Central African Republic: How COVID-19 is impacting peace and conflict
COVID-19 reached the Central African Republic with its first case on March 14, 2020, just a month after the first anniversary of the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation. Signed in February 2019, the objective of the accord was to “promote dialogue between the Government and armed groups…to put a definitive end to the crisis.” Fourteen armed groups agreed to respecting the legitimacy of the government and disarming while the government agreed to decentralizing and creating a more inclusive governance system.
In UN Secretary-General Guterres’ report on the anniversary of the Accord, he noted that although violence decreased overall, there were still many violations of the agreement. Igor Acko, a CAR analyst with the United States Institute of Peace in Bangui, said “the ceasefire was delightfully violated every day by armed groups since the beginning and with COVID, this trend is continuing.” The lack of good faith from several armed groups and follow-through from the government caused the January 2020 deadline for disarmament to be missed. Although the number of deaths from conflict have decreased by 25% from March-August 2019 compared to the same period in 2020, there have been multiple major incidents, such as attacks on National Election Authority (ANE) agents working to register voters ahead of the presidential election in December.
In 2020, the priorities of the CAR government were to move forward with the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation and prepare for the upcoming elections, however, COVID-19 has complicated these processes. The pandemic has “exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.” Although there have been less than 5,000 cases and a relatively small number of deaths, the economic shutdowns to mitigate the virus are heavy burdens on an already fragile society. Prices for imported food increased by 31% and urban transportation costs increased by 67%. These price changes are especially impactful on refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), who make up 25% of the population. Humanitarian aid is a necessary part of creating access to food and healthcare for vulnerable populations in CAR, however, Acko stated that, due to travel restrictions, “doctors and expatriate NGO workers were not able to come to help,” leaving many IDPs and food insecure people without support.
Despite these challenges, many NGOs are attempting to create solutions to the economic impact of COVID-19. For instance, the Youth Education Pack (YEP), funded by Education Cannot Wait and led by the Norwegian Refugees Council, offers vocational training to students in the face of school closures. Similarly, in the face of limited face masks, the World Bank’s Londo Project in CAR produced over two million masks to help people comply with the government’s mask mandate.
Today, the upcoming elections remain the priority in moving forward peacefully towards a fairer and more inclusive democracy in CAR. Secretary Guterres called this a “decisive [period] for the country” and called on all stakeholders to ensure a free and safe election. Earlier during the pandemic, the ruling party attempted to extend the presidential term, arguing the pandemic would prevent a fair election. In June, the constitutional court decided on the case, rejecting the delay and ensuring the election will be held this year. Still, there have been disruptions in voter registration due to the pandemic. As the pandemic and violence continues, it will be crucial for election authorities to ensure the public in CAR are able to fairly participate in the upcoming presidential election.