Central African Republic Unions Strike for Democracy 1990-1993

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Timing
Time Period:  
March
1990
to
August
1993
Location and Goals
Country: 
Central African Republic
Location City/State/Province: 
Bangui
Goals: 
Worker and student unions campaigned for the payment of owed salaries, the formation of a multi-party national congress, and the resignation of President Kolingba.
 

After achieving independence from French colonial rule in 1960, the Central African Republic was controlled by a series of military coups. On 20 September 1981 General Anre Kolingba overthrew the authority of President Dacko.

Upon gaining control, Kolingba outlawed labor unions; there were no political parties. Kolingba cemented his power and created a façade of democratic rule, by drafting a constitution, being sworn into presidency in 1986, declaring his membership in the political party Rassemblement Démocratique Centrafricain (RDC), and forming a National Assembly.

In 1988, Kolingba lifted the ban of union activity, permitting workers to organize and strike if third-party mediation attempts between the union and employer had failed. In July 1989, Central African Republic workers held a National Constitutive Congress in Bangui, the country’s capitol. The approximately two hundred workers who attended created a national labor coalition: the Union Syndicale des Travailleurs de Centrafrique (USTC). By December 1989, the Ministry of the Interior had recognized sixty trade unions.

In March 1990 students and unemployed civil workers united to strike for economic and government reform. Some dissenters organized to form the Coordinating Committee for a National Congress (CCCN). The Coordinating Committee demanded a national Congress, open to political parties other than Kolingba’s Rassemblement Démocratique Centrafricain.

In May 1990 Kolingba publicly rejected the demands for a multi-party National Congress. Between May and August, the government detained supporters of a National Congress. During those months, The Coordinating Committee published open letters to the President demanding a national conference for multi-party democracy.

On 12 September 1990, Kolingba’s government arrested twenty-three Coordinating Committee members, who were meeting at the house of Aristide Sokambi. They had gathered to organize a demonstration planned for 20 September. Police also arrested General Timothee Malendoma who expressed sympathy with the Committee.

The next month thousands of teachers and health workers went on strike, demanding a pay raise. Another source states that they also demanded a multi-party national congress. After negotiations with the government were inconclusive, the Union Syndicale des Travailleurs de Centrafrique (USTC) declared a general strike in solidarity with the teachers and health workers on 21 November.

The government refused to recognize the strike, because they claimed that the negotiation had not followed the legal process. The government did not increase the teachers’ salaries, and the strike ended on 4 December.

On 22 April 1991, Kolingba stated that the formation of political parties other than Rassemblement Démocratique Centrafricain would be permitted.

On 29 April 1991, the National Labor Federation started a strike. The National Labor Federation was composed us five public trade unions encompassing the following sectors: education, health, rural development, and finance. Because teachers participated in the strike, classes stopped. The Federation demanded that the government provide them with their unpaid salaries from March and April of that year, and rehire five workers who had been suspended during the November strike. Prime Minister Edouard Frank asked the Federation strikers to resume work, but they continued to strike.

On 4 May 1991 hundreds of students coordinated a demonstration in Bangui in solidarity with the civil servants’ strike. They held signs saying “Pay our Parents” and “We want a right to education.” Police responded to the student protest with tear gas. After this police repression began, students began building barricades to block the major Bangui roads. Some of the demonstrators assaulted passersby and destroyed property. The federation of unions and the Central said that the perpetrators of the violence infiltrated the demonstration with intentions to undermine its purpose.

On 7 May Federation leaders met with Prime Minister Frank and presented their demands. The Federation denied responsibility for the violence that occurred on the May 4th protest. On 8 May the Federation declared that they would return to work on 26 May if the government had by then provided their unpaid salaries.

On 25 May the government provided civil servants with their March pay, and promised that they would provide April pay. On May 30, the Federation declared that the strike would continue because the government refused to provide them with payment for May during the time that they were on strike. On 1 June the Federation announced the continuation of the strike to its members. Some members expressed disappointment with the decision, and described it as a political move by the five union leaders. Around 20,000 civil servants did not resume work.

On 4 June, the private sector called a general strike in Bangui, which halted its economy for forty-eight hours. In this strike the public and private sector unions united in their demands for higher wages and critique of Kolingba.

That day police arrested two leaders of the Teachers Trade Union Federation, Messrs Jackson Mazette and Pierre Ngaga-Mangou. They also arrested Mr Germain Zoungala, the secretary-general of the Trade Union of the Public Works Ministry's Workers. On 5 June Prime Minister Frank again asked the workers to end their strike; Frank stated that, since the public servants’ demands had already been met, the worker had political motives for continuing the strike. Some in the private sector continued striking for the full week.

On 17 June students called for a general strike, with the demand of a multi-party national congress meeting to discuss the Central African Republic’s socio-economic issues. Again, Bangui’s economy was halted, as most public and private employees stayed home, including public transportation workers and private traders. The government took the federation of five public unions to court, charging them with continuing the strike for political purposes. On 21 June the court adjourned without conclusion.

On June 24-25 economic activity in Bangui again halted, as trade unions called for a general strike. Though students claimed that the strike would continue until the government relented, many private sector workers returned to their jobs after two days. On July 4-5, students and workers continued to demonstrate in Bangui.

Junior Minister for Public Security Augustin Mbanda said that demonstrators had attacked two undercover police who were searching for the trade union leader Theophyle Sonikole. Police used tear gas on demonstrators, and arrested thirty-four trade union leaders.

