- Again, international finance avoids the Central African Republic in a post-conflict situation, preparing the ground for new coups or conflicts. The government now needs desperate help in paying more than three years of salary arrears and in servicing a national debt that is 85 percent of its GNP; but no aid is coming.
The last democratically elected government of the Central African Republic, headed by President Ange-Félix Patassé, for years tried to rebuild the country after a bloody conflict had caused massive destruction. Mr Patassé's efforts were hailed by the international community, but slow progress led to a halt in aid, again leading to even slower progress. Salary arrears grew and the economic crisis developed into a political crisis.
At that stage, it was clear to the UN peacekeepers in the country that the Central African Republic was sliding back into conflict. Repeated UN appeals for funds from the World Bank and potential donors yielded no success. In March 2003, General François Bozizé staged a military coup against President Patassé.
This year, General Bozizé legitimised his rule through relatively fair elections, organised in accordance with UN recommendations. The international community again saw progress in the Central African Republic promised to support the government in Bangui. So far, however, aid has not arrived and the Bozizé government rapidly is slipping into the same economic and political problems as its predecessors.
Now the UN again warns against new armed conflicts in the country, mostly due to the lack of promised aid. UN Resident Coordinator Stan Nkwain yesterday told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York that if assistance did not come in fast enough, "no good governance reforms would take place beyond the recently completed elections."
Stressing the risk that the impoverished post-election country could slide back into conflict if not given immediate aid, Mr Nkwain said the Bozizé government needs help in paying more than three years of salary arrears and in servicing its huge national debt.
The Central African Republic again has slipped into the aid trap. To be eligible for debt relief and development aid programmes, the government needs to improve governance and embark on wide-ranging economic reforms. Bangui however does not have the human and economic resources to fulfil these demands without first getting generous development aid. Thus, the crisis is deepening.
Mr Nkwain is already observing the same vicious spiral that caused the last wave of insecurity in the country. If foreign aid does not arrive, strikes and mutinies would continue, he said, as would insecurity, vulnerability and human suffering. This growing insecurity is only making the Central African Republic less eligible for foreign aid as pessimistic donors assume this aid will be a lost investment.
The Central African Republic had lost on average six months of life expectancy every year since 1988 and 1.5 percent of its per capita gross domestic product (GDP) every year since 1995, while 70 percent of its population lived on less than a dollar a day, Mr Nkwain warned. And the crisis is still deepening.
State revenues this year were, for the first time, less than the total needed to pay civil service salaries and the government was 41 months in arrears with these, according to the UN Resident. Bangui therefore had no personnel available to distribute food, medicines and school materials, improve the broken down health and education infrastructure, or deploy the forces of law and order.
Violence and insecurity has further become a growing problem during the last half year. In the northern part of the country, undefined rebel groups are terrorising the population. Looting, armed attacks and kidnapping have caused thousands to flee to Chad and Cameroon. It is assumed that the rebels are former mercenaries of President Bozizé - used to prepare his 2003 coup - that had not been sufficiently paid.
According to Mr Nkwain, there has however been remarkable progress in the Central African Republic, which should cause donors to grip the still-open window of opportunity. The central government had "completed a return to constitutional rule through transparent elections" and had "started to show its resolve to fight endemic corruption and to strengthen respect for human rights," he said.
The Bozizé government therefore "deserved a chance from partners and the international community in the form of emergency financial assistance to keep the state open for business and to start reversing the economic chaos," Mr Nkwain concluded. The UN was already doing a large work to assist the government with little means, but new partners were now needed.
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