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Central Africa Region. Under threat of falling behind permanently, warns UNDP.

Central Africa is falling behind all the other regions of the continent and risks to lag behind permanently if things do not change, warns the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in a recent report.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has raised the alarm in a recent report titled “Central Africa: a sub-region falling behind?”. Without a concerted effort to reverse the current trends, “there is a real risk that Central Africa’s development progress could be permanently affected” warns the UNDP. The situation is so serious, says the UNDP Deputy Director for Africa, Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, that there is room for growing outflows of young migrants from the sub-region. During the presentation of the report, on the last 14 March in Brussels, Ruby Sandhu admitted that “it is hard to find something to celebrate in Central Africa”,which despite its vast natural resources has the lowest scores in transport connections of the continent. The paved road density is seven times lower than in East Africa, nine times lower than in West Africa and 23 lower than in Southern Africa, according the report. Except Gabon, all the countries of the region are in the alert zone, stresses  the UNDP cluster director for governance and peace building in Africa, Ozonnia Ojielo.

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Central Africa has the highest number of people living below the poverty line among all the sub-regions of the continent, with an average rate of more than 50 percent.  It also has the highest maternal mortality rate.  Among the many causes, the report mentions the persistent insecurity characterized inter alia by increasingly violent clashes between pastoralists and settled communities. One example is the incursion of armed Bororo shepherds from Central Africa into the Garamba Park, inside the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

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Insecurity which prevails in many countries of the area, is a serious obstacle to development. In Cameroon, Boko Haram violence has a led to a doubling of the internally displaced population within three months to 190,000 in April 2016 and to the doubling as well of the food insecure which soared during the same period to 2.4 million people. Insecurity has also imposed an extra burden on the governments of Chad and Cameroon owing to a rise of military expenditures. Boko Haram activity in northern Cameroon has also impacted ithe Chadian economy with the closure of the transnational from N’Djamena to Kousseri which connects to the Cameroonian port of Douala. This has compounded already high costs of living in Chad, which had been previously hit by the slump in oil prices. A similar problem is developing in Congo-Brazzaville. During the presentation of the report in Brussels, the ambassador of the Republic of Congo, Roger-Julien Menga reminded about the attacks of the nsiloulou ninja militias of the so-called Revered Ntoumi aka Frédéric Bintsamou against the Congo-Ocean railway between the capital and the port of Pointe-Noire.

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During the last months of 2016, several bridges were blown up and other acts of sabotage were perpetrated. This situation sparked inflation in Brazzaville where fuel must be imported from Kinshasa, which is itself reliant from the always congested harbour of Matadi. Meanwhile, in Congo-Kinshasa, since last August, the militias of the late chief Kamuina Nsapu are disrupting all the time the railway traffic between Katanga and the already land-locked province of Kasai. In Eastern Congo, the predation of armed groups but also, according to the Mining Minister of uncontrolled elements of the government army and police, has led to the set-up of complex mineral certification mechanisms aiming at averting the funding of rebel activity by the sale of minerals. Yet, the problem is that the effects have not been always positive. Indeed, a number of Western importers have preferred to buy tin and tantalum from elsewhere, causing an economic crisis in the Kivu provinces. Yet, things could still worsen, warns the UNDP report. It has indeed identified a risk of Central Africa providing a corridor connecting violent extremism in eastern and West Africa, given its geographic centrality. This is one more reason for development partners to get involved in new approaches envisaged in a regional framework to prevent this kind of threat.

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Regional economic and political integration is imperative according to UNDP since without exception, from the Sahel to the Central African Republic and Eastern DRC, conflicts present “a strong supra-state dimension”. Delays in the integration process make it more difficult to fight cross border criminality and trafficking. A number of armed groups, ranging from Boko Haram to the Ugandan-born Lord Resistance Army are indeed operating in several countries.
This situation, combined with the lack of infrastructures, contributes to increase social exclusion of marginal groups within national settings and to the proliferation of armed groups. In the sub-region, civil society, women and young people are less involved than elsewhere in politics. According to the UNDP, civil society in central Africa as a sector is comparable in its capacity and effectiveness to civil society in West Africa 20-30 years ago.
Highly personalised systems of political power, excessive longevity of leaders and their often autocratic behaviours are regional patterns which contribute in many occasions to post-regime crisis and insecurity, as that has been the case in both Congo and Burundi. Insufficient economic diversification including the lack of the capacity to transform locally extracted minerals is another cause of the delays in a sub-region that faces many challenges.  Indeed, the United Nations High Commission for Refugee’s planning figures for the Central Africa and Great Lakes Region combined estimated that the by the end of 2015, there were some 5.1 million refugees, asylum-seekers and IDPs.

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During the debate in Brussels, the attitude of some donors has been criticized. The Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) Commissioner, Jean-Eudes Teya, deplored during the debate in Brussels that when it signed a separate trade agreement with Cameroon, the European Union, did inflict a serious blow to CEMAC’s regional market since the EU has maintained a different trade regime with the other five member states of the community. The report also mentions that the experience in the sub-region of the World Bank-sponsored structural adjustment programmes is seen by some as having had “particularly perverse overall effects, contributing to its fragility, draining away public services and facilitating bad governance”, which is another scourge in the area. Unfortunately, Central Africa is classified as the area on the continent where the perceived corruption index is the highest according to Transparency International.
Within this context, the report regrets also that the regional programmes of several development partners still remain a smaller component of overall aid relationships. Yet, the states of the region bear themselves a responsibility if regional institutions are too weak. A participant to the Brussels conference stressed that the members states of CEMAC and of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) do not pay regularly their contributions to these organisations whose roles compete often with each other and overlap, with direct duplication in a number of cases. Both organisations for instance deal with peace, security, agriculture and industry. Efforts of harmonisation between the two are yet to be realised, concludes the UNDP.

François Misser

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