[Blog] Unforgotten by France: crisis in the CAR
London, 21 November 2013
I get a jolt of surprise every time I hear the Central African Republic referred to as a “forgotten” country. I’ve been hearing this term more and more over recent days, a welcome sign, of course, that the subject is beginning to creep onto the UK media’s radar.
For it goes against my every instinct to refer to the Central African Republic in this way, and indeed the facts are hardly forgettable. 400,000 people – that’s a tenth of the entire population – have fled their homes, with over 60,000 refugees recorded entering neighbouring countries. UNICEF estimates that there are 3,500 child soldiers in the CAR, a figure that is rising day by day. In a speech I gave last week at an event on women in crisis zones, I highlighted the extreme vulnerability of girls and women in the Central African Republic, who are suffering horrific acts of sexual violence. The Central African people live with the constant threat of random attacks by armed groups, and are plagued by disease, lawlessness, a lack of supplies and poor access to medical care.
As we see on the map, the Central African Republic, a country with an area over 2.5 times larger than the UK, sits at the crossroads of several volatile areas, bordering Sudan and South Sudan to the north-east, Chad to the north, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the south. As French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has highlighted, a breakdown in the CAR – this central point of the African continent – would have serious effects on what are already two of its most fragile regions – the Great Lakes area and the two Sudans. With armed militias entering the country from Sudan and Chad, the Lord’s Resistance Army already present there and Boko Haram operating close by, we are witnessing the formation of a “grey area”, a lawless territory in the very heart of Africa which could quickly become a haven for terrorist groups.
This is an unfolding crisis that is plain to see and has to command the attention of the international community. The Central African Republic has certainly not been forgotten by France. At the United Nations General Assembly in September this year, President Hollande sounded the alarm over the situation there, calling for a Security Council mandate to grant logistical and financial support to an African mission on the ground, whose principal aim would be to restore stability in the region.
Our general principle in African crises is that they should be handled by Africans as far as possible. This is why France has been the driving force behind a UN Security Council process to provide UN support to the 2,500 troops already deployed in the CAR by the African Union. Resolution 2121 was adopted in October 2013, and we aim to have a second resolution adopted in early December. The EU also plays an important role, not least through its massive humanitarian effort. Meanwhile, 410 French troops in Bangui continue to protect the capital’s airport and carry out patrols in the city.
This was M. Fabius’s message to the Central African people when he visited Bangui last month: “The international community, Europe and particularly France have now taken the decision to put the Central African Republic at the top of the agenda. We are not going to abandon you.” Working with our partners here in London, Brussels and New York, France is committed to helping the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children whose lives have been devastated by months of fear and violence. The Central African Republic is a country that must come out of hiding quickly and receive the attention it desperately needs.
Bernard Emié, French Ambassador to the UK