If you cannot beat them, join them, or even better, ask them to join you. The president of the Central African Republic, which has been overrun by rebels of the Seleka Coalition in its northern and central provinces, has asked rebels to join his government. It is doubtful if President François Bozizé would have been as magnanimous in his gesture of truce had the rebels not been so close to the capital, Bangui. Mr Bozizé, however, does not want his offer to be interpreted as a sign of nervousness. He has justified his terms on the basis of a specific reason — that of his being a “democrat”. Evidently, Mr Bozizé wants his people and the world to believe that democracy obliges the holder of power to be accommodating, which is not entirely untrue. But it is questionable if democracy also obliges the elected president of a nation — besieged by a marauding force which has shown no remorse in perpetrating enormous brutality on the people — to accommodate troublemakers for the simple reason that it is the most convenient option. Mr Bozizé may have been forced to consider this option because his army has been incapable of stemming the tide. He has also found little help forthcoming from CAR’s former colonial master, France, or from other African nations. Other than safeguarding their own citizens and “interests”, the powers are unwilling to get involved in the internal affairs of CAR. There is a multinational peacekeeping force on its soil, but its numbers are inadequate. Neither the Western powers nor CAR’s own neighbours such as Chad or South Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Economic Community of Central African States are in any particular hurry to increase the forces. Mr Bozizé’s plan for a national unity government — that allows him to keep up democratic pretences while sharing with the rebels the spoils of office — thus seems a reasonably good idea. The question is, will that restore peace to the troubled nation?
By CAR’s own experience, the answer is no. Adversaries who know that their opponent is weak enough to bend to their wishes invariably run out of the enthusiasm to make good the promises they make. That has proved true for CAR, its neighbours, and may prove as true for Afghanistan, whose president has made a similar magnanimous offer to the Taliban.