Friday, March 17, 2017

Helping the Central African Republic Avoid Another Catastrophe
The World Bank used to shun war zones. No longer

Mar 16th 2017 |
The Economist

HOOPS of razor wire overlooked by guard towers mark the border between order and chaos in Kaga-Bandoro, a market town in the middle of the Central African Republic (CAR). On one side are the ordered rows of white tents and shelters of the UN’s “Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic” (MINUSCA), a 13,000-strong peacekeeping force. On the other, huddling under the guns of the Pakistani battalion billeted here, are the tarpaulins that shelter some 12,000-15,000 people in one of the world’s newest refugee camps.

They have fled not once, but at least twice. Many had already sought safety in a nearby camp after their homes were destroyed. In October, however, the refugee camp was attacked and burned down by members of Seleka, the remnants of mostly Muslim militias which had toppled the government in 2013. “Six men were threatening me with knives,” says Paul Fradjala, the head of the local government in town, twisting and turning his shoulders to demonstrate how he wriggled free and ran. Yet even under the guns of the peacekeepers, security is illusory. “If someone kills someone in front of you, there is nothing you can do,” says Mr Fradjala of the crowded new camp that encircles the UN base.

Nerves are even more frayed in other parts of the country. In February the UN conducted air strikes on a faction of Seleka that was preparing to overrun Bambari, another market town. And in the capital, Bangui, killings and retaliations boil over every few months. Yet even amid this simmering conflict a bold experiment is taking place that may change the future of state-building and peacekeeping across the world. It is to test a big, and still relatively new, idea about how to deal with fragile or post-conflict states: whether a big injection of aid into countries that have not yet fully emerged from conflict can revive their economies and reduce the risk of them sliding back into full-blown civil war.

Few countries have been dealt a worse hand by geography and history than the CAR. It is not just landlocked; it is farther from the coast than anywhere else in Africa. Moreover it is in an unstable neighbourhood, sharing borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan. The diamonds under its soil are valuable enough to be worth fighting over and portable enough to fund militias. It has mostly been ruled by dictators since independence in 1960.

The most recent crisis started in 2013 after Seleka militias ousted the government and installed the country’s first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia, before burning villages and massacring civilians. The militia that formed to oppose them was itself soon going door-to-door, killing Muslims, until a French military intervention—some reckon its seventh in the country—put a lid on the fighting.

It was this narrowly averted genocide that made the world sit up, send peacekeepers and promise to pump large sums of money into a country that for years had received very little help. Before the most recent crisis the CAR used to get about $50 in aid per head each year, between a third and an eighth as much as was given to better-governed darlings of the donor community such as Seychelles or Mauritius.

Since the crisis, the CAR has become an example of how donors are changing their focus: from giving money mostly to well-run places, to putting more of it into the basket-cases that account for an ever-growing share of the world’s poor. The World Bank, for instance, has pledged to spend as much as $500m, or about a third of the CAR’s current GDP, over the next three years, ten times its previous commitments. Globally, the World Bank plans to double to $14bn the amount of money it allocates to fragile states over the next three years. “The CAR is a test case,” says Jean-Christophe Carret, the World Bank’s country manager. “Fragile states are the new frontier of development.”

Others are also shifting focus. Britain’s Department for International Development plans to spend half of its budget in fragile states and its private investment arm, the Commonwealth Development Corporation, is making 44% of its new investments in such places.

An example of what this money is being spent on can be found about an hour’s drive east from Kago-Bandoro, where a group of villagers in orange high-visibility vests and red hard hats swing pickaxes and shovels as they repair a stretch of dirt road. The project is partly about connecting towns with farmers to boost growth. But the more immediate goal is to give young men jobs in the hope that this will make them less eager to take up arms. “The crisis has idled many young people,” says Faustin-Archange Touadéra, a former maths professor who is now the country’s president. “If we give them work, we give them a vision, a hope.” Other infrastructure being built or refurbished includes a hydropower plant that provides electricity to the capital and small pumping stations to provide clean drinking water.

The harder challenge, of promoting private investment in a country that has almost none, is evident at Bangui’s only industrial plant of note, a brewery. It produces Mocaf, a light lager so popular that, when Islamist militias took over the capital, they stole the entire stock but took care not to destroy the plant. Pascal Berenger, who runs the business, guffaws when asked if he buys raw materials locally. “Normally brewers use some maize, some rice, but we don’t find any maize or rice. Everything is imported.” Yet adversity creates opportunity, he says, noting that beer sales rise during conflicts. After three profitable years, his shareholders have given him the money for modern equipment.

Few think fixing the CAR will be quick or easy. “We may soon be—but are not there yet—at a turning point in this country to bend the arc of history,” says Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, who heads the UN mission. “It will take sweat, tears and faith.” That may well be true, but it will also take money and a great deal of patience from those providing it.

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