Central African Republic where hand grenades sell for less than a dollar

by Johan Eldebo | World Vision UK
Thursday, 24 July 2014 11:08 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Passing through a number of checkpoints, some manned by French troops and some by teen-age members of the anti-balaka militias, we arrive at a small town a few hours from Bangui. Here, everyday life looks very different since the crisis begun.

Food prices are up three-fold, and having exhausted their savings people are forced to eat less. The conflict has crippled an already weak economy, leaving most of the community unable to find paid work.

Almost all schools are shut, leaving thousands of young people with nothing to occupy their time. If they do manage to find land where it is safe enough to cultivate, it is difficult to get goods to market.  Young men face the stark choice of going hungry or joining the many militias that now exist. Worryingly for the Central African Republic, many are choosing the latter.

The deposing of two presidents in a year and appointment of a weak interim government has shattered the social fabric of CAR. What started as a political and economic conflict has taken on a religious element as leaders use religion to pit the majority Christian communities against the minority Muslims. An estimated three per cent of Bangui's Muslims remain in the city, with most mosques burned down. Walking down the street in Bangui, one can sense the fear between the two groups who used to live peacefully together. Now thousands of displaced living at the airport provide a sombre welcome when you step off the plane.

Peaceful co-existence has now been replaced by fear and inter-communal conflict, threatening to split the country into two separate entities. While peacekeepers try to prevent violence, troops alone are not going to bring this country back together. Lacking confidence in any central authorities, communities have set up militias to protect themselves. These forces are equipped with machetes, AK47s and hand grenades, the latter available at the markets for less than a dollar. There is a clear need to increase security around the country to be able to move towards demobilisation and disarmament of militias.

These weapons flow in from neighbouring states, many having economic and political interests in the resource-rich CAR that they seek to protect, often benefiting more from chaos than stability. This points to the need for a coherent international approach to the crisis, one that puts the suffering communities of CAR ahead of political and economic interests of others, notably of its diamond wealth.  

With 10 coups in the past 54 years, CAR needs time and resources to build a functioning society. Until that happens communities need support, ranging from short-term humanitarian aid to long-term building of education and health facilities a peaceful society.

The youth of CAR I met last week, the future leaders of the country, are living lives where the best option for them often seems to be to pick up a machete out of fear of their neighbours. This trend of violence and fear needs to be reversed and the nightmares of new massacres replaced with hope of a better future. 

The international community must offer its support to this end, both with immediate humanitarian and development assistance, but also by supporting a lasting peaceful solution.