The Central African Republic (CAR) has suffered decades of strife, instability and stalled development. A reduction of violence in 2016 led to less displacement than in previous years and to hopes that the new government would be successful in its efforts to achieve national reconciliation. However, in 2017, a new surge in violence triggered by disputes over resources, cattle movements, zones of influence, and the reconfiguration of armed groups has led to levels of violence and displacement unseen since 2013.
The latest crisis was triggered in March 2013, when a majority Muslim coalition of armed groups, the Seleka, took over the capital, Bangui, ousting President François Bozize and replacing him with their leader, Michel Djotodia. Fighting ensued between the Seleka and the primarily Christian self-defense militias, the anti-Balaka, that were formed to respond to the Seleka offensive. This mainly political and economic conflict progressively morphed into one with sectarian undertones, where inter-communal and inter-religious violence became the norm.
In September of the same year, President Djotodia disbanded the Seleka coalition in an attempt to put an end to the fighting, however some of its members realigned to form new alliances. By 2015, government control outside of the capital was limited, with various armed groups carving out specific geographic areas of influence, notably where lucrative gold and diamond mines exist and in cattle trading locations.
New elections in March 2016 won by Faustin-Archange Touadera brought hope for stability. His campaign platform included ways forward for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of armed groups along with plans for national reconciliation. However, an upsurge of violence in late 2016, that continued throughout 2017, triggered 539,000 new displacements by the end of that year, a number unseen since the peak of the crisis in 2013.
Peace efforts supported by several international and regional actors since late 2016 led to a ceasefire agreement between the government and 13 of the 14 main armed groups on 19 June 2017. The ceasefire was broken the following day when 50 people were killed in the town of Bria in fighting between rival armed factions. This demonstrates the complexity of a situation that has fuelled an intractable conflict. On 21 June 2017, the EU organised a round table in Brussels aimed at launching new international mediation efforts. Additionally, in July 2017, the African Union issued a new “Roadmap for Peace and Reconciliation in CAR”. These mediation efforts have yet to bear fruit.
Over one million people, a fifth of CAR’s population, are displaced. About half of them are displaced within CAR’s borders and the other half have become refugees outside them. Some IDPs in CAR are in a state of protracted displacement; some have been displaced numerous times, others for only a few hours. The prefectures that witnessed the largest number of new displacements in 2017 were Ouham Pende, Mbomou and Base Kotto. Rumours of imminent attacks on villages lead to an exodus of people from their homes to neighbouring towns and villages, or into IDP camps when they are available. A small percentage of IDPs are said to escape into the bush, although some only leave their homes for the bush at night and return during the day.
Camps are usually set up in empty buildings, churches, mosques and near MINUSCA (UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission-CAR) bases, such as the one in Bambari. IDPs seek places that provide them with protection from further attacks by armed groups. For example, Muslim populations may seek refuge in a church, protected by the local pastor. Once in these makeshift shelters, IDPs are restricted in their movements, as the presence of armed groups within communities continues to threaten their security.
The crisis has caused major food insecurity as farmers have had no access to their land and a huge number of crops have been burned or destroyed since the start of the conflict. This has led to food insecurity throughout the country and affects significant portions of the country’s population. Supporting the agricultural sector is essential to making progress towards durable solutions and a way forward for a country which counts as one of the poorest in the world, where 76 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty.
Makeshift IDP shelters are usually not equipped with water, sanitation and hygiene installations and humanitarian organisations struggle to reach them to provide food and water. The state of the health system is abysmal, with almost 50 per cent of health facilities partially or totally destroyed or non-operational and another 34 per cent supported by humanitarian organisations. In the eastern prefectures of the country, 500 schools ‒ almost the total number in the region ‒ are closed. In September 2017 alone, 45 schools were attacked. Moreover, the security situation makes it particularly difficult for humanitarian organisations to access some of the most vulnerable areas. Attacks on aid workers or infrastructure, such as the one that took place on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Zemio City, Haut Mbomou Prefecture in July 2017, precipitate the suspension of humanitarian activities.
Despite the fact that 2.5 million people ‒ half the population of the country ‒ are in need of assistance, the humanitarian response remains severely underfunded. In 2017, the humanitarian appeal for CAR was only 40 per cent funded. Decreasing access to conflict areas has also severely hindered the humanitarian community’s ability to deliver aid and to reach the most vulnerable communities. This will continue to have devastating effects on CAR’s entire population, in particular displaced people.
IDMC collected data on new displacement on both an event basis and by using the sum of positive differences in aggregated monthly stock figures. The sources for the event-based monitoring included OCHA, CMP, MSF, UN, MINUSCA, ECHO, and ICRC documents. IDMC tried to avoid double counting by considering only expulsion events. To triangulate the figure, IDMC considered the sum of positive differences in the aggregated monthly stock figures as well as in prefecture-disaggregated and type-of-shelter-disaggregated monthly stock figures.
|Displacement type||New Displacement (Flow)||Returnees (Stock)||IDPs (Stock)|
Percentage of population
|Geographical disaggregation||Subnational - admin 1||Subnational - admin 1||Subnational - admin 1|
|Geographical coverage||All relevant areas covered||Unknown||All relevant areas covered|
|Frequency of reporting||More than once a month||Every month||Every month|
|Disaggregation on sex||No||No||No|
|Disaggregation on age||No||No||No|
|Data triangulation||Some local triangulation||No Triangulation||No Triangulation|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||No||No||No|
|Data on returns||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Data on local integration||No||No||No|
|Data on deaths||No||No||No|
|Data on births||No||No||No|
The current displacement crisis in CAR has been ongoing since late 2012, but violence has increased during 2017 and includes attacks on civilians, and medical and humanitarian staff. IDMC's primary source is the Population Movement Commission (CMP), which publishes regular dashboards and reports based on data provided by local and international NGOs, community and religious groups as well as local authorities. This data is complemented by reports from OCHA, MSF, UN, MINUSCA, and ECHO. IDMC calculated new displacements during 2017 by adding up individual new displacement flows from 65 different reports.