Sta­bil­ity eludes CAR de­spite peace­ful poll

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

BAN­GUI — As ri­val gun­men tight­ened their stran­gle­hold on Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic dur­ing three years of in­ter-religious blood­shed, women like Madeleine Nzanga be­came, and re­main, life­lines for the na­tion’s war-weary peo­ple.

Each day she crosses the Ubangi River to Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo to bring back essentials -- even fire­wood and man­ioc, the lo­cal sta­ple food -- that have grown scarce since mili­tias seized the coun­try­side.

She is rarely left alone to get on with her work, a sign of how hard it will be for the coun­try’s newly-elected pres­i­dent to re­store sta­bil­ity.

“Dur­ing the shoot­ing, ev­ery­thing has to come across from Congo,” said Nzanga, a trader at Port Sao, a strip of sandy river­bank just up­stream from the tum­ble­down cap­i­tal Ban­gui.

“We are dis­cour­aged. We buy and try to sell at the mar­ket and the ban­dits steal from us.”

Au­thor­i­ties on Satur­day an­nounced vic­tory for Faustin-ar­change Touadera in a Fe­bru­ary 14 pres­i­den­tial run-off, a re­sult that will see the for­mer prime min­is­ter tasked with drag­ging his na­tion back from the abyss.

The elec­tions, a pe­riod of rel­a­tive peace amid the cri­sis, and the con­ces­sion of de­feat by Touadera’s op­po­nent Anicet-ge­orges Do­loguele, have been lauded by ob­servers as an in­di­ca­tion the be­lea­guered na­tion is now ready to turn the page.

But un­less the new pres­i­dent can solve the rid­dle of how to wrest con­trol of the econ­omy back from the war­lords and re­verse decades of ne­glect and armed con­flict, of­fi­cials warn there is lit­tle like­li­hood the chaos will end.

“If we’re in this cy­cle of vi­o­lence, it’s due to the fact that there is no cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive to of­fer to the youth,” said Do­minique Said Pan­guindji, spokesman for the cur­rent tran­si­tional govern­ment.

Amid a decades-long dis­in­te­gra­tion of the state, once lu­cra­tive cot­ton and coffee sec­tors evap­o­rated. De­vel­op­ment of sig­nif­i­cant gold, di­a­mond and ura­nium re­sources was hob- bled by an end­less cy­cle of coups and re­bel­lions that have seen ma­jor in­vestors give the for­mer French colony a wide berth.

French nu­clear en­ergy group Areva pulled out of its Bak­ouma pro­ject in 2012 dur­ing the ex­plo­ration phase af­ter it was at­tacked by gun­men.

Then came 2013 when mainly Mus­lim Seleka rebels top­pled Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Boz­ize. Their abuses pro­voked a back­lash from Chris­tian so­called anti-bal­aka mili­tias. Thou­sands have died in the sub­se­quent vi­o­lence, and a fifth of the pop­u­la­tion has fled their homes.

That same year Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct shrank by an in­cred­i­ble 36 per­cent.

It now lies se­cond from the bot­tom of the U.N. Hu­man De­vel­op­ment In­dex with a $1.5 bil­lion econ­omy that is 300 times smaller than the rank­ing’s leader Nor­way, a coun­try with roughly the same size pop­u­la­tion.

No one is un­der any il­lu­sions as to dire state of Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic, not even those who had vied to lead it. The ques­tion is how to turn things around.

“This is no longer a coun­try. It’s a ter­ri­tory. There’s no state. There’s no ad­min­is­tra­tion. There’s noth­ing left,” Do­loguele, a for­mer banker who has served in re­gional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, told Reuters be­fore the elec­tion.

The scraps of an econ­omy that do con­tinue to ex­ist out­side of the cap­i­tal have been hi­jacked by armed groups.

Fight­ers from all of the ri­val fac­tions man check­points on roads, levy­ing il­le­gal taxes. Peace­keep­ers from an 11,000-troop strong U.N. mis­sion es­cort some goods con­voys, but trucks that break down are of­ten sim­ply left be­hind to be looted.

River traders like Nzanga are forced to pay anti-bal­aka gun­men along the Ubangi or risk be­ing fired upon from the shore. In the past, ves­sels have been cap­tured and their pas­sen­gers held to ran­som.

“If you don’t have money, the coun­try can’t de­velop. A coun­try needs peo­ple work­ing. It needs trade,” she said.

A De­cem­ber re­port by a panel of ex­perts charged with mon­i­tor­ing com­pli­ance with U.N. sanc­tions found rebel and mili­tia com­man­ders con­trolled bor­der cross­ings, smug­gling routes and the trade in ev­ery­thing from sugar and coffee to gold and di­a­monds.

Loos­en­ing the war­lords’ grip on the econ­omy will re­quire dis­arm­ing their men, a process that typ­i­cally sees donors fund costly de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion pro­grammes that es­sen­tially pay fight­ers to hand over guns.

How­ever, eight pre­vi­ous failed at­tempts to do this over the years have not in­spired con­fi­dence that this time will be any dif­fer­ent. And faced with lim­ited re­sources in a coun­try with lit­tle strate­gic im­por­tance, donors are choos­ing their bat­tles care­fully.

“The needs out­strip fund­ing in pretty much ev­ery de­vel­op­ment sec­tor. So the ques­tion is where do you pri­ori­tise to have some kind of im­pact,” said one Ban­gui-based diplo­mat.

Al­ready heav­ily re­liant upon for­eign aid and hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies be­fore the cur­rent cri­sis, the needs in Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic are even greater now.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity fi­nanced 40 per­cent of the cur­rent tran­si­tional govern­ment’s 2015 bud­get, which did lit­tle more than cover run­ning costs and the salaries of civil ser­vants.

The new lead­er­ship will need to find the funds to re­build the army, re­de­ploy civil ser­vants and be­gin to re­ha­bil­i­tate crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture to cre­ate con­di­tions for the econ­omy to start func­tion­ing again.

Jean-christophe Car­ret, coun­try man­ager for the World Bank which places em­pha­sis on sup­port­ing failed states, said any at­tempt to re­verse decades of de­cline will take years but there is hope that the elec­tions will mean a new be­gin­ning.

“The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will not solve Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic’s prob­lems for it. Maybe with the new regime there will be an op­por­tu­nity to start from scratch and try some­thing dif­fer­ent. We will be there ready to help,” he said .

— Reuters

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