March 9, 2016

An Ounce of Prevention in the Central African Republic

By David Stein

Catherine Samba-Panza, interim president of the Central African Republic (CAR), was in Washington last week asking for help for her country and her people. CAR was considered a “Level Three” humanitarian crisis – the United Nations’ highest designation – until May of last year due to years of inter-religious violence that killed thousands and displaced roughly 1 million people, about one-fifth of the country’s population.

Stopping the Bleeding

One of three female presidents in Africa, President Samba-Panza has been hailed for negotiating a peace agreement and new elections for president. While the tenuous peace was enough for the UN to reclassify CAR as a “Level Two” crisis, few think the country has turned the corner.

Her visit highlights the need for continued U.S. leadership to prevent the outbreak of another civil war. As she said at the World Bank Fragility Forum, “I appeal to the international community to continue their support for fragile states because a fragile state means fragility for the entire world.”

Preventing the Next Civil War

The United States has been deeply involved in the Central African Republic’s transition, providing over $800 million to support the UN’s peacekeeping mission, emergency humanitarian aid, election assistance, and long-term economic development assistance. During her visit, President Samba-Panza stressed the importance of addressing the “roots of the conflict” citing both poverty and the marginalization of communities and regions, saying, “Those who feel excluded react.”

But addressing the underlying causes of conflict in the Central African Republic will not be easy. CAR ranks second to last on the UN’s Human Development Index. Even though globally 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since the early 1990s, nearly 63 percent of CAR’s population remains trapped.

Investing in Stability and Resilience

If current trends continue, it is estimated that by 2030, two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor will live in fragile states. This trend does not have to continue, but it will not change on its own. It is in America’s interest to invest in long-term stability and resilience by helping CAR address the underlying causes of the conflict.

Unfortunately, America’s funding of the International Affairs Budget – which addresses these challenges – has not kept pace. Since 2010, international affairs programs have been cut 12 percent.

This is shortsighted given the fragility of peace in weak states like CAR. As former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”


Photo: School girls in the Central African Republic / Flickr, CC