BY NAKE HAKEN AND HANNAH BLYTH
The Central African Republic (CAR) is a vast, beautiful land about the size of Texas, but with a fraction of its population. It is home to sprawling herds of forest elephants roaming the Dzanga-Ndoki national park along the Sangha River. Logging towns have sprung up where Muslim merchants sell bread and flip-flops. On the outskirts of town, Bayaka pygmies harvest honey, and play stringed instruments with their thumbs.
However, the people of CAR have also experienced some of the most abject cycles of violence, poverty and exploitation since gaining independence from France in 1960. The resource-rich and land-locked nation has often become a causality to the instability of its regional neighbors, which include Sudan, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Chad and Cameroon.
One of the prevailing drivers of insecurity is the presence of rebels from these neighboring countries. During 2013 and 2014, CAR was scene to the worst violence in the country’s history as fighting broke out between mostly Muslim Séléka rebels and government forces. Violence worsened in 2014 as anti-Séléka militias formed and started committing atrocities against Muslim communities throughout much of the country, leading to accusations of ethnic cleansing and incitement of genocide.
In the 2015 Index, CAR is now the third most fragile state, after South Sudan and Somalia, with a score of 111.9, up from number ninth in 2013 (105.3), when president François Bozizé was deposed and replaced briefly by Michel Djotodia until he resigned. The current interim heads of state, Catherine Samba-Panza who was appointed President in January 2014, along with CAR’s first Muslim Prime Minister Mahamat Kamout in August 2014, have not been able to bring about a lasting ceasefire amidst the sectarian violence. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, thousands killed, over 12,000 UN peacekeeping troops have been deployed, and GDP growth has plummeted.
Despite the overall worsening by 1.9 points in the 2015 Index, CAR’s Human Flight indicator improved, though not necessarily for the right reasons. The UNHCR estimates that there were more than 900,000 People of Concern residing within CAR by July 2014, including 535,000 Internally Displaced Persons. Yet in a population of 4.6 million people, UNHCR estimates there were less than 400,000 recognized refugees and asylum seekers collectively originating from CAR in the same period. The inability of the population to flee the country – whether this is due to poverty, internal insecurity or cross border constraints, highlights the severity of the challenges faced by the country.
CAR has long been fragile, fraught with coups, rebellions and spill over from regional conflicts. However the wave of widespread militant violence which has swept the country since 2013 represents a deepening of the insecurity on a new worrying scale. CAR has a long road ahead to beat the cycle of state fragility, however given the level of international attention it has received in the last year, there is still hope that 2015 will be better.