Central Africa Boils as Eyes (and Checkbooks) Focus on Sudan

While eyes, ears, and laptops are fixed on Sudan ahead of a delicate referendum on whether the country will remain united, it’s lesser-known neighbor, the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), continues to suffer two violent conflicts and severe humanitarian crisis without earning much more attention than newswire blurbs.

Aid agencies are currently pleading with donors to give more to save thousands of civilians who have fled fighting on two sides of the country. In the northeast, about 8,000 people have fled air raids in the town of Birao by joint Chadan and C.A.R. forces who are fighting rebels of the Convention des Patriotes Pour la Justice et la Paix (CPJP). Meanwhile, on the eastern edge of the country, C.A.R. forces are attempting to defend the local population from attacks by the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

What’s most disturbing about the violence in Central Africa is that this recent attack by the CPJP on Birao comes two weeks after the UN protection force, MINURCAT, completed its mission in the region. The Security Council, with Chad’s consent, ordered MINURCAT into the region to respond to the influx of refugees from Darfur, but did not believe that a peacekeeping force was needed in C.A.R. despite internal fighting in two parts of the country.

If the international community fails to address instability in C.A.R., the rumbling there could stunt efforts by authorities in Sudan to keep the peace in Western Bahr-el-Ghazal state ahead of the January 2011 referendum on southern independence.

Still, if C.A.R.’s violence does not affect Sudan directly this year, two other huge questions remain: Will violence escalate internally, or even spill-over to Chad? Will the lack of global support in diplomacy and aid now lead to an even greater need in the future? That all remains to be seen.