Since the 2013 coup in the Central African Republic (CAR), the World Bank has supported stabilization efforts to prevent the state from collapsing. Following the signature of an ambitious Peace Accord in 2019 that heralded a sharp decline in violence and ahead of a double electoral cycle, the CAR is now at a critical inflection point that demands steadfast commitment from development partners.
As a landlocked country bordered by unstable neighbors, the CAR is one of the poorest and most fragile countries in the world. With a population of 5.4 million in a territory the size of France and Benelux combined, the CAR finds itself at the very bottom of the Human Capital and Human Development indices. The country has been caught in a cycle of recurrent violence since the 1970s. Institutions are weak, citizens lack access to basic services, the infrastructure deficit is enormous, gender-based violence is widespread, and more than one million people in 2019 were displaced.
The CAR’s long-standing conflict has expressed itself through repeated violent clashes between armed groups competing for resources, and with a state not capable of maintaining law and order. The core business of armed groups includes illegally exploiting diamonds, smuggling weapons, protecting or resisting seasonal transhumance, and levying taxes on a population terrorized and victimized by widespread sexual violence. State attempts to impose itself throughout the vast territory are limited by weak capacity and legitimacy, coupled with poor connectivity and access. The security of the CAR citizens rests with the UN peace-keeping force (MINUSCA), which struggles with logistical challenges of its own, and the continuous trade-off between the use of dialogue and the use of military force.
The international community recognized the turn-around opportunity for the CAR and invested significantly. In an unprecedented 2016 donor effort, the World Bank Group emerged as the leading development partner. A National Development Plan was adopted in 2017, and donors deployed resources in support of the CAR’s priorities, namely defining a path toward stabilization, peace, and social cohesion; increasing state capacity and decision making; strengthening the social contract; and enabling economic recovery and connectivity.
The CAR gained access to the International Development Association (IDA) Turn-Around Regime under IDA17 and IDA18, and from 2016 to 2020, the WBG more than tripled its portfolio commitments. The Bank Group more than doubled its in-country staff presence, and thanks to the strategic partnership with MINUSCA, dramatically expanded its geographic reach well beyond the capital, Bangui. The new WBG Country Partnership Framework covering July 2020 to June 2025 was approved by the WBG Executive Board in September 2020.
Bank-supported programs in the CAR are organized along the country’s four priorities:
Path toward stabilization, peace, and social cohesion
The Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program and the economic reintegration of former combatants is critical to the 2019 Peace Accord. Some 950 demobilized ex-combatants have completed vocational training and accessed livelihood opportunities. The goal is to reach 4,000 ex-combatants by 2022.
Since 2016, 1.3 million temporary jobs for vulnerable youth have been provided. Another 2.9 million are envisioned between 2020 and 2022.
To support the reintegration of internally displaced people, the program is helping host communities through on-going cash transfers to 15,800 host households and funding for over 60 small infrastructure projects (such as schools, boreholes, and street lighting) through the end of 2021.
Increased state capacity and decision making
Policy reform has been supported in strategic sectors to improve government accountability, including the recovery of basic tools for budget management and transparency and decreased use of exceptional spending procedures, which was less than 10 percent at the end of 2019, down from 80 percent in 2013. A new public financial management system has also been rolled out.
A series of surveys conducted from 2018 to 2020 are providing the first data for decision-making in 11 years. Household surveys are to follow.
Stronger social contract
Delivery of water and energy services (including solar) in Bangui and key cities has improved, with 250,000 people receiving new or improved electricity services in 2020. The goal is to reach at least 2 million people by 2025.
The government has committed to free healthcare (through the budget support) and has increased the delivery of health care services to vulnerable people. Essential health services were provided to 6.2 million beneficiaries (cumulative) between 2012 and 2019.
Teacher effectiveness is improving thanks to primary teachers being trained on new harmonized curricula. Since 2019, 7,200 teachers have been trained in academic inspectorates, well surpassing the initial target of 5,800 teachers trained by 2023. In addition, 178 school principals were trained, working toward the target of 1,500 principals trained by 2023. Schools infrastructure building is at a pilot phase in Bangui and it is expected to target 300,000 children enrolled in primary education by end 2023.
Economic recovery and connectivity
Paving of the critical Bangui-Douala trade corridor (36 of 56 km of road so far) has improved connectivity and trade. Construction is expected to be completed by February 2021.
Construction or rehabilitation of 805 km of rural roads from 2016 to 2020 has restored access to production basins. A total of 1,500 km is targeted by 2025.
