The warnings from the Central African Republic are getting louder and louder. New fighting is having devastating consequences for its already devastated population. But is anyone listening?
A recent surge in violence has forced yet more hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, bringing the total number of refugees and internally displaced people to 540 000, up from 300 000 in September last year.
Information from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project suggests a more than 30% increase in violent incidents in May and June this year, compared with the period between January and April. Ominously, some incidents are in areas of the country that have previously escaped conflict.
Analysts speculate that the surge in violence may be connected to the withdrawal in late April of United States and Ugandan troops from the east of the country. They were there as part of international efforts to contain Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.
In a visit to conflict-affected areas last week, the United Nations humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien, spoke of the “needless rise of violence and its terrible, terrifying and harmful impact on children, women and men”.
“This trend puts at risk the hard-won gains made since 2015 when I was last here,” said O’Brien.
Complicating things further is that the two broad militia movements – the Muslim-dominated Seleka and largely Christian anti-balaka – are fragmenting into smaller, less cohesive groups, making peace talks nearly impossible. A June peace deal between the government and 13 militia groups collapsed the day after it was signed.
At the same time, it is getting harder for humanitarian organisations to provide emergency assistance to the estimated 2.4-million people (from a population of 4.9-million) in need.
“The space for humanitarian work is getting much narrower,” said Frédéric Manantsoa, the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) head of mission in the capital Bangui. “This crisis is not a new crisis, but we are worried about what happens now. We are especially worried that there is a ‘normalisation’ of this crisis, and when it’s normalised, then it becomes forgotten.”
Manantsoa said violence was just one factor making life difficult for the CAR’s civilian population. Others include economic difficulties – more than 70% of the country live on less than $1 a day – and the impending rainy season, which will make it much more difficult for people to access humanitarian facilities.
But security is still the major concern. “The security situation becomes worse day after day,” Manantsoa told the Mail & Guardian.
In one especially disturbing incident, two armed men raided the MSF hospital in the town of Zemio. After threatening a family that had been taking shelter at the hospital, one of the armed men shot a baby, killing her instantly.
The UN estimates that $399.5-million is needed to mount an effective humanitarian response. So far, just 30% of that has been raised.
The conflict in the CAR began in 2013 when Seleka rebels ousted former president François Bozizé. But the rebels were themselves toppled by a combination of anti-balaka resistance and international pressure, and the country was run by a transitional authority until the election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in February last year.
But despite high hopes, the new president has struggled to impose his authority.