Over 10,000 people across the Central African Republic have received services through a UN-led community violence reduction program. Offered services include vocational training, civics classes, and commercial education. A UN press release today included interviews with several recipients of the program’s services. Sylvie, who survived as a member of an armed gang, now learns skills like sewing in the hopes of opening her own tailoring business. “War destroys a country… I no longer need to take up arms,” she says. The UNOPS mission has given her the tools and insight to renounce a life of violence, along with countless others.
Acting head of UNOPS for the Central African Republic, Maurice Kamwanga Bindende, explains their approach. “Establishing a link between security, peace, and development is vital to bring about change,” he says. Employment strategies, coupled with a focus on national stability, have promoted a young generation of entrepreneurs with ambitions for a cohesive, cooperative Central African Republic.
This strategy is powerful, and presents an accelerated path out of the Central African Republic’s struggle with stability that has plagued it since the colonial era. “We need to show solidarity to one another,” says another ex-militant, Herman. Herman has used educational opportunities presented by the UNOPS program to kick-start his business and revitalize his own civic pride. Ultimately, symbiotic economic relationships and civic identity are the two most important ingredients for civic stability, and it’s encouraging to see militants choosing peace when given the right tools. The international community needs to focus on honing and supplying these tools everywhere civil stability is threatened. I think this highlights a factor that is underutilized in most conflict-resolution strategies. It’s well understood that people are unlikely to identify strongly with their society if it is failing to provide necessities, but it is equally important to remember that that economic security and civic responsibility do not necessarily go hand in hand.
The UN has been particularly committed to a cessation of hostilities inside the Central African Republic. Rebel leader Abdoulaye Miskine was hit with UN sanctions a few weeks ago in response to his failure to assume a government post which was granted to him during negotiations last year. In those negotiations, he represented a coalition of paramilitary groups, all vying for control and legitimacy. The Central African Republic has been plagued by periodic waves of violence and frequent revolutions, after a series of strongmen dictators failed to keep the economy and civil situation healthy. Throughout the decades, many rebel groups have waxed and waned, and today, there are more than a dozen- many of which were not invited to the negotiations with Bangui in 2019. Another leader hit with sanctions by the Security Council is Martin Koumtamadji, leader of the Democratic Front of the Central African People, accused of using child soldiers in conflicts.
The UN Security Council has been particularly focused on child soldiers and child casualties of conflicts. In the Central African Republic, many rebel leaders use children to fight, grow cash crops, or even sometimes extract diamonds for international sale. Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Philippe Goffin, suggested last month that the Security Council collaborate with the ICC in prosecuting violators of international law regarding the treatment of children. This was after Belgium had invited the African Union to speak to the Council about the violence in the Central African Republic, and about its work on the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic.
I predict that more collaboration between international bodies and local governments, businesses, and citizens, is the way forward for many areas of the world which remain plagued by sectarian violence. Coordination like the UN program mentioned above is heartening, and the principles in the strategy deserve wider application. Indeed, I can think of few places on Earth which would be worse off with more solidarity between citizens. It’s very possible that the seeds for the “African Century” are being planted now– the rest of the world should take notice, and emulate success.