Remarks by Ruby Sandhu-Rojon at the launch of the Strategic Assessment Report on the Central Africa sub-regionMar 14, 2017
Central Africa: A Sub-Region Falling Behind?
Re-considering approaches to improving development outcomes in Central Africa
Brussels, Tuesday 14 March 2017
Representatives of the Governments of Central Africa,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
While other sub-regions of Africa have made real progress in recent decades, in Central Africa, persistent insecurity, combined with poor governance and absence of diversified and inclusive economies, have had profound effects on the overall development trajectory for decades.
Failure to build lasting peace has seen repeated and continuing bouts of violence mar the lives of citizens living in the sub-region. Spill-over of Nigeria’s Boko Haram conflict, continued fragility in Central African Republic (CAR), renewed instability in Burundi, as well as increasingly violent clashes between pastoralists and settled communities in various parts of the sub-region, are among some of the conflicts that contribute to this fragility cycle.
Violent extremism has manifested in Central Africa, most perniciously in the activities of Boko Haram as it has expanded into the sub-region. The potential for violent and extremist ideologies to root more deeply in what are frequently religiously polarized national contexts across the sub-region, is real – as is the potential for insecurity related to Boko Haram and CAR to merge. Indeed, given its geographic centrality, persistent insecurity in Central Africa presents the danger of conflict systems elsewhere in Africa merging (e.g. Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and AQIM).
And, although Central Africa has yet to contribute significant numbers of irregular migrants as compared to other parts of the continent, our perspective gives ample room to envisage how a steadily growing population of young people in Central Africa may readily choose or be forced to flee further afield, if current restrictions to rights and opportunity do not improve.
Conversely, the sub-region has the potential to serve as a hub connecting north to south, east to west, and could play a pivotal role in attaining overall integration and vibrancy. Both the challenges faced, and a vision for its brighter future, point to the importance of looking sub-regionally at its development context, given the overall and inter-related political environment, connections between the countries across borders, and commonly shared development challenges. It also demands that we continue to look for options for leveraging continent-level intent around integration more purposefully for the benefit of Central Africans.
Currently, Central Africa is the sub-region that has advanced the least with regard to the regional integration agenda laid out in the AU’s Vision 2063: Unity, Prosperity and Peace – showing the lowest scores with regard to transport connections and intra-regional trade, for instance, among all REC blocs. It also scores at, or close to, the bottom of other global development indices – with ECCAS countries recording the highest incidence of poverty among all African REC blocs according to UNDP’s human development index, despite their shared blessing of mineral and other natural resource wealth. Central African countries also score particularly poorly across governance indicators, with Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, DRC, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo among the countries at the bottom of the Economic Intelligence Unit, Transparency International and Mo Ibrahim governance indices.
Some of us here in this room met with senior colleagues from the EU, ECCAS and CEMAC, as well as with other development partners and civil society and private sector representatives to validate an earlier draft of the UNDP report that we will be discussing today, a little less than a year back in Libreville, Gabon. The intensive consultation around the various themes presented in the then-draft report greatly enriched its final presentation that we share with you here.
Since then, as our report has been finalized, and as we have in parallel begun to develop new programming for the UN system based on its assessment, unfolding events in the Central African sub-region have critically underscored the relevance of its analysis.
Our Libreville consultation took place at a moment of optimism for the Central African Republic, following successful elections at the end of 2015, signing of the Brazzaville Accords, and on the eve of the long-awaited Bangui Forum. Unprecedented pledges followed as contributions for CAR’s recovery and transition, and extension of MINUSCA’s mandate also helped contribute to renewed hope for the country. However, armed violence quickly flared again in Bangui and other parts of the country, reminding us all of the long journey and commitment needed to build sustainable peace. Most recently, the UN, ECCAS, AU, IOF and the EU have issued a strong statement seeking to stem persistent attacks against civilians caught in the midst of competing armed groups: yet a new spiral of violence is all the while growing.
The humanitarian fall-out of violence related to the activities of Boko Haram in the wider Lake Chad region has also become starkly apparent. Most recently, on 24th February in Oslo, the Government of Norway hosted a humanitarian conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region, in partnership with the UN and the Governments of Germany and Nigeria, at which 14 donor countries made pledges towards the $1.5 billion that is needed this year alone to address the most pressing needs – though significant shortfalls remain. According to OCHA’s 3rd February update on the crisis, 10.7 million people across the Lake Chad Basin need humanitarian assistance, including 2.3 million displaced people and 7.1 million people who are severely food insecure. The recent Security Council mission to the region further underlines the seriousness of the situation, as does the inclusion of North-Eastern Nigeria as one of four regions (together with South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen) where over 20 million people are facing famine or at risk of famine or starvation over the next six months, as announced by the Secretary-General at the end of February. The deepening humanitarian crisis suggests it will take decades to recover, even assuming an end to Boko Haram-related violence is in sight.
Elections that were on the horizon as the report was being written have also underscored the governance challenge confronting the region that are highlighted in the report to be at the root of so many of its shared development challenges. Street protests against the incumbent’s victory in Gabon in August; and the new era of insecurity that appears to have been triggered by the government of DRC’s decision to postpone elections that were scheduled for end of 2016 to as far off as 2018, provide just two examples.
In short, it is hard to find much to celebrate in the Central African context, in reviewing developments that have unfolded in the months since the analysis for the UNDP strategic assessment of the Central Africa sub-region was completed. However, the deteriorating prognosis only serves to invigorate our sense of purpose in taking forward a new generation of inter-UN agency programming that responds to the sub-regional strategic assessment’s core analysis – and to work together to ensure that Central Africa does not become a sub-region that permanently falls behind.
Allow me to thank you once again for your attendance. We greatly look forward to your feedback on the report’s analysis that will now be shared by my colleague Ozonnia Ojielo, alongside some hints at our own programming that has taken its inspiration from this report. Let me also thank our distinguished and expert panelists, for their willingness to share with us today their insights, perspectives and advice as we move forward in developing this ambitious program of work. We also thank ECDPM, our partner in hosting this event, for their inputs to the research process and continued collaboration in supporting overall regional integration agendas in Africa.