columnBy Laurent Fabius
In the course of its young history, the Central African Republic has known many dark hours. Now the country is facing its worst crisis. In this failed state, entire swaths of land are given over to violence by armed gangs. Looting, the recruitment of child soldiers, burned villages, rapes, summary executions - civilians are paying a high price. One in ten people have already had to flee their homes.
Infant mortality, already very high, is on the rise. The impact of instability on farming portends a possible food crisis. The healthcare system is dilapidated, with epidemics breaking out on the local level and only seven surgeons for five million inhabitants. The climate of fear is coupled with the imminent threat of a humanitarian disaster.
In this potentially rich and terribly poor land, where a certain harmony traditionally reigned between different groups and religious persuasions, inter-ethnic and sectarian tensions are on the rise. The hostility between Christians and Muslims has already led to several deaths. A spiral of hatred, pitting inhabitants against one another, is looming on the horizon; it must be avoided at all costs.
This tragic situation threatens to destabilise the entire region. The "Central African" Republic does not bear this name by chance: it lies at the crossroads of the Great Lakes Region, the two Sudans, Cameroon, Chad and the Congo.
The entire continent stands to lose if it becomes a haven for armed criminal gangs or terrorist groups. Experience has taught us how dangerous it is to allow the development of "grey areas" sheltering traffickers and terrorist groups from other African countries or parts of the world.
The gravity of this situation, as French President Francois Hollande emphasised in his speech to the UN in September, is leading that body to speak of the threat of genocide. The countries of Central Africa and the African Union are aware and mobilised. Neither indifference nor inaction are options. What should be done?
First, obtain a commitment from the Central Africans themselves. Local authorities, even if they are serving on a temporary basis, are responsible for ensuring law and order, protecting civilians and fighting impunity. They must fulfill their commitments: carry out the political transition and hold elections by early 2015 at the latest, as provided in international agreements.
For their part, civil society actors in the Central African Republic, notably the religious leaders, must continue to mobilise their efforts to promote civil peace. They need to be supported, as I emphasised with European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, Kristalina Georgieva, during our recent joint visit to Bangui.
A strong commitment from the international community is essential. This involves immediate humanitarian support. The EU and the UN are working to that end. France alone is devoting millions of Euros to relief efforts in the areas of food and health. These efforts should support the work of the NGOs, notably the NGOs of the Central African Republic, which are courageously working to help the people who are suffering the most.
But improving the humanitarian situation is obviously inseparable from the priority and urgent need to restore security. All players - political as well as humanitarian - share this view. Africa is at the forefront and has started to intervene.
First, the neighboring countries and the entire region: in July, the African Union decided to deploy an African force - MISCA (AFISM-CAR) - which France supports and will continue to support. The international community must support the build-up of this force, in all areas, including by financing it. UNSCR 2121, unanimously adopted on 10 October, is a first step.
This momentum must be strengthened by a strong collective commitment, in New York, Brussels and Addis Ababa on the part of all partners who care about the fate of the millions of women, men and children. The UN Secretary-General has just reported to the Security Council on the choices to be made. A new UN resolution geared to taking action is imminent.
France, together with the African Union, has made international mobilisation in support of the Central African Republic a priority. It's about preventing a tragic situation and supporting the people of the Central African Republic and their African partners in their efforts to help the CAR, while avoiding the mistakes of the past.
We don't want to pay for and suffer the price of doing nothing, which will be much higher tomorrow. France will deliver. It will take action, in accordance with the law and together with its partners, notably its European partners, so that, a year after the start of the rebellion, the Central African Republic can regain hope.
Laurent Fabius is the minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of France.