Key agricultural value chains have been revived, including through a road map for the cotton sector (with the IFC).
Efforts to strengthen governance in the mining and forestry sectors are under way.
Bank Group Contribution
As of August 2020, the IDA lending portfolio in the CAR consists of 15 national projects with a total commitment of $563.5 million, and two regional projects with a total commitment of $231 million. The national portfolio includes a $150 million package in budget support, aimed at supporting core government functions and institutions to enable effective service delivery to citizens. Active projects span a wide variety of sectors, including health, education, energy, water, transport, agriculture, environment, public financial management, and statistics. IDA financing has been complemented by recipient-executed trust funds, including the Global Partnership for Education and the Global Environment Facility. Governance work has been supported by the Bank-Executed Human Rights Trust Fund. The IFC provides trust-funded advisory services to strengthen access to finance in the cotton sector, complimenting an IDA-funded agri-business project.
The CAR is highly dependent on foreign assistance across the security-humanitarian-development axis, dwarfing the country’s own resources. As such, country ownership poses obvious challenges and partner coordination is key. A small group called “G5,” chaired by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and head of MINUSCA, brings together the most influential partners on a weekly basis to share information and coordinate positions. The G5 is composed of MINUSCA, European Union (EU), African Union, United States, Russia, Economic Community of Central African States, and the WBG. These meetings foster a collaborative environment and help ensure a sustained joint approach in supporting the CAR’s recovery and stabilization process.
The quality of development coordination varies by sector, with the health sector providing examples of good practice. The two main donors, the WBG and EU, have worked closely with the government to develop a geographical division of labor for their respective health projects and to coordinate on policy actions under their respective budget support programs.
The WBG-MINUSCA partnership is also robust and produces innovative approaches that strengthen the security-development nexus and seek to capitalize on the peace dividend. At a logistical level, the partnership with MINUSCA allows the WBG to work in less-secure areas outside of Bangui, where the use of community-driven approaches is prevalent. The strategic value of the partnership lies in the opportunity to integrate development interventions into on-going peace negotiations, with the goal of bringing development results and a peace dividend as a powerful incentive to end hostilities.
The CAR’s progress towards stabilization and sustainable development is not a straight line and the country’s turn-around is a slow process. Despite recent development progress, the CAR’s overall fragility outlook in 2018 was not substantially different from that of 2016. Nevertheless, under the Peace Accord signed in February 2019, the window of opportunity remains open. Although it has its challenges, the peace process does enjoy broad support from the international community and has reduced conflict-related violence. Political parties are increasingly turning their attention to the elections, which must conclude before April 2021. There is only one way forward for the CAR: to seize this inflection point and continue its journey toward recovery and stabilization, buoyed by the urgent and unwavering commitment of the international community. In this critical moment, development actors, including the WBG, need to maintain their strong response.
As such, the CAR will access the IDA19 Turn-Around Allocation under the new five-year WBG Country Partnership Framework (July 2020 to June 2025). The framework focuses on a resilient and inclusive COVID-19 recovery amid a historic turn-around opportunity. The proposed program has been calibrated to fully address the CAR’s fragility drivers and is structured along two focus areas: 1) human capital and connectivity to boost stabilization, inclusion and resilience, and 2) economic management and improved governance to build state legitimacy and foster growth. Women empowerment and digitalization are cross-cutting priorities.
The CAR was one of the first countries in Africa to mandate the use of facial masks as a protective measure against COVID-19. Ten million masks meeting World Health Organization standards needed to be locally produced. In a record time, the IDA-financed project LONDO (meaning “stand-up in Sango)—currently the largest cash-for-work program in the country—was able to produce more than 7.7 million masks by mid-September 2020.
Among those who benefitted is Amal, a single mother of four children who lost her husband two years ago when he was hit by a stray bullet on his walk home from work. On the brink of poverty ever since, she has been delighted to find a temporary job. "I can make up to 700 masks a week, and I am able to earn about 140,000 FCFA per week," she explains. Amal is a seamstress by training but had not practiced her skills for a long time. With the money she has earned, Amal has started to repair her makeshift house where she lives with her children. She plans to use the rest of her savings to open her own sewing workshop one day.
For the CAR citizens who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, securing a livelihood is essential to realizing a better and safer future. Getting money directly into the hands of those who need it most—through cash for work and small business support—is an important first step on the path toward recovery and peace building in the country.