In the Central African Republic (CAR), a country in the heart of the African continent, rebel militias continue to run amok in an estimated 80% of the country. Arbitrary violence, torture, weaponized rape, and displacement have been daily occurrences for the citizens of the CAR, with as many as half a million Central Africans fleeing to neighbouring countries and 700,000 displaced internally. Now the ongoing conflict is creating a severe food shortage in the landlocked nation, according to reports from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) and the World Food Programme (WFP). In a report on the current and projected food situation in the CAR, the IPC estimates that 1.8 million people are in dire need of food. The report highlighted that the country is currently in the “lean” season, which lasts from from May until August, when food stocks are low before the new harvest, a reality which has been made significantly worse by the cumulative years of unrest and anarchy.
A spokesperson for the WFP, Herve Verhoosel, said that internally displaced peoples are entirely reliant on international assistance in order to receive basic food and nutrition. Attacks on aid workers and supply convoys coupled with unsound infrastructure and a general lack of security and stability all contribute to the burgeoning humanitarian crisis. Gian Carlo Cirri, the WFP Country Director, said that currently “we rely on armed escorts to bring in our food.” Speaking specifically of the conditions for children in the CAR, Caryl Stern of UNICEF USA explained that “this is the most dangerous place in the world for children. [It is] the most dangerous [because] the conflict and the violence here prevent supplies from getting through. There is an alarming rate of malnutrition in the country as a result,” adding that as many as two in every three children need humanitarian aid.
CNN recently published an investigation into the conditions on the ground for Central Africans living amid the turmoil. Reporters visited a camp at Bria, where 65,000 people are camped in the hope of getting access to food and remaining in the limited protecting of the UN Mission to the CAR (MINUSCA). One mother, Lavender Clarence, described to CNN how the camp was closer to a prison than a sanctuary, but chances of survival were even lower beyond the bounds of the camp at Bria, where there was every chance of rape, torture, or murder. She had already witnessed the arbitrary murder of her husband, and sought refuge in the camp with her children. There are few men in the camps; many have been killed in front of their families or have signed up with the various rebel militia groups. Unfortunately, there is nothing exceptional about Lavender’s plight, as such testimonies of violence are plentiful.
This state of affairs stands no chance of improving without a significant allocation of resource and attention. MINUSCA has been deployed with only 13,000 UN blue helmets to cover the entire country, and even they have faced allegations of sexual abuse since deployment. As Simon Tisdall noted in the Observer, however, this is not a high priority conflict for the international community. Unlike other protracted wars, the Israeli-Palestine conflict for example, there is little geopolitical stake in resolving this issue. Peace should not, of course, be determined by political gain.
The government of the CAR is facing a crisis of trust, something which may be redressed in part by the recently established domestic Special Criminal Court. The Court will soon begin its operations and try cases for war crimes and crimes against humanity, a welcome and necessary step on the path to justice and peace. There has long been little impunity for those who commit atrocities, and fair prosecutions will be essential to regaining popular trust in the power of peaceful governance. It is also essential that this civil war does not go overlooked in the international media. The situation is such that without increased and sustained intervention, the suffering of Central Africans and the severity of displacement will only worsen.
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