A year ago this week Christian rebel forces swept through Bangui in an effort to oust the newly installed president, who was backed by mostly Muslim rebel groups. Civil war had been ongoing in Central African Republic for most of that year, but this battle in Bangui kickstarted a new ugly phase of ethnic conflict in CAR.
Since then, thousands have been killed and wounded, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced, affecting the entire country of 4.5 million people in some way, shape or form. It’s a “forgotten crisis”, some say, but I prefer this humanitarian worker’s assessment that it is more of “neglected crisis”. One only needs to look at the #CARcrisis hashtag on Twitter to get a sense of the magnitude of the complex crisis, and decision-makers across the world are well-aware of the situation. What are the effects of this negligence on the part of the international community? One year on, the Central African Republic is still nowhere near secure, and communities – not just in the CAR, but in neighboring countries – are suffering the consequences of inaction.
Conflicts like the one that has been gripping the Central African Republic have a pernicious effect on society – such a degree of upheaval, uncertainty, insecurity and the complete breakdown of institutions has inevitable long term consequences. The protracted effects of such a crisis on educational attainment, on the economy, on livelihoods, on people’s psyches, is difficult to measure, and in fact, will probably never be properly quantified. UNICEF estimates that 10,000 children have been forced into armed groups in the CAR, a true tragedy for the next generation, as the rehabilitation of former child soldiers is an enormous, complex and not always successful challenge.
The international reaction to the crisis in the Central African Republic was nevertheless swift – with France deploying troops quickly to its former colony to help stabilize the security situation – but the overall response been chronically under-funded and tepid, despite subsequent regional efforts to create a political space for negotiations to take place, and the deployment of EU, and later, UN troops in an expanded peacekeeping role. As an example, UNHCR and 15 partners presented a $209 million Regional Refugee Response Plan in 2014 . To date, the overall needs are only funded at 51%.
Today, the Central African Republic is by no means stabilized. Elections have not been held, and a specific calendar has not been finalized. There are constant incidents of violence – albeit not on the massive scale of late 2013 and early 2014 – which are contributing to the continued sense of insecurity. Nearly one year after their initial deployment, French troops are now beginning to draw down, at the same time as the UN force is moving towards its full capacity.
The magnitude of the crisis should not be underestimated, in spite of the fact that it isn’t grabbing headlines. The video below gives a sense of the regional impact of the CAR crisis, from a displacement perspective. A French military source told Voice of America that resolving the crisis will take years. “Look at Kosovo”, the source said, “that took 15 years. “It won’t be resolved by military means alone. It now needs a global approach that includes political, economic and judicial pillars.” In less than 20 years, there have been 13 regional or international peacekeeping operations in the Central African Republic, each one failing to fully bring about lasting peace. When will the international community get serious about helping rebuild the Central African Republic, broken from so many years of conflict?