These leaders announced that the general strike should continue until Kolingba had agreed to hold a national conference to form an interim government and a multi-party election. On 7 July Prime Minister Frank announced the that the multi-party government had been incorporated into the Central African Republic constitution. The government also announced that they would dismiss public employees if they did not return to work the following day, 8 July.

On July 25, the Teachers Trade Union Federation called for teachers to strike and prevent classes from beginning on 1 August. The union demanded the release of the arrested trade union members, the removal of security forces from the Labor Exchange, and the full payment of wages from May and June, 1991. Teachers and students demonstrated in Bangui, constructing barricades. They also briefly held a French aid worker hostage, in an effort to gain French support for a national conference.

Police arrested some of the demonstrators, including student union leader Cyrus-Emmanuel Sandy. As the demonstrators calmed, the federation distributed pamphlets calling for another two-day strike the following week. On 31 July, the three union leaders who police arrested on 4 July received suspended sentences of one to one to two years in prison.

On 3 August 3 unions led strikes in the education and health sectors. Two days later, students demonstrated on the streets of Bangui, demanding that Prime Minister Edouard Frankand President Kolingba resign.

Strikes lessened in 1992, as the government began to negotiate with the unionists about arranging a national conference. In September 1992 Kolingba announced that an election would be held the next month.

Following two years of stalling, the Central African Republic government, under pressure from France, held a democratic and fair election in August 1993. Ange-Félix Patassé won the presidential election. On coming to office, Patassé paid twelve months of wages owed to civil servants.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Campaigns in nearby countries for democracy, such as Zambia and Zaire, may have influenced the Central African Republic campaign.(1)

Sources: 
“Central African Republic: Anatomy of a Phantom State.” 13 Dec 2007. Africa Report No. 136. International Crisis Group.

“International Labor Conference: Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations.” International Labour Office. Geneva. 77th session. 1990.

Freedom House, Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Central African Republic, 10 July 2008, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4912b61a21.html [accessed 31 March 2013]

"Central African Republic." Legal Concern. 20 Sept 1990. Amnesty International. Web Accessed 15 April 2013.

“Central Africa in Brief: Central African Republic police use tear-gas to disperse demonstrating students.” Radio France Internationale, Paris, in French 1230 gmt 4 Apr 1991. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 6 May 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Youth stone security forces.” Agence France Presse. 5 Aug 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Central Africa in Brief: CAR further arrests of trade union leaders.” Radio France Internationale, Paris, in French 1230 gmt 2 Aug 1991. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 5 Aug 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Police Battle Protesters in Central African Republic.” The Associated Press: International News. 5 Aug 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Central African Republic.” U.S. Dept. of State Dispatch. 1 Feb 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Security boosted in capital as tension mounts.” Agence France Presse. 6 May 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Government strikers harden stand.” Agence France Presse. 8 May 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“CAR RDC Statement Condemns Violence and Warns of Its Implications.” Radio Centrafricaine, Bangui, in French 1800 gmt 9 May 91. Part 4 The Middle East, Africa and Latin America. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 11 May 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“CAR public sector employees to continue strike.” AFP in French 1451 gmt 8 May 1991. Part 4 The Middle East, Africa and Latin America. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 11 May 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Central Africa in Brief: Civil servants’ strike continues in Central African Republic.” Radio France Internationale, Paris, in French 1230 gmt 10 Jun 1991. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 12 June 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“West and Central Africa in Brief: CAR Bangui ‘largely deserted’ after strike in support of national conference.” AFP in English 1645 gmt 17 Jun 1991. Part 4 The Middle East, Africa and Latin America BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 19 June 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Court Rules itself out of government union dispute.” Agence France Presse. 20 June 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“General Strike Announced.” Agence France Presse: Econews. 22 June 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Strike Closes Capital Down.” Agence France Presse: Econews. 24 June 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“West and Central Africa in Brief: CAR Bangui reportedly returns to ‘normal’” Africa No 1, Libreville, in French 1230 gmt 27 Jun 1991. Part 4 The Middle East, Africa and Latin America BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 19 June 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

Kopessoua, Raphael. “Leaders Vote for Multiparty Democracy, President Says He’d Not Afraid.” The Associated Press: International News. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Central African Republic Returns to Multiparty Democracy.” The Associated Press: International News. 7 July 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“CAR PM Calls for Return to Work; Trade Unionists Reportedly Persecuted.” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts: Radio France Internationale, Paris, in French. Part 4 The Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“West and Central Africa in Brief: CAR teachers’ union on strike over pay; arrests; army action.” Africa No 1, Libreville, in French 1230 gmt 22 Jul 1991. Part 4 The Middle East, Africa and Latin America BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 25 July 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Central African Union Leaders arrested amid schools’ strike.” Agence France Presse. 3 Aug 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Central Africa in Brief: CAR further arrests of trade union leaders.” Radio France Internationale, Paris. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 5 Aug 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Central Africa Republic Bangui a ‘ghost town’ following strike call.” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. Part 4 The Middle East, Africa and Latin America. 26 June 1991.

“Central Africa in Brief: Central African Republic payment to civil servants of some overdue salaries.” AFP in English 1433 gmt 25 May 91. Part 4 The Middle East, Africa and Latin America. 29 May 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Civil Servants Prolong Strike.” Agence France Presse. 30 May 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Private sector strike hits business.” Agence France Presse. 4 June 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

“Central Africa in Brief: CAR union federation urges workers to end strike; employers say strike illegal.” Radio Centrafricaine, Bangui, in French 1800 gmt 2 Jun 91. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 5 June 1991. Lexis Nexis. Web Accessed 10 April 2013.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Laura Rigell, 31/03/2013