The Central African Republic at a glance

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Still off the humanitarian radar

This year, DARA selected the Central African Republic (CAR) as a pilot mission. During the field mission (19-26 November 2009), a new survey and other research tools were tested. Below is a summary of the main findings of our field visit to CAR.

The crisis in CAR has for many years been erroneously seen as a spillover from conflicts in DRC, Chad, Sudan and Uganda. Such an analysis overlooks the reality of CAR. In a country of some 4.4 million people, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that in January 2010 there were 197,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in addition to an estimated 160,000 refugees in neighbouring countries and some 8,500 Chadian and Sudanese refugees. At least a fourth of the population is affected by conflict and food insecurity. Most are dispersed, invisible and very hard to reach. CAR is slipping deeper into chaos.

The international community’s commitment to peacekeeping has been limited, if not tokenistic. Peacekeeping interventions have not primarily focused on restoration of security within CAR but included the country within the context of conflicts in Darfur and Chad. In January 2010, the government of Chad asked the UN to withdraw the UN Mission in Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), triggering discussions which led to revision of its mandate and a Security Council decision to wind up MINURCAT operations at the end of 2010.This reduction in international engagement is despite access problems to wide areas of the country.

By October 2010, only 44 percent of US$144 million requested by the 2010 Consolidated Appeal (CAP) had been made available. The largest share (21.9 percent) has come from carryover from 2009. The US has provided 13.6 percent, followed by CERF, the European Commission and the UK. France, which once contributed a larger share of humanitarian aid to CAR, has so far offered only US$2.1 million. There are hardly any donors with permanent representation in Bangui – the US, France and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).

HRI interviewees consistently criticised donors for failing to focus on humanitarian needs and prioritizing development programmes in spite of the difficult circumstances in most parts of the country. A typical comment was that “development initiatives currently promoted are premature. Much more work is needed before there is enough local capacity to maintain services at an acceptable level.” Many others lamented lack of support for humanitarian interventions, describing the response as “inadequate, inappropriate and unadapted”. “Donors don’t see CAR as an emergency”. There is concern that funds are channeled mainly to the conflict areas in the north while minimal funding reaches the equally impoverished west and south. The need for better integration of relief aid and development programmes was constantly reiterated during interviews.

Many of those interviewed also expressed concerns that the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) does not provide support for enhancing organisational capacity or meeting operational – and particularly security-related – costs and that it may be biased towards approval of requests from UN agencies. Interviewees generally reported that managers of the CHF were transparent in explaining funding decisions and in providing information, although they lacked a clear strategy during the absence of a Humanitarian Coordinator. Funds are very limited and the competition for CHF support is intense. One interviewee described the process as “a meat market”.

Most of those interviewed described ECHO and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) as the best donors. ECHO’s stable presence in Bangui has been helpful to boost partnership and facilitate coordination. ECHO is also seen as the most coherent of the donors, integrating aid strategies with the development policies of the EC. DFID’s willingness to provide financial assistance to improve capacity of its partners was also welcomed. Some interviewees praised the US and French ambassadors for their consistent pressure for humanitarian access.

Humanitarian actors stress that the main challenge is currently related to protection. Even if elements within the CAR government do agree to prioritise protection, they lack the capacity to do so. Many of those interviewed would like to see much greater donor engagement in advocacy to ensure local authorities effectively address protection issues. When it comes to explaining donor lack of interest in the CAR, interviewees offered the HRI team several explanations. Many noted that the previous Humanitarian Coordinator was instrumental in placing the humanitarian needs of CAR at the forefront of donor attention. In late 2008, however, he departed and a year’s delay in appointing a successor helps explain the decline in donor contributions. Others, however, spread the blame wider, one arguing that “the reduction in available funding in 2009 is due to poor fundraising and advocacy by the humanitarian community in CAR, not to divergence of funds to other crises.” Others suggest, however, donor attention has moved elsewhere as a result of over-optimism following signing of the Libreville peace accord in 2008.

There are positive developments in CAR. The government and its main opponents have not reverted to full-scale civil war. Some armed combatants are being demobilised. Mechanisms to integrate humanitarian and development work have been established. Relief activities in some parts of CAR are providing assistance and early recovery support to communities severely affected by the conflict. In 2009, the Paris Club cancelled a significant amount of CAR debt. The CAR government has formally undertaken to commit itself to the transparency principles set out in the Paris Declaration and created a mechanism (DAD République centrafricaine) to allow for greater monitoring of aid management and facilitate aid coordination. However, for the time being, the deterioration of the humanitarian crisis, postponement of presidential elections and the withdrawal of MINURCAT have heightened uncertainties.

It is important for donors to:

  • End the funding volatility of recent years by making long-term commitments;
  • Build on the potential for timely, strategic disbursements demonstrated by the CHF and ensure it is sufficiently funded;
  • Emulate the integrated relief-development approach of ECHO;
  • Ensure that all projects have a cross-cutting peace building.

The Central African Republic at a glance

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