The new section of the Future Needs Peacebuilding Blog focusses on Implementing Agendas for Peace. Under the premise that global arenas and agendas provide leverage points for peacebuilding dimensions, the blog articles focus on how well and future-oriented the peacebuilding dimension is set up in international and national systems. Eloi Kouzoundji critically examines the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The Central African Republic (CAR) has a population of around 5 million and covers an area of 623,000 km2. Despite being rich in natural resources, the country is one of the poorest in the world. Most of the population live in difficult conditions, with 62% having an income of less than USD 1.25 a day.
The country has endured three decades of socio-political crises. The most serious – which is ongoing – began with the Seleka coalition seizing power on 24 March 2013, culminating in a three-year political transition. The return to constitutional order on 30 March 2016 raised hopes, but the outcomes have been mixed. Despite the Global Agreement for Peace and National Reconciliation for the Central African Republic (APPR), concluded on 6 February 2019 between the government and 14 armed groups, most of the country remains occupied by these groups, which continue to commit serious human rights violations.
In this crisis, civil society has been at the forefront in protecting civilians and defending human rights. Churches have been a refuge for the civilian population, with local and religious leaders risking their own lives to help people abandoned by the government to horrific violence. In the course of repeated punitive attacks, six priests and several local leaders were killed, and millions of civilians massacred.
Despite this situation, the CAR presented its voluntary national review (VNR) on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the 74th General Assembly of the United Nations in July 2019.
One of the strengths of the process is that most of the country’s civil society organisations (CSOs) played an important part in drafting the final VNR. Drawing up and presenting the report created a multi-stakeholder synergy through the participation of national institutions, sectoral ministries, the private sector, civil society, young people, women and representatives of local groups.
Although the SDGs are wholly integrated within the country’s national development plan, there has been only patchy progress towards implementing them. This can be attributed largely to the dire socio-political and economic conditions and the precarious security situation.
Peacebuilding and reintegration activities have brought about some improvement. Of the 10,000 child soldiers in the country according to estimates for 2014, about 3.500 had entered demobilisation programmes by 2018. In the same year, 62% of children under the age of five were legally registered, the number of functioning schools had risen by 76% and school attendance had doubled for girls and even more so for boys.
However, the deteriorating security situation triggered an increase in killings and deaths linked to the conflict. The same was true for physical, psychological and sexual violence, which increased considerably from 2015 to 2018.
The VNR report, which highlights the lack of action to implement the 2030 Agenda, the absence of statistical data, the challenges of financing the implementation process and the failure to mobilise CSOs with strengthened capacities, proposes a series of recommendations to tackle these issues.
Following the VNR, the government focused its efforts on two main areas: restoring security and organising timely elections to avoid a political power vacuum after 30 March 2021.
The drive to regain parts of the country occupied by armed groups went hand in hand with efforts to restore the authority of the government. Russian paramilitaries and Rwandan soldiers as well as the country’s armed forces (FACA), which were being rebuilt, were involved in this process.
In addition to the collateral damage of the military campaign, which attracted widespread criticism and media coverage, part of the occupied territory has remained outside government control, and budget slippage concerns have prompted external financial partners to suspend aid that was crucial to the country. The CAR is currently seeking to reach a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but in the short term the lack of funding will have a negative impact on development efforts.
Meanwhile, the work of the Special Criminal Court (SCC) in the Central African Republic is making painfully slow progress. Criminals and armed bandits roam the country at will and continue to rape and murder defenceless civilians despite the presence of the 12,000-strong United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Representatives of armed groups known to have committed atrocities sit within government or hold high-ranking positions relating to the implementation of the APPR. One minister alleged to have committed a number of crimes was arrested on 19 November 2021 by the SCC but released just seven days later by national gendarmes.
To help improve the situation, a coalition of 32 CSOs coordinated by the country team of the Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS) and associated with other national and international CSO platforms has identified key activities to improve progress towards implementing the SDGs. To this end, five main projects have been devised and submitted to financial partners. They are:
Supporting ownership of the process to implement the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs in the CAR. This project was to be carried out in cooperation with the government.
Promoting the protection and expansion of civic space in the CAR.
Capacity-building for civil society organisations, elected representatives and traditional and local authorities in the area of mediation to prevent and peacefully resolve conflicts in the CAR.
Strengthening the capacity of local stakeholders to manage natural and environmental resources rationally and to tackle climate change in the municipality of Mbaïki. The objective is to boost local people’s capacity to adapt.
Leading by Example: Peacebuilding through Women’s Networks, run by the NGO IIDA Women’s Development Organization for CSOs in the CAR, Cameroon, Somalia and South Sudan.
These activities have not been implemented because of a lack of financial resources. However, national CSOs will be more involved in activities linked to the national context, including in cross-cutting areas such as gender and young people, through the creation of an implementation working group:
With support from the CSPPS, the National Coalition of Civil Society Organizations for the New Deal in CAR (CNOSC/New Deal) will implement a project to help tackle COVID-19. The key objective is to contain the spread of the pandemic and reduce negative effects on the conflict context. Project activities aim to promote and strengthen social cohesion and peace in a local context of socio-political crisis.
Activities will be carried out to raise awareness in 27 villages and districts about prevention measures, and 250 organisations will each be given a health kit and 200 reusable masks. Twelve radio broadcasts across three local radio stations will also reduce stigma and dispel myths and taboos around COVID-19.
With financing from the European Union and technical support from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), a specialist South African organisation that provides election observers in Africa, and the CSOs making up the Réseau Arc-En-Ciel (RAC) [Rainbow Network] observed the presidential and parliamentary elections held in the CAR in 2020 and 2021, deploying 500 observers (41% of them women) and covering 30% of all constituencies.
This situation clearly shows that CSOs provide valuable contributions for the promotion of peace and sustainable development in the Central African Republic, but lack the resources to take action and effectively implement the SDGs. National CSOs in the CAR have only been able to overcome the security and financial challenges they face when they successfully adapt and involve important figures, leaders and local authorities.
Country progress towards implementing the SDGs raises at least two major issues: international solidarity and the framework for implementing the 2030 Agenda.
At governmental level, weak international solidarity, which continues to decline because of geostrategic interests, means that the public authorities are unable to carry out sustainable development activities. Despite a strong UN presence through MINUSCA, recognised mercenaries occupy the territory and carry out criminal activities with impunity, suggesting that these armed actors are exploiting the CAR crisis for money-making purposes.
The fragile civil society sector is unable to carry out activities intended to consolidate peace without consistent support from the international community. Visions for peace, such as that of the IDPS, can only be realised if local activities are effectively financed and implemented.
Civil society has long been calling for the democratic pyramid to be inverted by establishing grass-roots governance and elections (local governance and municipal elections) before parliamentary and presidential elections are held. During the last elections, technical and financial support from Germany to national CSOs widened the reach of election observation and enabled women to increase their representation within the CAR’s National Assembly. There is another opportunity with the municipal elections scheduled for April 2022, but will civil society be more involved? The answer is not yet clear.
Within the framework for implementing the 2030 Agenda, countries are invited to identify their own indicators. Countries such as the CAR, that face multiple crises, lack resources, and implementing sustainable development activities is not a priority for them. Ultimately, evaluating such countries using the same criteria as resilient countries, such as Germany, Japan or the United States, makes little sense. There is a need for ongoing dynamic reflection on how the framework can be adapted more appropriately to countries in deep crisis.
With a show of global solidarity translated in a credible and specific way into financing for visible local activities, more rapid progress could undoubtedly be made in meeting the SDGs in fragile countries such as the CAR in the years to come, including a better adapted implementation framework.