Johannesburg — Close to 3 million people require emergency aid in the CAR, it is one of the poorest and most dangerous countries on the continent, and it's struggling to recover from a civil war starting in 2013 which has been marked by sexual violence.
Despite presidential elections in 2015 and 2016, intervention from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), AU-led International Support Mission named MISCA and a peace deal signed in February 2019, the mineral-rich country remains in a cycle of conflict.
Why then were there 7 years of CAR remaining fragile in spite of such visible international engagement in the peace process?
The Building Peace in the Central African Republic report cites bad governance and low political efficacy, especially evident in the post-Bozize era, as a key obstacle. When the former president Francois Bozizé was ousted in 2013 by the Séléka, a Muslim-majority militia movement, it ignited clashes between the Séléka rebels and Anti-Balakas (mostly Christian militias). The civil war left thousands dead and a quarter of the country's 4.5 million population internally displaced.
Now the February 2019 peace deal aimed at ending years of civil war, and signed by the government and 14 armed groups, brings new hope to the war-torn country. But there is widespread concern that the newly inked agreement will not hold. Among efforts to reinstate peace in the country is the establishment of the Special Criminal Court in CAR's court system with the authority to try crimes committed during the country's armed conflicts since 2005. This court has both international and national judges and prosecutors, and benefits from international assistance.
The 2016 report, by Dr Emile Sunjo and Dr Kiven James Kewir, pointed out the failure by the government - led by President Faustin-Archange Touandéra - to take political responsibility which led to poverty, insecurity, as well as financial, humanitarian and security dependence. Insecurity has made it hard for humanitarian agencies aid workers to access most parts of the country.
Sunjo says nothing much has changed in the country since the research was published three years ago.
"I think but for the election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in 2016 and the February peace deal in Khartoum, nothing much has changed. The government still does not have much control over the territory outside Bangui. The February deal itself has come under serious threats from armed groups as reported ... last month. Besides the political wrangling, the humanitarian situation remains dire. Many children are out of school, the health sector is basically broken and food shortages are common. The CAR is a vast country, so it will take a long time to be able to rebuild from the years of conflict."
One of the major recommendations from the 2016 research was power-sharing. Sunjo says the February 2019 peace deal could be a way forward, however, it has "barely been implemented" and is already unraveling like previous attempts at building peace.
"The government and rebels must put the interest of the suffering masses first, otherwise we would hardly arrived at a broad-based power-sharing deal. There are many fault lines both in terms of religion and the plethora of secular armed groups. The Khartoum deal demonstrated how complex it can be in trying to fashion an agreement among many groups. International engagement remains weak. MINUSCA is present but can only do so much. The international community needs to commit more resources to rebuild broken infrastructure. Not much has been done in this regard in the since our recommendations were made," Sunjo said.
"The fact that President Touadéra has not been ousted by the military or a rebel group and the February peace deal in Khartoum provides some glimmer of hope. The president, however, needs to consolidate the states presence throughout the national territory and the peace deal must be implemented to the latter," he said.
Musa Gassama, director of the human rights division of MINUSCA, was cautiously optimistic about the new figure: "I see a trend and I hope it will continue, but I don't want to say that this is going to be the long-term trend."
Also bringing hope to CAR are the critical role religious institutions and local civil society groups play in peacebuilding. Religious institutions are widely respected and it is easier for communities to get involved in peacebuilding projects. Catholic Relief Services partnered with other relief agencies in an interfaith effort to build the peace in the country. The agency has trained over 8,000 people in an effort to bring respite to the affected people through trauma healing and peacebuilding training.
"We want to solve the problems of our community. We want to forgive, work together and move forward," said Marie Voto, from Mboko village in the CAR, who participated in trauma healing and peacebuilding training.
The long presence of sub-regional peacekeeping forces and troops from other countries is also suggestive of the state of security in the country. The CAR has an army of only 7,000, in a population of 4.5 million. France, CAR's former coloniser, sent 2,000 troops to fight and disarm Séléka rebels until shortly after President Faustin-Archange Touandéra was elected in 2016.
Russia has sent over a hundred military instructors, which some suspicions that they are mercenaries linked to Russian mining companies. This raises concerns that Russia will exploit resources or cause instability in the country. A CNN investigation has established that a man named Yevgeny Prigozhin - known as President Vladimir Putin's "chef" - is behind all the army presence in CAR. Prigozhin was sanctioned by the U.S. for funding the Internet Research Agency that meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
Prigozhin is said to have a company called Lobaye Invest that funds the radio station in the CAR. It also finances the training of army recruits in the country by about 250 Russian mercenaries. The investigation says that many of the countries where Russian mercenaries are active have large stores of natural resources, and that in Sudan and the CAR, Prigozhin-linked companies have been given exploration rights to gold and diamond mines.
In a mining site near Yawa there are close connection between the mercenaries and minerals, the investigation suggests. There, hundreds of people in the area are now said to be working for Russians and anything they find must be handed to the Russians' local agents.
French authorities are reported to be "jealous" of Russia's participation in any process in Africa.
In 2018 three Russian journalists were killed in CAR, they had allegedly arrived to investigate the reported presence of a shadowy Russian paramilitary force whose units are said to have fought in Ukraine and Syria. The trio was on their way to a huge gold mine in a remote and volatile part of the country and were to make a documentary about the private Russian military company Wagner, which has been reported to be operating in the CAR. CAR officials say the journalists were ambushed and killed by unidentified assailants.
There are reports that the, French maybe implicated in the murders of Russian journalists. French special services are said to have tried to harm Russia's activities in Africa in order to remove a competitor.
Russia has over the past two decades pursued military ties with various African countries including Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. It is the second largest exporter of arms globally, and a major supplier to African states.
allAfrica's reporting on peacebuilding is supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York