The prime minister of the Central African Republic (CAR) has been sacked against the backdrop of tensions between pro-Russian and pro-French factions within the government of the poor, unstable African country.
Presidency spokesperson Albert Yaloke Mokpeme told the AFP news agency on Monday that Henri-Marie Dondra was “fired” and replaced by his economy minister Felix Moloua, confirming a weekend report by online news website Africa Intelligence.
President Faustin-Archange Touadera was attending an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa at the time.
Dondra had been named prime minister in June 2021, shortly after Paris froze budgetary aid, accusing it of “complicity” in what it called a Russian “disinformation” campaign against the country’s former colonial master France.
Russia, French influence
Russia’s influence in the Central African Republic (CAR) has increased steadily over the past four years.
In late 2020, at Bangui’s request, Russian military contractors, alongside troops deployed by Rwanda, helped quell a rebellion against Touadera.
With their help, CAR government forces recaptured much of the two-thirds of the country –– and several major towns –– that the rebels previously controlled.
At the time of Dondra’s appointment as prime minister he was perceived as more “pro-French” than his predecessor Firmin Ngrebada, seen as more sympathetic to the Russians.
“Touadera had named Dondra because he was close to international donors and he had good relations with France,” said Roland Marchal, a researcher at Sciences Po university in Paris.
But Dondra had “little control” over the defence and foreign ministers, as well as the influential pro-Russian parliament speaker, Simplice Sarandji, Marchal, told AFP.
Moloua, the new prime minister, is considered a Touadera loyalist and a technocrat “with no political profile”, according to a diplomat who requested anonymity.
Trained as a demographer, the 64-year-old was the chief of staff at the Economy Ministry for eight years before being assigned the portfolio by Touadera in 2016.
Touadera is himself a technocrat, educated in France and Cameroon.
Civil war in poor country
Mineral-rich but rated the world’s second-poorest country according to the UN’s Human Development Index, the CAR has been chronically unstable since independence 60 years ago.
A civil war broke out in 2013, pitting myriad militias against a state on the verge of collapse, leaving thousands of people dead and forcing more than a quarter of the population of 4.9 million to flee their homes.
The fighting had lessened considerably in recent years, but it resumed abruptly when rebels launched their failed offensive to overthrow Touadera.
The UN accused both sides in the fighting of human rights abuses.
The private military contractors are often described as belonging to the “Wagner group” –– an entity with no known legal status.
Last week the European Union said it would resume a suspended military training mission in the CAR if the country’s soldiers stopped working for Wagner.