Newly released U.N. data suggests that violence decreased in the Central African Republic in the aftermath of a peace deal between the government and armed groups in February 2019. While it is yet unclear whether this peace deal will be successful in the long-term, this represents a small bit of hope for the Central African Republic, which has been entrenched in a civil war since 2012.
Organizations including the U.N., USAID and Mercy Corps have been providing humanitarian aid in the Central African Republic, and a successful peace agreement may change the humanitarian context in the country.
In December 2012, armed Muslim groups, organized into a coalition known as the Seleka, attacked the Central African Republic government, seizing the capital city and staging a coup in early 2013. Anti-Balaka — Christian armed forces — rose up in response, committing violence against primarily Muslim civilians and contributing to the displacement of innocent citizens.
Although the new government officially disbanded Seleka forces, many ex-Seleka fighters initiated revenge attacks. Both the ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka groups have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to the U.N. and other human rights groups. The continuing violence caused thousands of deaths.
The government maintains control of the capital, but armed groups who continued fighting dominate the rest of the nation. In addition to ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka forces, a number of other armed groups joined the conflict, many of which were already in existence. These include The Central African Armed Forces (FACA), Revolution and Justice (RJ), The Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC), The Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), The Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ), Union of Republican Forces (UFR), The Popular Front for Recovery (FPR) and The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The widespread conflict caused by these groups has had disastrous effects on the economy of the Central African Republic, causing approximately three-quarters of the population to live in poverty, with nearly 650,000 civilians displaced.
In response to the crisis, several international actors became active in the nation, providing humanitarian aid in the Central African Republic.
Mercy Corps began working in the Central African Republic in 2007, in response to its already high poverty rate. It estimates that 2.9 million people in the Central African Republic need humanitarian assistance, noting that basic services, including clean water, health care and education, are scarce.
In the Central African Republic, some of the work that Mercy Corps does involves providing assistance to displaced families, operating support centers for victims of gender-based violence, leading child protection committees, constructing wells to provide clean water and training community leaders to manage disputes and help maintain peace.
In addition to Mercy Corps, USAID also provides humanitarian aid in the Central African Republic primarily through funding for humanitarian partners. USAID helps fund programs by organizations such as Oxfam, Plan International and UNICEF in the Central African Republic to provide relief to victims of violence and displacement.
According to USAID, the U.S. government provides the most humanitarian funding to the Central African Republic, with more than $173 million provided in 2018 and early 2019. Following the U.S. are Germany and the European Commission, both contributing just over $50 million. Other countries, including Sweden, the United Kingdom and Canada, also made significant contributions.
Finally, the U.N. is active in the Central African Republic through its peacekeeping organization known as MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic). MINUSCA was established to protect civilians and disarm militia fighters. The U.N. has 15,000 personnel providing humanitarian aid in the Central African Republic and working towards peace.
The government and 14 armed groups reached a peace deal in February 2019, after talks began on Jan. 24. Though whether the deal will ultimately be successful is still unknown, this represents a crucial step in ending the cycles of violence that kept the Central African Republic trapped in poverty and suffering.
In the aftermath of the peace deal, MINUSCA noted that between January and June 2019 there were only 565 incidents of human rights violations or abuse, including rapes, violent attacks and the recruitment of children into armed groups. Between January and June in 2018, there were 1,674, nearly three times as many incidents. MINUSCA is reluctant to be optimistic, however, as peace talks failed in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Musa Gassama, the director of the human rights division of MINUSCA, stated the armed groups still control much of the nation.
The U.N. Special Representative for the Central African Republic, Parfait Onanga-Nyanga, noted that support from the international community is crucial to successfully implementing a peace agreement.
A successful peace deal would not stop the need for humanitarian aid in the Central African Republic in the near future, but it could alter the humanitarian context. Increased assistance may actually be needed if peace is achieved. Indeed, internally displaced persons and refugees will need assistance in returning to their homes and re-establishing their lives there.
The need for humanitarian aid in the Central African Republic will continue to be high, even in the aftermath of the conflict. Hopefully, organizations such as USAID and Mercy Corps will continue to be active in the nation, adapting to new contexts and working to benefit as many civilians as possible.
– Sara Olk