Oxfam says half the 4.8 million population of the Central African Republic needs humanitarian assistance.

Oxfam says half the 4.8 million population of the Central African Republic needs humanitarian assistance.

Open Doors International

The President of the Evangelical Alliance in the Central African Republic has praised the international community’s pledge of US$2.2 billion to help reconstruct a county ravaged by three years of civil war.

Around 80 donors, meeting in Brussels on 17 November, pledged the sum over three years.

The Central African Republic has been beset by violence since December 2012, when a coalition of Muslim-dominated rebel groups, led by Michel Djotodia under the Séléka banner, moved through the country to eventually drive out President Francois Bozizé in March 2013.

Djotodia took control of a transitional government, but lost control of Séléka soldiers, who engaged in widespread killing of civilians, burning and looting of homes, and other serious crimes in which Christians were specifically targeted, while Muslims and mosques were largely spared. Human-rights watchdog groups reported that Séléka militants had killed hundreds of people and driven tens of thousands from their homes.

Djotodia formally disbanded Séléka in September 2013, but rebel violence continued and throughout 2013 was increasingly met by the rise of self-defense forces, called Anti-Balaka (“Anti-Machete”). The African Union, European Union, and France deployed in and around Bangui. Fearing “genocidal interfaith civil war”, in October the leaders of the country’s 4 million Christians issued a joint statement declaring the military assistance “ineffective”, and called for a more robust international response. The United Nations sent a peacekeeping force in April 2014 and in September the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic had assumed command over the regional military units, a 10,000-soldier force.

Djotodia resigned in January 2014, replaced by the Parliament-appointed Catherine Samba Panza as interim president. Anti-Balaka continued a revenge campaign of ethnic cleansing in western CAR, forcing Séléka to retreat to the northeast. Many hundreds of Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, were killed, and tens of thousands fled. In July 2014, the armed groups signed a peace agreement in Brazzavile, the capital of the neighbouring Republic of the Congo.

Fighting now is mostly “within and between the militias for land and resource control”, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its 2015 Annual Report. The country is largely partitioned between Christian and Muslim populations; Anti-Balaka continue to dominate the south and west, while Séléka elements dominate the north and east.

Tensions between the two have been exacerbated by the power vacuum outside the capital, where UN peacekeeping troops are less prevalent, and beyond the reach of the interim government. Battles between the two movements have been holding local populations hostage.

What’s the situation now?

The CAR remains unstable. Violence is almost daily, particularly in the northern and north-eastern regions, which are still under the control of armed groups. One recent outbreak of violence in Bria, 400km northeast the capital, Bangui, reportedly claimed up to 85 lives. Last month, 37 people were killed during an attack on a refugee camp in Kaga Bandoro – in the remote north.

Three of the country’s topmost religious leaders, Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, the President of the Evangelical Alliance; Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the Islamic Community; and Mgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui, were among the CAR delegation in Brussels.

In the midst of three years of violence, often portrayed as a religious conflict, the clerics formed a joint ‘platform’ to promote peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. Their message: violence in CAR is not primarily a religious conflict; instead, the root of the conflict lies in the struggle for political power.Left to right: Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, Msgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou received the 2015 Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize for their peace-keeping efforts.

Left to right:
Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, Msgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou received the 2015 Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize for their peace-keeping efforts.

World Watch Monitor

Rev. Guerekoyamé-Gbangou welcomed the commitment of donors. “The international community has listened to the people of the Central African Republic by promising this package for the next three years in order to help us raise our heads,” he said.

“Goodwill gestures on the part of my compatriots are necessary: efficient and effective actions of the authorities through dynamic socio-economic structures, etc.

“We will challenge each other in case of need in the interest of the Central African people in our capacity as ministers of God. Finally, I would like to call on my compatriots to say that peace is not an empty word. It is a behaviour that must be translated into action, every day, so that peace reigns in this country.”

The Archbishop of Bangui, recently raised to the rank of cardinal by Pope Francis for his commitment to peace in the Central African Republic, also called for a good response from Central Africans.

“The Central African Republic has a future and this future begins at first in the … heart of the Central Africans, before the international community intervenes,” he said in an interview with RFI

“Central Africans must say, ‘It’s time to build this country … It’s time to see this country and work for the interest of this country.'”

Pledges of support

Ahead of the meeting in Brussels, UK-based charity Oxfam warned that “the people of Central African Republic cannot face another year of the present dire situation which has left half of the 4.8 million population in need of humanitarian assistance.

“The UN appeal fund is still only 32% funded as we near the end of this year. One of the poorest countries in the world, the people are in extreme need: two million people are struggling to find enough to eat; 65% of the population lacks access to safe drinking water; more than 800,000 people have been forced from their homes, either internally displaced within the country or driven into neighboring countries – all of them having to start new lives from nothing.”

Ferran Puig, Oxfam’s Central African Republic Country Director, said: “Despite peaceful presidential and legislative elections earlier this year, a large part of the territory remains under the control of armed groups which continue to perpetrate violence against civilians. Recently, a new wave of violence in the capital, Bangui, and in the north of the country has rapidly aggravated the security situation…

“Over the last five years, four donor meetings held in Brussels have simply resulted in unmet pledges leaving the country to relapse into new crises. As well as a bigger humanitarian response, we need to see peace-building and development work that can take a longer term approach for the rebuilding of the country. Donors need to provide the necessary funds immediately.”

Oxfam said the latest donor meeting has the potential to be an important step in restoring peace and security, and reviving the economy, but that donors need to show both a long-term commitment and provide flexible funding.

The World Bank has pledged $500 million over the next three years. It says it will “support public finances management, reintegration of former combatants and displaced population and job creation through a large road reopening and the relaunch of the agriculture sector”.

“The CAR, one of the poorest and most fragile countries in the world, emerges from one of the harshest crises in its history but is now faced with a unique opportunity to usher in a period of peace, stability and sustainable development,” said Makhtar Diop, the World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region. “Given the country’s extensive recovery needs, this unprecedented effort is an investment for the future. With political will, and strong coordination with other partners, the CAR can become a post-conflict reconstruction success story.”