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 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 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 in February 2019, the eighth deal of its kind since 2012. Implementation is progressing despite several setbacks and disagreements, and the number of new conflict displacements fell to 96,000 in 2019. The security situation, however, remains fragile.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
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 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 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. Implementation is progressing despite several setbacks and disagreements that were resolved with help from the international community. The security situation remains fragile, however, and IDPs’ needs largely unmet.
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. The most serious violence in 2019 occurred in Birao in Vakaga prefecture, where 24,000 new displacements were recorded in September as a result of clashes between the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic and the Movement of Central African Freedom Fighters for Justice, both signatories to the peace deal.
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 by 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 host communities continues to threaten their security.
CAR suffered its worst flooding in 20 years in 2019, and Bangui was among the places hardest hit. About 102,000 new displacements were recorded across the country, and the floods caused extensive damage to infrastructure and livelihoods. More than 10,000 homes were destroyed, and wells and latrines overflowed.
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.
The security situation also means that humanitarian organisations increasingly struggle to reach some of the most vulnerable people and areas. Around 2.6 million people, or more than half the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance, but the response was less than 30 per cent for 2019.
IDMC uses reports from the Commission of Population Movement (CMP), IOM’s displacement tracking matrix, OCHA, local media and the UN Security Council to compile its estimates for new displacements, partial and unverified solutions, and total number of IDPs.