The Central African Republic (CAR) has suffered decades of strife, instability and stalled development. The latest crisis was sparked in 2013, when the primarily Muslim coalition of armed groups, Séléka, took over the capital and instated its leader as the president. Sectarian conflict ensued. A reduction in violence in 2016 meant less displacement than in previous years and hopes that the new government’s national reconciliation efforts would succeed. The situation deteriorated again in 2017, however, with levels of violence and displacement unseen since the start of the crisis.
The trend continued in 2018 as ongoing clashes between armed groups in Ouham Pende, Ouaka and Haut-Kotto prefectures triggered many of the 510,000 new displacements recorded. The government signed a peace deal with 14 armed factions in Khartoum under African Union auspices in February 2019, the eighth deal of its kind since 2012.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
What causes displacement?
The Séléka took over CAR's capital of Bangui in March 2013, ousting the country’s president, François Bozize, and replacing him with its leader, Michael Djotodia. Fighting ensued between the group and predominantly Christian self-defence militias, the Anti-Balaka, that were formed in response to Séléka’s offensive. What began primarily as a political and economic conflict progressively morphed into one with sectarian undertones.
Djotodia disbanded the Séléka six months later, nominally integrating some fighters into the army in an attempt to put an end to the conflict. In doing so, however, he effectively lost control over the group, which then spread nationwide, splintered and formed new alliances. Armed groups carved up the country, vying for control of mining areas and trade corridors for gold, diamonds and livestock. By 2015, the government had lost control of the whole country outside Bangui.
New elections in March 2016 installed Faustin-Archange Touadera as president and raised hopes that he might be able to stabilise the country. He had campaigned on plans to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate armed groups and promote national reconciliation. Violence escalated, however, in late 2016 and continued in 2017, leading to as many as 539,000 new displacements, a level unseen since the peak of the crisis in 2013.
Following peace efforts supported by several international and regional bodies, the government signed a ceasefire agreement with 13 of the country’s 14 main armed groups in June 2017. The ceasefire was broken, however, the following day with 50 assassinations, an indication of the complexity and intractable nature of the conflict. A similar agreement was signed in February 2019, under African Union auspices. However, only one month after its signing, reports of renewed fighting between armed groups in Basse Kotto prefecture signal the possibility that the deal may not hold.
Where and how do people move?
More than a million people, or 20 per cent of CAR’s population, are displaced, about half as IDPs and half as refugees. Some IDPs are living in protracted displacement and some have been displaced numerous times. Others have been displaced only briefly, sometimes just for a matter of hours. Most new displacements in 2018 took place Ouham Pende, Ouaka and Haut-Kotto prefectures.
Rumours of imminent attacks on villages lead people to flee their homes for neighbouring towns and villages or in some cases displacement camps. A small percentage of IDPs are said to seek refuge in the bush. Some do so only at night and come back during the day.
Camps are usually set up in empty buildings, churches, mosques and near bases of the UN mission in CAR, MINUSCA, such as in Bambari. IDPs look for places that may provide them with protection from further attacks from armed groups. Muslims, for example, may seek refuge in a Christian church where they are protected by the local pastor. Once displaced, people’s movement is often restricted because the presence of armed groups in their communities continues to threaten their security.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
CAR’s crisis has impeded farmers’ access to their land and a huge number of crops have been burned or otherwise destroyed in the fighting. This has led to nationwide food insecurity that affects a significant proportion of the population. Supporting the agricultural sector will be key if IDPs are to make progress in their pursuit of durable solutions and the country, which with 76 per cent of the population living in extreme poverty is one of the world’s poorest, is to recover.
IDPs’ makeshift shelters tend not to be equipped with water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) installations, and healthcare provision is dire. Almost half of the country’s health facilities have been damaged or destroyed and are not functioning, and another 34 per cent are supported by humanitarian organisations. Almost all schools in eastern prefectures have been closed.
The security situation also means that humanitarian organisations increasingly struggle to reach some of the most vulnerable people and areas. Attacks on aid workers and facilities, such as that which took place on a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Zemio, Haut Mbomou prefecture in July 2017, have led to the suspension of humanitarian activities. Around 2.9 million people, or over half the country, are in need of humanitarian assistance, but the response remains severely underfunded at less than 30 per cent for 2019.
IDMC uses reports from the Commission of Population Movement (CMP) as well as OCHA reports, local media and UN Security Council reports to compile its estimates for new displacements and total number of IDPs.
IDMC’s estimate of the total number of IDPs in CAR is based on reports from the Commission of Population Movement (CMP).
IDMC’s estimate of new displacements in 2018 is based on OCHA reports, which IDMC complemented with analysis of additional information from UN Security Council reports and the local media. IDMC considers the figure to be an underestimate because of a lack of access to all displacement reports.
Based on its analysis of data from IOM DTM and Action Against Hunger concerning 175,000 IDPs who reportedly returned, IDMC categorised these movements as unverified because no information about their conditions upon return was obtained.