In this article Ben Jackson discusses the regional impact of the Central African Republic crisis.
The Central African Republic (CAR), a landlocked state in the middle of the African continent, has been in crisis since 2012. Formerly a French colony, CAR gained independence in 1960, immediately becoming a one party state. A series of coups followed, culminating in the 2012 Seleka group claiming power. Ideologically Muslim, once in power Seleka targeted Christians, who responded by setting up the anti-balaka movement. Religious violence become commonplace and the crisis engulfed the entire country, with many civilians caught in the crossfire. As of now, CAR has just held relatively peaceful elections in February, and there is genuine hope that new president Faustin-Archange Touadera will be able to ensure religious violence becomes a thing of the past. Yet its geographical position, at the heart of the continent, means that countries bordering CAR have felt the effects of the crisis.
Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are three of CAR’s neighbours. All three countries have experienced conflict themselves over the last decade or so, creating a flow of refugees fleeing into CAR. Violence in the DRC and Sudan was taking place before 2012, meaning that CAR already had a substantial amount of refugees prior to the current crisis. Therefore the effect of the crisis in CAR on Sudan and the DRC was that those fleeing conflicts in these countries were running straight into another conflict. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Furthermore, the violence created an estimated 900,000 internally displaced civilians, with estimates that over 450,000 people have fled CAR as refugees, heading to neighbouring countries. This melting pot of refugees in central Africa creates issues for neighbouring countries in how they deal with these people, as well as making sure the violence doesn’t follow them across the border.
Many refugees have fled CAR and moved into Cameroon or Chad. For Cameroon this may well exacerbate current issues, as refugees enter into the northern section of the country. Northern Cameroon is currently experiencing a spill over of violence from neighbouring Nigeria’s efforts to combat Boko-Haram, with the extremist group targeting Cameroon as a result of its loses in Nigeria. CAR refugees in an area of instability in Cameroon is hardly ideal, and may well cause further problems as the fight against Boko-Haram continues. Communities in northern Cameroon have increased in size with the influx of those fleeing CAR, meaning that provisions have become scarcer as these communities have to share what they have. Cameroon hosts the most refugees from the crisis, as well as some from Nigeria. Therefore the conflict puts the biggest strain on Cameroons resources as opposed to other neighbouring states. Aid has been sent to help Cameroon deal with the issues, yet a 2015 EU report claimed that there were still gaps which needed addressing.
Chad, CAR’s northern neighbour, has also taken in refugees from the crisis. Many Chadians lived and worked in CAR, so for some it was just returning to their homeland. For many though it was leaving their own land or origin behind. The influx of refugees to Chad has created a shortage of important resources, with refugees and local inhabitants competing for the limited resources on offer. Many of the refugees from CAR were farmers, who brought their cattle with them across the border. Man and beast require food and water, something which is in scarce supply in Chad for the locals anyway, let alone for the thousands of refugees who need humanitarian assistance. Competition over resources could potentially lead to conflict between those who inhabit the region and those coming in search of safety, which would mean violence spreading from CAR into Chad. Additionally, in 2012 Chad itself experienced a crisis in the Sahel region, with a drought leaving millions in need of emergency aid. Coupled with the crisis in CAR, Chad has witnessed a significant strain on its resources, having to turn to external partners in order to provide what is needed.
It is obvious to see that the crisis in CAR put a strain on neighbouring Cameroon and Chad, while it also has impacted upon the instability in the DRC, Sudan and South Sudan. Hopefully the recent elections will bring an end to violence in CAR, allowing refugees to return home to a peaceful environment, thus lessening the strain on its neighbours.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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