In the course of its young history, the Central African Republic has known many dark hours. Now the country is facing its worst crisis.
In this failed state, entire swathes of land are given over to violence by armed gangs. Looting, the recruitment of child soldiers, burnt villages, rapes, summary executions – civilians are paying a high price. One in 10 people have already had to flee their homes. Infant mortality, already very high, is on the rise. The impact of instability on farming portends a possible food crisis. The healthcare system is dilapidated, with only seven surgeons for five million inhabitants. The climate of fear is coupled with the imminent threat of a humanitarian disaster.
In this potentially rich and terribly poor land, where a certain harmony traditionally reigned between different groups and religious persuasions, inter-ethnic and sectarian tensions are on the rise. The hostility between Christians and Muslims has already led to several deaths. A spiral of hatred, pitting inhabitants against one another, is looming on the horizon; it must be avoided at all costs.
This tragic situation threatens to destabilise the entire region. The Central African Republic does not bear this name by chance: it lies at the crossroads of the Great Lakes Region, the two Sudans, Cameroon, Chad and the Congo.
The entire continent stands to lose if it becomes a haven for armed criminal gangs or terrorist groups. Experience has taught us how dangerous it is to allow the development of “grey areas” sheltering traffickers and terrorist groups from other countries. The gravity of this situation, as President Hollande emphasised in his speech to the UN in September, is leading that body to speak of the threat of genocide.
The countries of central Africa and the African Union are mobilised. Neither indifference nor inaction are options.
What should be done?
First, obtain a commitment from the citizens of the country themselves. Local authorities are responsible for ensuring law and order and protecting civilians. They must fulfil their commitments: carry out the political transition and hold elections by early 2015, as provided in international agreements.
A strong commitment from the international community is essential. This involves immediate humanitarian support. The EU and the UN are working to that end. France alone is devoting millions of euros to relief efforts in the areas of food and health. These efforts should support the work of the NGOs notably the NGOs of the CAR, which are courageously working to help the people who are suffering the most.
But improving the humanitarian situation is obviously inseparable from the urgent need to restore security. All players – political as well as humanitarian – share this view. Africa is at the forefront and has started to intervene. First, the neighbouring countries and the entire region: in July, the African Union decided to deploy an African force which France supports. The international community must support the build-up of this force, in all areas, including by financing it.
France, together with the African Union, has made international mobilisation in support of the CAR a priority. It’s about preventing a tragic situation and supporting the people of the CAR and their African partners in their efforts to help the CAR, while avoiding the mistakes of the past. We don’t want to pay for and suffer the price of doing nothing, which will be much higher tomorrow.
France will deliver. It will take action, in accordance with the law and together with its partners, notably its European partners, so that, a year after the start of the rebellion, the CAR can regain hope.