The Long March, really? Yes, but not that of Comrade Mao, which led him from Jiangxi to Shaanxi. A trifling 12,000 kilometers and an added bonus of 90,000 dead. No, in this case, the long march will be that of the Central African Republic to come out of the crisis in which the country is engulfed. This crisis started well before the current military operation conducted by France and its African partners. I remember, it was in April 1996. Crouching behind a wall with a reassuring thickness and deafened by the nearby firing by the soldiers who had mutinied against President Ange Félix Patassé, I wondered how CAR had come to this. The answer is not simple, because the situation is complicated, with a real multi-layering of long-standing and recent causes. That being said, there are potential solutions that will need to combine humanitarian aid with development assistance and give strong priority to the economy.
Understand before taking action
It is first necessary to understand the immediate situation, as there is a three-pronged security, political and humanitarian crisis going on in CAR today.
Security, with these outbreaks of violence. On the one side, there are the Séléka, a group of gangs comprising Central Africans, Chadians and Sudanese, who have either been abandoned or are tempted by the promise of booty. On the other side, there are the Anti-Balaka, which combine soldiers rallied behind the ousted president, François Bozizé, and village militia, which came into being as the result of insecurity in the countryside. The latter are indeed under threat from the Zarginas, who are Central African-style highway bandits, and from conflicts between Cameroonian and Chadian Fulbe-Mbororo, or between farmers and transhumant herders. This is without forgetting the poachers and Djanjawids, who have come from neighboring Sudan. What is even worse is that the former target more the Christians and the latter the Muslims, which makes some say that the country is engulfed in a religious war.
Politics, which are unfortunately consistent with the country’s history since its independence. Changes at the head of the State rarely take the path of elections. This is the case today with Bozizé, who was forced from power in March 2013 by the Séléka, as well as Djotodia, who was asked to withdraw last January by his French and Chadian sponsors. Consequently, both went into exile against their will and manipulate their supporters from a distance. As for the interim President, Samba Panza, she seems to be unable to control anything.
Humanitarian, finally, as there are estimated to be over 600,000 internally displaced persons and some 200,000 refugees in neighboring countries, i.e. almost one fifth of the population of the Central African Republic. This situation puts CAR on a par with Syria in the Guinness Book of Records. What is more, these populations only benefit from insufficient humanitarian aid, or no aid at all, due to the insecurity, which hinders the actors who deliver this aid, or even prevents them from going to a large part of the country.
All this is true, but there are roots that need to be uncovered in order to understand before taking action. Two points deserve attention.
The first is that CAR is an example of a development failure. Since independence, the country has been struggling to take advantage of its resources, and the material fate of its populations has hardly improved or, at best, it was during the short period between two successive crises. CAR is also ranked 180th out of 186 in the 2013 UNDP Human Development Index. This failure is primarily an economic failure. There was the collapse of coffee growing in the 1970s, the subsequent failures of oil palm programs, and the virtual disappearance of the cotton industry, which provided a livelihood for some 200,000 farmers. Consequently, outside Bangui and a few secondary towns, Central Africans continue to be mainly rural dwellers, confined to a rural economy of self-sufficiency. In terms of mineral resources, their exploitation is limited to diamonds and turned in on the informal sector due to misguided public policies. As for companies in the modern sector, their number has fallen from 250 in the 1990s to just a few dozen today.
There are three reasons for this economic failure. The first is due to the configuration of the country, which is vast and underpopulated, and to it being landlocked. The second results from the State’s inability to adopt appropriate policies and gather the human and financial resources to implement them. The third, finally, is that CAR has often been the orphan of international aid.
This development failure not only explains the poverty of the vast majority of communities, it also fuels the violence. Indeed, with no prospects of peaceful integration through employment and/or income, some, particularly young people, are driven towards activities between rebellion and banditry, which allow them to scrape a living and build a social status for themselves.
The second aspect of this failure can be put down to the State. It would be a euphemism to say that it conducts its missions little or badly. The truth is that the Central African State is nowhere to be seen in most of the country. Admittedly, the surface area of the country is equal to that of France and Belgium together, and the number of public servants, civilians and the military taken together, stands at some 25,000 people, including over 20,000 in Bangui and its immediate vicinity.
The Central African State is confined to the capital and is, in addition, extremely poor. Indeed, CAR’s taxation rate stands at approximately 9% of GDP, i.e. half the average for the other African countries. Consequently, civil society, particularly its religious entities, takes over to provide a minimum of services to populations as best it can, as well as foreign NGOs when the security situation allows this.
What is to be done? No, it is not a question of Lenin’s pamphlet here, as it was not previously with Mao Zedong, but, more prosaically, of issues raised by some, but still few, of those who are rushing to CAR’s bedside.
Although these issues are an integral part of addressing the Central African crisis, neither the restoration of security, nor the construction of a post-crisis political solution will be addressed here. The focus will therefore exclusively be on areas where the various components of aid can be implemented.
This implementation will inevitably take the form of an overlap between the humanitarian and development stages, as these needs coexist. Consequently, the aid will have to provide the affected communities with what they need to survive and, at the same time, prepare to support their return, when the security situation allows this, and finance the resumption of development. This is an area where, for example, Agence Française de Développement (AFD), in Chad and Southern Lebanon, has built up quite some experience. An effective overlap also requires the various operations to be closely coordinated, which is hardly the case today.
There is also an overlap in terms of the actors who should be supported. The State, of course, in proportion to the extent to which its capacity to fulfill its missions is rebuilt, but also civil society, particularly religious entities, as well as NGOs, which have been bridging the gap between humanitarian aid and development assistance for quite some time.
Priority to the economy
Giving priority to operations that have an economic impact does not mean that the social aspect must be left out. However, a post-crisis strategy that aims to eradicate its roots will give priority to the economy, i.e. to income and/or employment generation.
In-depth analyses alone will make it possible to specify the target. However, it is already necessary to initially give thought to DDR (Demobilization, Disarmament and Reinsertion) programs for combatants from all sides, despite the failures of previous interventions. IGA (income generating activities) are also required, especially in the form of high labor-intensive works. These are two areas where there are competent operators, whether NGOs or the German international cooperation agency, GIZ. Furthermore, AFD and the World Bank have acquired quite some experience in the country, in particular by financing urban road projects in Bangui.
In both cases, it would, however, involve operations that would have temporary effects. It will therefore be necessary to complete them with more classic, long-term development programs, initially by supporting the return of populations as security is restored, and then restarting activities. This involves targeting what is, and will continue to be, the Central African economy, i.e. activities in the informal sector, for which there are tried-and-tested tools, such as microfinance, and those of rural areas, therefore agriculture and livestock farming.
This priority to the economy is certainly well worth discussion, as some would be tempted to focus on covering basic social needs, such as health or education. It stems not only from the purpose of addressing some of the root causes of the crisis, but also from the need to make choices, unless sufficient resources are provided by aid, meaning that such choices are not necessary.
Chairman of the Fondation de France’s French Committee for International Solidarity