Let’s remember Central African Republic this Christmas and beyond

Fighting, pain and bloodshed. These are definitely not gifts that anyone would want to receive. Sadly this is exactly what happened to 2.5 million people in the Central African Republic (CAR) last year in December. Far from a month of peace and goodwill, instead fighting broke out and the country descended into chaos.

Violence between Seleka and anti-Balaka groups  forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, while thousands were either killed, abused or trapped in enclaves for their own safety. The crisis overwhelmed the capacity of CAR, a country that has been largely devoid of any state functions and neglected by the international community for decades.

Empty streets – Fear of attacks has driven many people from their homes in Bangui. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch

Twelve months on the conflict is ongoing and half the population needs emergency assistance. One in ten of CAR’s ‘pre-crisis’ population are now refugees in neighbouring countries. The situation remains precarious and deadly despite an international intervention to respond to humanitarian needs and protect civilians.

Without a serious commitment from the international community to provide the necessary human, financial and political resources to stabilise the country and prevent the continued suffering of civilians – CAR will remain exactly where it has been since independence – lost, in the heart of Africa.

The landlocked country in the heart of Africa is considered one of the poorest and least developed in the world, with the UNDP Human Development Index 2014 positioning it 185th out of 187 countries. Despite being resource rich, with vast amount of diamonds, CAR has struggled to break out of poverty due to conflict and the mismanagement of its resources by numerous leaders.

With such a bleak environment it is hard to see a way out. However even within such desperation and darkness there is hope and there are opportunities for breakthrough in the country.

Tearfund has been responding to the humanitarian crisis since the start of the year. To date we have been part of the humanitarian community’s efforts to transform lives as we have:

  • Provided food distributions to 3400 internally displaced people.
  • Distributed seeds and tools and provided agricultural training to 1000 households.
  • Trained 31 000 people on hygiene promotion to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea.
  • Distributed 7 565 000 litres of potable water.
  • Built or rehabilitated 370 latrines and 168 showers and 162 hand washing facilities.
Delivery of jerry can full of clean water at an IDP camp

Delivery of jerry can full of clean water at an IDP camp.  

However we know that humanitarian response alone is not enough. What is required in the CAR is long term political stability, good governance, and peaceful cohesive communities of all faiths and none. This is where advocacy can play such a crucial role.

In October 2014 Tearfund hosted the parliamentary visit of Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell to the CAR. It was a short but productive trip with a schedule that included visits to IDP camps and meetings with high political officials such as the interim President Catherine Samba Panza, Diane Corner deputy head of the UN peacekeeping force, and the interfaith delegation comprising of the Archbishop of Bangui, Chief Imam and the Head of the Evangelical Church. Lord McConnell’s blog was particularly popular in the Parliament blog-sphere and challenged the negative label that CAR has been given as a ‘pointless country’.

Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell meeting with interim President of CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza

Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell meeting with interim President of CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza

This visit was much more than just seeing people in poverty and meeting officials. Both Members of the House Lords, along with MPs in the House of Commons, have remained committed to the cause. Through their support and those of their colleagues in both the Houses, parliamentary scrutiny approved the extension of EUFOR – the EU peacekeeping force to support the UN as it was facing a shortfall in civilian protection troops.

There is still a long way to go. Advocacy is about the long game – building the steps for a better future. Within a complex political emergency like the CAR this is even more complicated. However Tearfund, like many other humanitarian organisations, is committed to seeing this nation reach its potential. In particular we are calling on the international community to;

  • Increase political engagement and support: Ensure the crisis remains on the regional and international political agenda by providing sustained support to an inclusive, comprehensive, and accountable peace process that links local-level with national-level dialogue and reconciliation and takes into account CAR’s refugees in neighbouring countries.
  • Increase funding: Announce new commitments to the humanitarian response, channelling resources to underfunded sectors including early recovery, protection, nutrition, education, and shelter/non-food items.
  • Invest in basic state services and development: Commit resources to reinforce and expand state services, and encourage and support the expansion of development activities.
  • Support the UN peacekeeping troops – MINUSCA: Identify troops and police contingents and mobilise necessary material resources, to ensure that MINUSCA reaches – and maintains – a fully operational capacity.

As we come up to one year on since the upsurge of violence many of the displaced people still live in constant  fear of reprisals. Security remains unpredictable as armed robberies continue on a daily basis in and around Bangui. Overall the nation is sitting on a time bomb and the constant threat of a further decline into violence and conflict lingers. Let us ensure that CAR does not slip into the neglected crises list.

 

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