Central African Republic

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Central African Republic

Central African Republic (CAR) has known decades of violence, displacement and lack of medical access, and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been working there since 1996.  This year, however, the country was confronted with a massive humanitarian crisis to which many in the international community, and the world in general, remained largely indifferent.

Towards the end of 2012, the Séléka – a coalition of rebel groups mainly from the north and east of the country – made their way towards the capital, Bangui. En route they took control of numerous towns and villages, forcing residents to flee into the bush to escape the violence. The presence of the Séléka exacerbated the ongoing conflict between farmers  and pastoralists, and CAR’s armed forces, FACA, withdrew from areas where they had been integral to keeping the situation under control. The anti-balaka (anti-machete) traditional self-defence groups started fighting the Séléka whom they perceived as pro-Muslim for favouring the pastoralists from the north.

Despite signing a peace deal with the government in January, the Séléka marched  on Bangui in March and seized power claiming unfulfilled promises. President Bozizé left for Cameroon (he himself had taken power by force in 2003), state security forces were disbanded, and rebel Michel Djotodia proclaimed himself president, suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament.In August  he was officially sworn in. The coup left the country in chaos, and widespread violence and looting ensued as CAR remained at the mercy of armed groups.

Djotodia announced in  September that he had officially disbanded the Séléka coalition, but many fighters refused to put down their weapons. They committed atrocities against civilians, and the anti-balaka – its ranks swelled with former soldiers, gangs and other selfdefence groups – reciprocated with attacks on members of the Muslim community.

Displaced people found themselves living without access to safe water, facing food shortages and malnutrition, and with an increased threat of malaria. Despite the huge rise in people’s needs, however, the humanitarian presence in the country reached an almost record low. Many UN agencies and NGOs withdrew to the capital due to the lack of security, leaving much of the country without aid. In light of the situation on the ground MSF felt compelled to publish an open letter to Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General, on 12 December, citing the ‘unacceptable performance of the United Nations humanitarian system in the Central African Republic over the last year’ and Arjan Hehenkamp, General Director of MSF in the  Netherlands, wrote a piece for The Guardian newspaper stating that ‘The aid world has failed the people of the Central African Republic’.

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