“While the international community, French troops especially, think of withdrawing from the Central African Republic, we should act to reinforce international presence here”, says Beatrice Looijenga, interim Cordaid Country Director in the CAR. If the current insecurity situation and anarchy persists, “the upcoming general elections planned for October could become a catalyst for further conflict in the country and the region”, she says.
Cordaid runs a substantial aid program in the CAR, delivering health, educational, disaster response and other services to the population. We have continued our program activities in the past two and a half years of crisis, but blocked roads and rampant violence made it increasingly difficult. Looijenga: “The UN Mission, MINUSCA, has been deployed for the past 12 months. But armed groups continue to attack civilians. Political instability left 2.7 million people - more than half the population - in dire need of assistance. And the closure of the road to Cameroon last month leads to even higher shortages of basic resources.”
Meanwhile the transitional government takes advantage of the instability and shows little interest in organizing elections soon. Looijenga: “The population loses faith in current authorities, as they have been unable to deliver basic services, such as security. Fair elections provide an opportunity, but a strong presence of the international community until well after the polls is needed for that. Especially as inter-religious tensions remain high and armed Boko Haram groups have penetrated the country.”
Meanwhile France is considering to further reduce its troops by the end of this year. Looijenga: “But this is the time we should act to reinforce the presence of foreign troops. The conflict here is at heart a regional one, involving surrounding fragile states like Chad, Sudan and DRC. We do what we can to address deeper causes of instability, but international authorities need to step up and increase their positions in the CAR to support this at the political level.”
Looijenga sums up the main lessons of past interventions in the Central African Republic: “Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs must be fully funded and implemented. And international support to the post-election government must continue until well after the polls. Yet at the moment the country is forgotten by the international community, but not by armed groups and extremists. Aid agencies like Cordaid support the most fragile and affected populations, but in such an insecure environment we face increasing difficulties to reach them. The time to act is now.”