France belatedly intervened in the Central African Republic but few other EU member states showed any interest in the crisis and were reluctant to draw resources away from other parts of Africa.
Multiple crises had the potential to engulf central Africa at the start of 2013. Aggressive militia groups were active in the eastern DRC, Sudan and South Sudan remained on the brink of war, and the primarily Muslim Seleka rebel group threatened to overthrow the government in the CAR. The EU’s leverage in these crises varied considerably. Member states played a decreasing role in managing tensions between the Sudans, where China, the US, and the AU are now the decisive external actors. Britain and France played an important role in planning and mandating a new UN-flagged intervention brigade in the DRC, which defeated the main rebel group in the region. The curtailment of aid to Rwanda, which has backed the rebels, helped prepare the way for the UN’s offensive.
CAR proved to be the most vexing crisis of all. In December 2012, France, the former colonial power, had ruled out intervening to defend CAR’s government from Seleka. But, in March, the rebels seized the capital, Bangui, and French troops stood by as the country descended into chaos. Paris began to agitate for an intervention alongside African governments, but the UK, supported by the US, questioned the operational and financial viability of either an AU- or UN-led peacekeeping force in CAR – especially if this would draw resources away from Somalia. After the humanitarian situation in CAR worsened markedly in the second half of 2013, EU humanitarian officials argued for military action. After Britain and France resolved their differences, France intervened in December, backed by an AU force with substantial European Commission funding. But London and Washington continued to query the case for a larger and more expensive follow-on UN peacekeeping mission. While the UK had troops on standby as part of the EU Battlegroup system in the second half of 2013, it indicated that these would not be available for CAR, where violence increased despite the French deployment.