13 November 2018

Central African Republic: CAR 'Going Toward the Abyss,' Says Jan Egeland

Photo: Paul Lorgerie/Deutsche Welle
Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council
interview

The Central African Republic is facing "the abyss," Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told DW's Paul Lorgerie in the country in the heart of Africa as the UN prepares a renewed peacekeeping mandate.

DW: You consider the situation in Central African Republic to be a '"neglected crisis" but this is your first visit to the country. What are your impressions?

Jan Egeland: My strong impression now, having stayed here a few days, is that there is a tremendous protection crisis where the civilian population is preyed upon by armed groups. There are massacres, or killings, gang rape, basically every single day.

Three days before I came, an armed group torched to the ground a camp for 27,000 displaced people in the west of CAR. And that happens next to you. It shows how the government, the international actors, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union have not been able to implement or realize all of the objectives of the Brussels conference, which took place two and half years ago. At this moment, we're going toward the abyss here. It could be a new war; it could be a complete implosion of the country.

In your capacity as Norwegian Refugee Council secretary general, and according to what you saw, what are the most pressing needs in CAR today?

Number one: we need peace and security for people. We also need security for aid workers. Our staff is putting their lives at stake when they go into the communities in greatest need. Too many people suffer alone out of our reach.

Secondly, I strongly feel we are not finishing the job in the places that are relatively calm. Where we've seen some progress, suddenly there's no funding because they want us to chase another ambulance somewhere else where there's war and a crisis. We need to refocus the interests on CAR of the UN Security Council, the European Union, the African Union, and then the neighbors to work in the same direction. At the moment, the neighbors are actually adding fuel to the fire and nobody's talking about it - an elephant in the room that nobody's talking about.

Could you tell us more about this "elephant in the room" and how the security situation is evolving in the country?

CAR is actually a place where the poorest people on Earth live on top of diamonds, precious metals and enormous natural resources. So armed groups easily get more arms, more grenades, more young unemployed men to fight for them because they have economic interests. And somehow these economic interests are tied to neighboring countries. It's easier to raise a new army here than to fulfill an effective peace process. I think we need to realize that. Next year, there needs to be a real meeting where the AU, the EU, the UN Security Council, the neighbors and the government here, look each other in the eyes and say: "We're failing; for people in CAR, it's going nowhere at the moment." We're steering towards another catastrophe. And I think we humanitarians have to call a spade a spade as well and not just behave as if we were helping a lot of people. Actually, we're helping a minority of the people in need.

As a diplomat, what kind of tools can be used to solve some of the problems?

There's this sub-regional group of the African Union that has a plan for bringing neighbors together. They need maximum pressure on their side. And they also need the capitals of the region to pull in the same direction. It's not rocket science to make local, regional and national reconciliation. But it needs a lot of attention and a lot of force. It needs to have a proactive peacekeeping force as well. Peacekeepers can't stand by and watch tents for refugees being torched to the ground.

What kind of future do you see for the country, what kind of future do you predict?

It could go both ways. I mean, Central African Republic is richer in natural resources and cultivable land than my country, Norway. So the potential of this country is of course fantastic. It's also a strategic location in the heart of Africa. But it's more likely that it will go the other way in that we will see more conflict. More young unemployed men learn to live by the gun instead of becoming farmers and carpenters for rebuilding the country. Unless there's more honesty in the way the country is moving, and the way it's moving now is not the right direction, we cannot make progress. So I am hopeful, but I think the reality is quite dark.

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