IPDs waiting for food in CAR’s north-western town of Bozoum. Oct 2017. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

A UN official has called for a new approach to end the still-deepening crisis in the Central African Republic.

The situation in CAR has been deteriorating for five years now, and in the next six months may grow even worse, according to the head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in CAR, Joseph Inganji.

Speaking to World Watch Monitor last week, Inganji called on “all actors to sit around the table to have a shared analysis and joint planning, in order to cut the vicious cycle of violence, and respond according to each other and everyone’s mandate”.

CAR fell into chaos on 24 March 2013 when a predominantly Muslim coalition of rebels, known as Séléka, ousted President François Bozizé and took power.

Six months later, in September 2013, Séléka’s leader, Michel Djotodia, who had proclaimed himself president, disbanded the group and in January 2014 resigned as president, to be replaced by Catherine Samba-Panza.

Yet during her two-year reign, and that of her successor, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, the conflict continued. More than 14 armed groups are currently active in CAR, together controlling around three quarters of territory.

Recent violence in the eastern village of Séko and its surroundings claimed 46 lives, including that of a priest. Father Joseph Désiré Angbabata, 49, was killed when UPC militants (a Séléka offshoot) stormed his Saint Charles LWANGA parish on Wednesday, 21 March.

Details provided by OCHA revealed that 10 children were among the victims, and as many as 19 villages were burnt down on the 100km stretch of road between Bambari and Ippy. As a result, thousands fled their homes and are now living in three newly built camps, including one within the compound of the Catholic Church in Séko, which alone is housing more than 5,000 people.

‘Guerrilla warfare’

Inganji told World Watch Monitor the protection of civilian remains a major concern and that, in the absence of a functioning national army (disbanded in 2013 when Séléka took power), the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has a key role. However, he said the UN peacekeepers need to change their modus operandi because the conflict has evolved.

“We have seen the fragmentation of armed groups,” he said. “These groups are adopting a guerrilla sort of warfare, while perpetrating gross violations of human rights.”

Injanji said development agencies must address the root causes of the conflict by turning their focus to conflict-resolution, reconciliation, security-sector reform and DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reinsertion).

He called on aid and development groups and peacekeepers to set “a peace-humanitarian-development nexus”.

The government must also play a key role, he said: “The government has the sovereign responsibility for protection of civilians. That’s why, with the deployment of prefects [administrators] in the remote areas, the FACA [CAR’s armed forces] should be deployed to ensure and reinforce the rule of law.

“Unless we all sit together to have a joint analysis, agreed way forward together with the government, and all actors in the theatre, the situation will continue to deteriorate in the coming days.”

Some 2.5 million people – more than half of CAR’s 4 million inhabitants – are now in need of humanitarian assistance, the highest per capita caseload globally, according to the UN.

Despite the deepening crisis, humanitarian funding is currently at its “worst” and “lowest” level, deplores Inganji. So far, only 2% of the $515.6 million dollars needed has been funded.

“If we’ve got nothing to provide assistance to the needy people, it means that these people will die because we cannot give them our empty hands,” he said. “People require water and sanitation; they require food; they require medicine, etc.”

The head of OCHA called on donors to step up funding for humanitarian and development needs, before warning: “If nothing is done, the international community will be forced in future to use more resources to address the situation. But if there’s funding for humanitarian – alongside development – actions, CAR will remain a model in the world where other countries can replicate the manner in which a crisis needs to be handled.”

‘A whole generation sacrificed’

The violence in CAR is often portrayed as a sectarian conflict, but the country’s top three religious leaders – who head up the CAR’s Interfaith Group – say the conflict relates more to land- and resource-grabbing.

On 20 March, during a briefing at the UN Office in Geneva, Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of the capital Bangui, denounced the “business of war” developed by armed groups in order to continue to exploit the resources of the country.

“Since 2013, children are no longer going to school in some regions,” he said. “Which kind of future are we preparing for this country with a whole generation sacrificed?”

Rev François Ndeckere Nzogbia (right) from CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, during a briefing at the UN Office in Geneva, 20 March 2018. (Photo: WEA)

Meanwhile, Imam Omar Kobine Layama, the president of the Islamic Conference in CAR, said “all our efforts remain vain because of the lack of security”.

The imam called on the reinforcement of the state, notably the national army, to accompany the UN peacekeepers already deployed in the country.

Finally the representative of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, François Ndeckere Nzogbia, welcomed the contribution of the international community towards the resolution of the crisis in CAR, but said more needs to be done:

“We need to be supported strongly in order to stop the acts of these warlords and criminals, who continue to kill central Africans on a daily basis. But unfortunately the echo is not raised loud enough to enable the world to know that somewhere in that world, men and women continue to be killed cowardly.”
The Geneva briefing was organised jointly by the World Evangelical Alliance and the Catholic charity Caritas International.

It was also attended by various key stakeholders, including the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum, who stressed the key role of the religious leaders:

“I want to insist on the importance of interreligious dialogue, which will enable each locality of CAR to move forward to listening, forgiveness and reconciliation.”