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Unrest in the
Central African Republic


Larger than France, with a population of just 4 million, the Central African Republic (CAR) is the world’s sixth poorest country. Increased insecurity and a series of uprisings in the north have plunged the country into a deep crisis.


The Central African Republic’s post-independence history has been plagued by political and military instability. In the last ten years in particular, a succession of coups d’état and mutinies has left the country in turmoil. Dense forests and porous borders make the CAR ideal terrain for highway bandits, who operate along the northern routes, paralysing economic activity and threatening the civilian population and, more recently, humanitarian workers.

To compound an already volatile situation, rebellions spearheaded by the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD) in the north-west and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) in the north-east erupted at the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006 respectively. Early in 2007, another rebel group, the Central African People’s Democratic Front (FDPC), resurfaced, seizing control of territory north of Kaga-Bandoro. Moreover, the crises in neighbouring Chad and Sudan have had spillover effects in the CAR.

The near-chronic unrest in the CAR is not just the result of a struggle for power nor just a symptom of a failed economic and social system. Rather, it stems from a complex combination of political, economic, social and cultural factors that have made it very difficult for peace initiatives to work.

Various political efforts to resolve the crisis have so far fallen short of success. Agreements reached by the government with the FDPC in Syrte and the UFDR in Birao have yet to be fully implemented. Meanwhile, there is no political settlement in sight between the government and the APRD, which continues to occupy territory, prolonging the population’s suffering.

Desperate times

Insecurity and political instability continue to undermine the economic and social development of the CAR, which remains one of the poorest countries in Africa despite its huge potential agricultural and mineral wealth.

In the last two years, the conflict between rebel movements and government forces has uprooted tens of thousands of people. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Caritas, around 280,000 people have been displaced within the CAR by the fighting that erupted in 2005 and 2006, while more than 65,000 people have sought refuge in Chad or Cameroon.

The clashes between the armed forces and the APRD rebels in the north-west have mainly affected the populations living in the prefectures of Ouham, Ouham Pendé and Nana-Grebizi. In Nana-Grebizi, tens of thousands of people, already weakened by the dire economic situation, have fled deep into the bush, where they are living in desperate conditions, exposed to the elements and without access to clean water, health care or basic necessities. Some of them are spending their second rainy season out in the open. Because of the prevailing insecurity, they are reluctant to return to their villages to rebuild their homes.

Aid agencies have arrived in force, including United Nations agencies (UNICEF, UNHCR, World Food Programme, etc.), international nongovernmental organizations and development cooperation agencies, all running programmes for conflict-affected populations under a still embryonic coordination system.

The Red Cross response

The ICRC has been active in the CAR since 1997, operating out of a mission in Bangui that depended on the regional delegation in Yaoundé (Cameroon). In response to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the north, the ICRC stepped up its operations in May 2007, upgrading its mission to a delegation and opening offices in Paoua in the north-west and Kaga-Bandoro and Birao in the north-east, as well as an outpost in Bangassou. Its reinforced presence enabled the organization to establish a regular dialogue with all the parties to the conflict and to develop a range of programmes, notably in the areas of protection of the civilian population and assistance to displaced people.

Assistance programmes are carried out in cooperation with the Central African Red Cross Society, whose proximity to the affected populations and the commitment of its volunteers have made it a key partner of the ICRC. On the basis of assessments conducted by the ICRC between January and May 2007, the number of beneficiaries of assistance programmes has been increased from 40,000 to more than 100,000.

Since the end of August 2007, more than 20,000 displaced people have been provided with tarpaulins, mattresses, buckets and soap. “At least 100 villages around the towns of Markounda, Paoua and Batanfago are receiving this assistance,” says Alphonse Zarambaud, relief coordinator with the Central African Red Cross.

The delegation is also involved in a project to improve the clean water supply in urban centres and in a rural community project initiated in cooperation with the Central African Red Cross Society in 2005 in the south-east of the country, near the border with Congo. In addition, the ICRC visits people deprived of their freedom, in particular those detained in connection with the conflict, and provides health and hygiene support to the detention centres in Bimbo and Ngaragba (Bangui).

In order to carry out its work effectively in the Central African Republic, the ICRC must continue to reinforce its partnership with the National Society and to maintain contacts with all the relevant parties, including the political, civil and military authorities and all arms bearers and armed groups. In a security context as fragile as this, the challenge is to ensure full and long-term acceptance of the ICRC and its work. According to Jean-Nicolas Marti, ICRC head of delegation in Bangui, “The more humanitarian actors there are in the field, the greater the risk to their security, especially in a volatile context such as this, where violence can erupt anywhere and at any moment.”

Near Paoua in north-western Central African Republic. This displaced child is living with his family in the forest in a makeshift shelter.






12 July 2006. Women sit outside a hospital 305 kilometres north of Bangui, in Bossangoa, Central African Republic.







The CAR in brief

Capital: Bangui
Neighbouring countries: Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, Sudan
Area: 622,984 square kilometres
President: François Bozizé
Population: 4.3 million
Official languages: French, Sangho
Main ethnic groups: Gbaya 33 per cent, Banda 27 per cent, Manja 13 per cent, Sara 10 per cent, Mboum 7 per cent, M’Baka 4 per cent, Yakoma 4 per cent, others 2 per cent
Religion: Indigenous beliefs 35 per cent, Protestant 25 per cent, Catholic 25 per cent,
Muslim 15 per cent
Exports: Diamonds, gold, cotton, coffee, tobacco

Latif Abdou Mbacke
Latif Abdou Mbacke is ICRC communication delegate based in Bangui.



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