the Central African Republic's Hidden Conflict

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - NEW BRIEFING, 14-XII-14

Away from the international spotlight, the Central African Republic’s rural areas are turning into fields of violence as war over territory and livestock hits a highly vulnerable population, with effects increasingly felt in neighbouring Cameroon and Chad.

In its latest briefing, The Central African Republic’s Hidden Conflict, the International Crisis Group examines a dangerous conflict-within-a-conflict requiring urgent action by the transitional government and its international partners. Targeted by anti-balaka militias and ex-Seleka fighters, many pastoralist communities are left in extreme poverty and forced to flee. Tens of thousands cross the border to Cameroon and Chad where, in turn, land pressure intensifies. Many of the victims seek retribution or join armed groups to survive, becoming actors in a conflict that divides communities and damages a pillar of the traditional economy.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • To break the cycle of violence and retaliation between militias and pastoralist communities, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Central African livestock ministry should create an information network that identifies areas at risk of violent confrontation and helps the Central African authorities and international forces to take action.

  • To prevent an outbreak of violence during the current transhumance between Chad and Central African Republic and avoid conflict over natural resources in areas with high cattle concentration such as south-western Chad, CAR authorities, the neighbouring countries and NGOs should work together, under the aegis of MINUSCA (UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission), to identify temporary settlement and grazing areas in the Central African Republic, Chad and Cameroon.

  • To ease intercommunal tensions and prevent the radicalisation of young pastoralists and their involvement with armed groups, community radios should be used to broadcast messages recalling the common interests of pastoralists and farming communities and encouraging exchange between them. Livelihood activity programs led by international NGOs should include pastoralists.

  • To help economic recovery, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) should launch a feasibility study to restart livestock breeding where the security situation allows it.

  • The fight against cattle theft and trafficking should be included in the mandate of a special MINUSCA cell against gold, diamond and ivory trafficking, whose creation Crisis Group has been recommending since June 2014.

“The country’s crisis has exacerbated old conflicts and produced new ones. Rural Central African Republic is now the stage for a violent competition over livestock, the wealth of the poor”, says Thibaud Lesueur, Central Africa Analyst. “It is a highly divisive and often deadly confrontation, weakening the economy, allowing the proliferation of armed groups and undermining efforts to put the country back on the path of stabilisation”.

“For too long, the focus of the transitional government and the international community has been on Bangui”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa Project Director. “If the country is to overcome its violent path, they need to take into account what happens outside the capital and make support for the rural population and pastoralist communities an integral part of their strategies”.

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