Tonight at a public event in the UK Parliament there was a panel debate chaired by Lord McConnell with speeches from Peteris Ustubs – European External Action Service (EEAS), Dr Jose Bastos – MSF Spain and MSF International, and Caesar Poblicks – Conciliation Resources.
According to panellists the total population (4.5 million) in CAR are in need of some humanitarian aid and 25% of them are internally displaced, many of whom are in the bush and inaccessible.
To move from this to stabilisation four things are needed:
- The presence of troops
- Humanitarian assistance
- A restart of state activities
- The reestablishment of constitutional rule
MSF blasted numerous stakeholders including the UN agencies who’s response was slow and inefficient. And all highlighted the fact that even before the violence started, CAR was one of the worst off countries in the world, with every individual contracting malaria on an annual basis (IMC have since confirmed that malaria accounted for up to 50% of cases at their clinics during the rainy season).
Poblicks argued that this conflict was by no means due to religion. The misunderstanding, he said, is partly due to lazy reporting, but also the confusion of language with religion. Seleka commanders do not speak the local language, nor much French, and so they converse in Arabic. It was claimed some are from Chad. Therefore, they were perceived as Muslims and associated with Muslim groups in CAR. The extreme violence witnessed, according to Poblicks, is not simple retaliation, but rather a manifestation of identity politics. Where there is no legitimate political process, identity politics is known to be used to fill the void and garner support.
The political void and complete erosion of public services contributed to the breakdown of law and order. For instance, Poblicks told how in August 2013 a Government minister was stopped in Bangui on his way to work by a Seleka Commander. The Commander confiscated his car and made the minister walk to his office. Ustubs claimed that Seleka commanders had no political agenda of their own. Their proposal was a combination of no rule of law, no public services, an army that doesn’t obey the politicians and an increasingly nervous population: not a carefully planned massacre of one religion by another.
In 2003, the anti-Balaka group formed as a community vigilante group. With the lack of investment in the policy and army, this group received a lot of support until it became strong. But this group is not based on particular religious beliefs.
So where’s the hope? Catherine Samba-Panza has been called ‘a god given mother’. The panel asked the international community to ensure that the mother does not fail (or be perceived to fail) by supporting the establishment of a capable governing authority before they once again forget about CAR. The alternative, it was threatened, is a slow version of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
But as the audience asked, with other big crises taking place in the world (South Sudan, Syria, Philippines) how do we raise the profile of the crisis in CAR and improve the currently insufficient response? Several people have already tried to use the spectre of genocide to increase awareness of the crisis. As the panel said today this has the potential to divide and confuse the debate rather than galvanise stronger response. A legal discussion into whether or not the situation in CAR meets the definition of genocide as laid out in the Geneva Convention will distract from the real issue at hand. Whether or not the situation is genocide or even pre-genocidal: it’s terrible, a crime and many people are suffering and even dying as we speak. We need to act regardless.
Sadly there are some corners of the world that seem to fail to capture attention and CAR has long been one of them. Kristina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, and Valerie Amos, Head of UNOCHA, visited the country together taking the media with them. A donors’ conference on 20 January in Brussels raised 380m EUR (nothing in comparison to what was raised in Kuwait for the Syria response). But still the media take the easy option and fail to understand that violence has not broken out in every community, as one audience member said ‘not all of CAR is like Bossangoa’.
We need to all keep talking about and raising awareness of CAR.
Finally, the panel discussed the importance of a national reconciliation process. Anger exists as many feel abandoned and many more are left homeless and/or jobless. By reaching out to those communities, like in south Bangui, where people are living side by side and working together to protect themselves regardless of their religious affiliation, peaceful solutions can be found. And for that peace to be sustainable, it needs to be an inclusive process that allows for reconciliation, reconstruction and ultimately stability.
As Lord McConnell said in his closing remarks, it was ‘an outstanding hour and a half’.
For previous blogs by Aid Leap on the crisis in CAR, please see: