Why the EU should invest in the Central African Republic
At today's (2 April) mini-summit on the Central African Republic (CAR) in the margins of the EU-Africa summit, the EU must seize the opportunity to develop a strong, comprehensive approach to address a crisis at grave risk of exponential deterioration.
Since violence broke out in Bangui in December, the country has witnessed suffering on a scale it has not seen before.
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According to the UN, 312,000 people have fled across the border to neighbouring countries and 2.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. Seven in 10 children are out of school and at risk of violence and recruitment; and there are fears about a major food crisis.
Today CAR teeters on a precipice.
On one side, fresh violence in the past weeks threatens to destabilise the country, reversing the trend of people beginning to return home. The insecurity is complicating efforts by aid organisations to scale up operations in advance of the looming rainy season, which is likely to bring disease and further misery. The result may be a downward spiral increasingly difficult to reverse.
But on the other side, French and African Union (AU) forces have brought some calm when and where they are present. The interim government, though fragile, is receptive to outside support. While state structures have never been strong, there remains potential to rebuild them now – particularly in regions far from Bangui - before they are eroded completely by the effects of conflict.
So while the EU has many other preoccupations on the world stage, there are strong reasons for seizing these opportunities to act decisively in CAR.
Little goes a long way
First, because a little goes a long way in CAR. The 81 million euros that the European Commission has pledged in new development funds this month can achieve substantial impact, if it is allocated swiftly and used in part to consolidate stability in those areas of the country currently least affected by the fighting.
Second, because CAR is in a fragile region, with many neighbours who are themselves recovering from conflict. With a series of political and governance failures dangerously recast as a conflict between Muslims and Christians, the risk that the fighting becomes entrenched and spills over into neighbouring countries increases the longer it takes for security and reconciliation to be established.
Also, because the broad, strategically connected programme of support needed in CAR is exactly what the EU does best. On 17 March the Council of Foreign Ministers announced a “comprehensive approach” to CAR. The crisis is a textbook example of what the EU’s comprehensive approach is meant to address.
The country is in urgent need of the humanitarian assistance already underway, and equally in need of security to allow other actors to operate.
Thus the EU agreement in January to launch a military mission, Eufor RCA, in support of AU and French peacekeepers was timely. Its deployment - delayed from its target of early March - is now urgent.
The mere presence of an EU operation will have a calming effect, amplifying the direct action they will take to protect the most vulnerable civilians.
In parallel to this crisis response, the CAR government needs immediate support to its legal structures to address impunity and ensure, for example, that suspects taken into custody by peacekeepers can be properly processed.
Meanwhile, capacity building is needed for ministries so that they can assume responsibilities, like providing essential services, currently sustained by humanitarians. These elements cannot wait for stability to be re-established, as they themselves are required for stability.
Successful recovery in CAR will require all these elements together, at the same time.
In its rhetoric and pledges the EU is on the right track; it must now turn these into reality by moving swiftly, on all fronts, to prevent an already serious crisis from becoming a catastrophe, and CAR from becoming another failed state turned to chaos.
Ester Asin is EU office director of Save the Children International, a global charity with a secretariat in London. Natalia Alonso is the EU office head of Oxfam International, a worldwide charity based in Oxford, in the UK