Bangui — Thousands of youths in the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, are set to be given jobs in a donor-funded public works scheme that as well as revamping basic infrastructure is designed to reduce the level of violence which in recent months has claimed hundreds of lives, prompted most of the city's Muslim population to flee and caused looting and destruction of property on a massive scale.
"It's obvious that a large part of the reason for the crisis here is lack of jobs for young people. If there were more job opportunities there would be fewer gangs and less crime in Bangui," said Eric Levron, livelihood advisor at the UN Development Programme, which, together with the French Development Agency (AFD), the World Bank and the European Union, is funding the four-year US$31 million scheme.
A spokesman for the CAR's public works agency (AGETIP), Lucien Gon, said the objective is to employ many young people "so they will be tired and will sleep well at night instead of doing stupid things".
Bangui in particular has been the scene of unprecedented violence since December 2013, with attacks against, and reprisals by, the city's Muslim population, whom many, notably militias known as anti-balaka collectively blamed for atrocities committed across the country earlier that year when CAR was under the control of a predominantly Muslim alliance of rebel groups which had seized power in March.
In order to maximize the numbers engaged in unblocking drainage ditches and sewers, and improving roads, private companies contracted by AGETIP for the work will be required to limit unskilled employees' contracts to not more than 45 days.
"It's the first time, to my knowledge, donors have made this a condition for private companies tendering for this kind of work," he said.
The unusual condition is a sign of donors' determination to share out work opportunities and income, particularly among potential troublemakers. Several thousand people are expected to be given work under the scheme.
The donors will also require companies taking part in the programmes to raise their pay rate for unskilled employees from an average of 1,300 CFA francs (US$2.75) to 2,500 CFA ($5.28) per day for contracts of less than 15 days and 2,000 CFA for 15-45 days.
Project could help to re-launch livelihoods
Just a month's work on that pay rate would help many young people to carry on earning money, said Frederic Linardon, country director for the NGO ACTED, (Agence d'Aide à la Coopération Technique et au Développement), which has been supervising a public works project in Bangui.
"Our experience with a cash-for-work programme showed that many young people can save enough money, with a contract of just one month, to relaunch the kind of activity they had before the crisis - as street vendors, for example," he said.
A labourer employed on a similar project with the NGO Solidarités International in Bangui welcomed the announcement that donors are to launch many more public works in Bangui.
"It's very good news," Cedric Ondukala told IRIN, as he took a break from digging out a drainage ditch in the Petevo District. "When they bring work like that people feel at ease, and they won't get up to mischief looting and breaking into people's houses."
Another worker objected that 2,500 CFA a day was not much. A supervisor, Anguerran Bongi, confirmed that the usual rate paid by private companies for this kind of work is 1,500 CFA.
The teams are chosen by a neighbourhood official, the chef de quartier, the workers said.
AGETIP's Gon said it would be advisable for some of the workers to be hired by arrondissements, (districts), larger administrative units, so as to provide work opportunities for youths who have come to Bangui from the provinces.
Many came to the capital with the anti-balaka in December and are thus a target group for the programmes, but would likely be excluded by neighbourhood officials.
Programmes concentrated on Bangui
So far all the labour intensive work programmed is to take place in Bangui, but Gon said the work will be extended outside the capital, initially to the southwest of the country, when security conditions permit.
"Bangui has been the principal victim of the violence so it is right that the work should start here," he said.
CAR governments have traditionally focused attention and resources on the capital to the exclusion of the rest of the country, and aid agencies and international NGOs currently have most of their key staff in the capital, factors which could also weight development spending towards Bangui.
Despite the continuing insecurity, access by road to most parts of the country is easier than it was two months ago, a spokesman for the NGO community in CAR, Jacques Terrenoire, said last week. International peacekeepers and NGOs are present in most of the main towns in western CAR, where the population is concentrated.
ACTED's Frédéric Linardon told IRIN that in the past two months there have been discussions with donors about the possibility of launching labour intensive programmes in rural areas of CAR, to improve roads and expand agriculture.
Lack of cash to pay labour is a major constraint to the expansion of CAR agriculture, which has suffered badly for more than a year from violence across large swathes of the country. The Food and Agriculture Organization and its partners are trying to distribute seeds and tools to 75,000 households, but the idea of helping villagers with cash to hire labour and farm larger areas was judged "too unconventional", Linardon said.
Donors and NGOs are uncomfortable spending money on projects that could disproportionately benefit private landowners, another NGO worker said.
However, the head of the AFD office in Bangui, Julian Boglietto, told IRIN the agency is interested in supporting CAR agriculture and rural road rehabilitation through labour intensive cash-for-work programmes.
He suggested that AFD might try to launch pilot projects in these areas "to show other donors what is possible".
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]