As of April 27th, 2021, UNICEF reports that an estimated 738,000 people, half of whom are children, are internally displaced across the Central African Republic (CAR) due to continuing violence and instability—the country’s highest number of child displacement since 2014. Following the turbulent presidential and parliamentary elections held this past December, the CAR’s humanitarian and security condition has worsened in a country where a quarter of the population was already displaced.
According to the most recent UNICEF figures, at least 168,000 children were forced to flee their homes as a result of the post-election violence, in which 70,000 of them have not been able to return. A rather concerning fact, given that children separated from their families are at greater risk of human rights violations such as being kidnapped, threatened, or coerced into joining armed forces and groups. Indeed, according to UNICEF, the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and organizations remains the most serious violation of children’s rights in CAR, accounting for 584 of the 792 cases of confirmed grave violations recorded in 2020.
In the run-up to the December 27th elections, six rebel groups (3R, FPRC, MPC, UPC, and the Mokom and Ndomaté Anti-Balaka wings) formed the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) to launch a series of attacks across the country in an effort to derail the elections and depose President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. An initiative that former President Francois Bozizé has been accused of supporting, despite his repeated denials of involvement to date. In January, the CPC seized control over many towns and villages, blocked the country’s main trading route, and targeted the suburbs of the capital city Bangui, triggering further displacement in the country’s western, central, and southern regions.
Touadéra, however, was re-elected president on January 4th, amid opposition groups’ claims of fraud, which were ultimately dismissed by the constitutional court. While many ordinary citizens were pleased with the election results, the danger posed by the CPC, now enraged by Touadéra’s win, was quickly realized and feared, prompting more people to flee to neighbouring countries, most notably the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon.
Emerging conflict developments, however, are not unprecedented in CAR, but rather reflect a decades-long pattern of corruption and instability that has ravaged the country, especially since the civil war erupted in 2013, plunging CAR into a spiral of violence that has displaced over 1.5 million civilians. Moreover, the conflict is not only exacerbating the humanitarian situation, but it is also impeding the delivery and access to humanitarian aid, which has been reduced or temporarily suspended in recent years due to outbreaks of violence. Multiple armed groups scattered throughout the country have been primarily responsible for pervasive insecurity as they vie for influence and control over the country’s natural resources. This insecurity has mostly, if not directly, contributed to the vast number of displacements in recent years, including the 200,000 who have fled since December 2020.
Though foreign troops and U.N. peacekeepers are present in CAR to help the CAR government fight against large groups of heavily armed and well-organized militias, the people of CAR want to live without fear more than anything. With that said, some observers believe that the only way forward seems to be to revive a 2019 peace deal, which requires president Touadéra and former president Bozizé as well as the armed groups, to come together. However, the armed group’s refusal to cooperate with Touadéra’s government over the last year appears to have hampered this possibility.
At this point, any effort to encourage productive dialogue between Touadéra and the political opposition is crucial for reconciliation and development, as well as for the livelihoods of those displaced by the conflict. What is perhaps most urgent right now is that humanitarian agencies and staff are able to reach the 2.8 million Central Africans in dire need of aid, necessitating an immediate cessation of hostilities by armed groups.