A deadly mélange of factors has merged to make the conflict in the Central African Republic one of the most overlooked and underfunded humanitarian crises in history.
Last week John Ging, the Director of Operations at OCHA announced in a press briefing that of the $247 million the UN needs over the next 100 days to ease the “mega-tragedy” that violence has wrought on the nation, displacing over 900,000 (almost half the entire population), only $15.5 million has been raised so far. That is only 6% of what one of the worst situations on earth needs, just to get by.
The already impoverished nation has seen the total collapse of its infrastructure with the fighting that has ravaged the country for almost a year. Despite the immense needs caused by this catastrophic upheaval raising the amount of funds that would make a tangible difference to the population remains an uphill battle.
“I think CAR is just a notoriously forgotten country that not many people know about or could even point to on a map, so it’s hard to mobilize constituencies to speak out for it. It’s also hard to ever get anyone in the Western world interested in a black on black conflict in sub-saharan Africa, unfortunately. There’s barely room for any stories on Africa in the media, certainly not for one without any sort of strategic interest for the world,” wrote Danny Gold, the head staff writer for Vice over email. Gold spent a number of weeks covering the conflict in December. Indeed, looking at other major trouble areas in the world, the US has vested interest in South Sudan and the magnitude of the crisis in Syria is enormous, one of the largest in human history. CAR does not command the same level of international attention, which unfortunately makes the need for help even more desperate.
There also isn’t a vast and vocal diaspora lobbying for support. The lack of a strong voice fighting for media consideration and aid has also given CAR a bit of a branding issue. The press has taken to comparing the situation in CAR to that of 1993/1994 Rwanda, which is generally incorrect and gets the dynamics of the situation completely wrong. That said, “Rwanda” is a trigger word, and right now CAR calls to mind no such disaster. It doesn’t call to mind much of anything. As Gold said, many people barely know the country exists, let alone that it’s struggling.
This confluence of factors creates a vicious cycle the CAR must break out of in order to get the help it desperately needs. This is a watershed moment for the country. It has consistently been one of the poorest places in the world, but the current crisis and minor focus it has brought on the nation presents an opportunity for it to take up more space in the global arena.
Beyond the current desperate need for aid, it’s a complex, vibrant nation that everyone should be able to find on a map.