Read caption Angèle and her children fled armed fighting in PK5, a Muslim district in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. They are now living with a host family in another district in the capital. Photo: Chanel Igara/NRC

Where armed groups rule

Eline Anker|Published 19. Oct 2018|Edited 18. Oct 2018
Over 230,000 people were forced to flee their homes in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the first half of 2018. “It has gone from bad to worse and there are no signs of improvement,” says Eric Batonon, NRC country director.

In CAR, armed groups are competing for the control over power and resources. “It’s a really rich country, but unfortunately the population is very poor,” explains Batonon.

Intense violence and insecurity is part of everyday life of many Central Africans. Nearly 70 per cent of the country’s territory is controlled by armed groups. They are fighting to expand their control to new areas. Meanwhile, displacement is on the rise. Over 230,000 people were forced to flee their homes in CAR in the first half of 2018. There has also been an alarming increase in attacks on humanitarian workers. Insecurity is making it more difficult to access the many people in need.

Old friends become enemies

Romain Koundada, his wife and four children have fled several times. A couple of years ago, an armed group came to Bazanga, a district where they lived in the capital, Bangui. They burned down houses and brutally killed people. Romain even recognised some of the armed people’s faces: “When we were kids, we used to play together. We grew up together!”

  

Read caption Romain has fled violence several times. We met him in a settlement for internally displaced people in Bangui, the country’s capital, on 25 August, 2017. Photo: Alexis Huguet/NRC

    

Violence out of control

Although the formal conflict has ended, and peaceful elections were held in 2016, the situation got worse in the following year, with a 70 per cent increase in internal displacement. “In 2016 we were all thinking that it was the end of the crisis, but unfortunately, the situation has deteriorated,” says Batonon.

   

Read caption Country Director in the Central African Republic, Eric Batonon. Photo: Tiril Skarstein/NRC

    

“People are fleeing clashes, but also fleeing to prevent being caught in the clashes,” Batonon says. In 2018, violent conflict between different armed groups and the government expanded to areas that were previously calm.

“Before, parts of the country were spared by this crisis, but these regions are now experiencing violence and falling under the control of armed groups,” Batonon explains.

A particularly concerning issue, says Batonon, is that armed leaders of non-state groups have diminishing control over their own men. “We have people with guns who use them as pressure tools to enrich themselves. This can make the situation even more unstable and increase the use of violence.”

   

Read caption The road between Sibut and the capital, Bangui, in November 2014. Photo: Vincent Tremeau/NRC

  

Forced to flee again and again

Per September, 620,000 people are internally displaced and over 570,000 refugees are living in the neighbouring countries.

People are not fleeing for the first time, but the second and third time
Eric Batonon, Country director

People who are forced to flee find themselves lacking everything they need to survive, such as shelter and clean water: “We don’t have access to anything,” deplores Angèle, mother of six. “We don’t have a house, my children are exposed to the elements and we’re all sharing one water source, which isn’t enough to fill the needs of everyone living in this area.”

     

Read caption This is the home of a widow and her seven children. They have occupied a house in Bangui, after fleeing violence in their hometown. Photo: Alexis Huguet/NRC
The crisis in CAR

Since its independence in 1960, CAR has seen continuous political crises of dictatorship, military coups and armed clashes. In December 2012, civil war broke out between the predominantly Muslim rebel group Seleka, from the marginalised northern areas, and the Christian and animist militia anti-Balaka.

In 2014, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced after the Seleka overthrew then-President François Bozizé. Later that year, armed groups agreed to a ceasefire. By then, almost one quarter of the population had been forced to flee.

While the elections in 2016 were peaceful, the government still struggles to achieve lasting peace.

     

Attacking civilians and humanitarian workers

Civilian and humanitarian personnel are not spared by the violence. Humanitarian agencies are systematically targeted in CAR, explains Batonon. Since the beginning of 2018, nearly 300 attacks on aid agencies have been reported and seven humanitarian workers have been killed. In September alone, 19 robberies against humanitarian workers have occurred in the Kaga Bandoro area.

    

Read caption Graphic: Øystein Os Simonsen

  

“Our goal is to be where people have needs, but at some point, we have to be careful and protect our colleagues,” Batonon says. NRC suspended its activities for 24 hours in Kaga Bandoro in September in response to the attacks, even though the organisation had not yet been targeted by armed groups. “We did it to raise the alarm and say that enough is enough,” Batonon says. “As humanitarian workers we are all working together.”

    

    

This time, the suspension was short-term. However, long-term cutting of humanitarian aid to the displaced areas has huge consequences for the people in need.

Neglected despite enormous needs

More than half of the country’s population, 2.5 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance. In fact, CAR is among the conflicts with the highest needs compared to the total population. But CAR does not seem to be among the most ‘attractive’ crisis in the world, says Batonon. Despite enormous needs, just 35.7 per cent of the humanitarian response plan for 2018 has this far been funded.

Additionally, donors are more interested in funding humanitarian aid in the so-called hotspots areas with violent clashes, than in relatively calm areas. “If nothing is being done in those areas, they will also become hotspots,” warns Batonon. Half of the population are under 18 years old. “If nothing is being done to give motivation, objectives and ambitions to the youth, the situation will remain as it is for generations.”