Foresight Africa 2015: Sustaining Investment in the Central African Republic Will Test Global Commitments to End Extreme Poverty

Editor’s Note: This blog is part of the larger
Foresight Africa 2015
project that aims to help policymakers and Africa watchers stay ahead of the trends and developments impacting the continent. You can read the full report

Right now, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty—on less than $1.25 a day.  Half of them live in “fragile” states, and between now and 2030, that proportion will rise. Clearly, extreme poverty and fragility are inherently linked: Unlike other areas of the world where poverty has reduced dramatically, the absolute number of extreme poor in countries affected by conflict has remained roughly the same since 1990. Research shows resoundingly that issues such as weak governance, corruption and chronic underdevelopment contribute to both fragility and extreme poverty.  

In 2015, the global community will come together to commit to the Sustainable Development Goals, successor to the landmark Millennium Development Goals. A chief goal: to end extreme poverty by 2030. If the world is to meet this ambitious goal, the fragile states conundrum must be tackled. 

Take the Central African Republic (CAR), one of the most fragile, least developed and historically neglected countries in the world. The CAR has experienced a long history of violence, conflict and social fragmentation. Suffering from chronic underdevelopment and exploitive public rule, the nation has experienced five coups d’état since independence in 1960 and over 60 percent of its population lives in extreme poverty.

Successive humanitarian interventions in the CAR have failed to help propel the country towards a better future. Since 1997, 13 regional and international peacekeeping operations have been deployed to end violence and protect civilians; over this same period, short-term humanitarian assistance funds have been mobilized to meet immediate lifesaving needs. Crisis after crisis, short-term investments have not been reinforced by the long-term investments needed to address the root causes of violence, including socioeconomic and political inequalities between communities, corruption and lack of rule of law. In other words, no concerted efforts have been made to help the country break from its “fragility trap.”

This time can be different. If global investments can be sustained and correctly managed in the CAR, the response might serve as a model that can be replicated in other fragile states. To lay the foundations for early recovery and sustainable poverty alleviation in the CAR, three objectives must be met in 2015:

  1. Cycles of violence must be broken by protecting civilians at imminent risk while repairing divisions among the CAR’s tribes, communities, and religious and political groups. The most recent wave of violence, which began in 2012, has drawn new lines of division atop deeply seated grievances between and within communities. Rebels aligned with the Séléka coalition carried out widespread looting, rapes, killings and other human rights abuses, followed by violent reprisals and eventually ethno-religious cleansing efforts by “anti-Balaka” militia and other opportunist criminal elements. The country’s fragile social fabric has again been upended as intercommunal violence continues to this day, and many civilians live in constant fear for their lives and livelihoods.
  2. Political, peacekeeping and development efforts must be better coordinated, particularly around the political transition and disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and recovery (DDRR). The success of the political transition process will depend upon the degree to which it includes the views of all Central Africans from all sides of the political, religious and socio-economic spectrum, including refugees who have fled the country due to violence. Similarly, carefully and transparently planned economic recovery and livelihood interventions in locations of strategic importance for stabilization can help lay the groundwork for successful disarmament and demobilization by MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic), the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the CAR. But implementing the tasks in the correct order is crucial to success: the international community must plan, fund and execute the “RR” and “DD” simultaneously.
  3. Emergency humanitarian responses must adopt early recovery and resilience strategies now to re-orient programs in a way that addresses grievances within and between communities, rebuilds social cohesion and strengthens local leadership.  Time and time again in the CAR, complex problems have been met with short-term solutions. Donors and humanitarian organizations must pursue a different course – response efforts should simultaneously mitigate conflict, meet basic human needs and lay the foundation for market-based economic recovery that prioritizes youth and agricultural recovery.  Programs should have multi-year time horizons and adaptive management structures that support flexibility and impact-driven measurement. 

Without a doubt, ending extreme poverty by 2030 will require tackling fragility traps. This means responding to crises smarter from the outset, and sequencing investments in a coordinated way. As we have learned from experience in other protracted crises, humanitarian tools alone will never solve the root causes of chronic vulnerability and fragility. Central African leaders and the international community have the responsibility and opportunity to get this CAR response right and lay the groundwork for a future nation that will be more inclusive and resilient for generations to come.

Note: This blog reflects the views of the authors only and does not reflect the views of the Africa Growth Initiative.