are heading towards.

A third presidential term is not just in the interests of the president and his clan, but this mafia. There is a lot at stake behind this new draft constitution that goes beyond Touadéra. There will be no more democracy or free press.

The Wagner group is well known for being an outfit that sets up shop in a country to propagate its values. We are in danger, beyond the glaring issue of losing our country’s mining resources.

You seem to be saying that the Wagner group is now more powerful than the Central African state…

Clearly, the Central African Republic is an El Dorado (city of gold) for Wagner’s Russians. The Ndassima mines alone could earn Wagner more than $2bn. There is also iron to be mined and timber to be harvested – all without paying operating costs to the public treasury.

Not to mention the direct benefit that Wagner receives from it. This has enormous destabilising potential for the sub-region and beyond, which is why the fight we are waging must be supported by all those who share our universal values.

Does the opposition still have a role to play when many of its leaders are in exile?

It’s only natural that those who feel threatened go into hiding and take cover, but what we are defending is more important than our own lives. What we are defending is the survival of our nation. Those who remain are organising to continue the fight, so history will judge our effectiveness.

Your BRDC platform was intended to prevent the constitutional referendum from being held, but seems to have failed. What then is your strategy now?

Above all, we have created a means of hope, which is the BRDC. History will be the judge. We cannot reveal our strategy openly, especially to the media.

They are going to organise this referendum in Bangui and stage a farce to fool the international community. The result is already known, 99% will vote “in favour”. We have a plan against this, and you will find out more in the coming days. The opposition is certainly not going to take part in the referendum. That would be inconsistent on our part.

Our ambition is to do everything we can to prevent Touadéra from staying in power, which would be catastrophic for a country already in its death throes – it is at risk of disappearing altogether.

There's more to this story

Get unlimited access to our exclusive journalism and features today. Our award-winning team of correspondents and editors report from over 54 African countries, from Cape Town to Cairo, from Abidjan to Abuja to Addis Ababa. Africa. Unlocked.

Subscribe Now

cancel anytime