The Central African Republic’s Cyclical Violence as Evidence of the Danger of Aid

This past summer, the IMF approved a three-year plan proposed by the Extended Credit Facility (a multilateral international organization) for the equivalent of $115.8 USD in aid to the Central African Republic, in light of the “the unique opportunity to consolidate peace… and foster growth” that the country’s 2016 relatively successful democratic election provides.[1] This aid arrangement is on top of the already hefty amounts of bilateral, multilateral, and NGO-sponsored aid dollars flowing into the CAR each year, including over $250 million combined from various US agencies (USAID Foreign Disaster Assistance and Office of Food for Piece, US Dept. of State, USG, and more).[2] But just this week, the UN News Centre and other media outlets are reporting continued direct attacks on humanitarian aid workers, violence perpetuated by the still-raging conflict of the militant Muslim Seleka against the sitting government and, by association, the Christian population of the country.[3]

In response to the violence, the IRC’s country director stated, “The risks our staff face each day in delivering aid are now beyond any acceptable level.” Similar statements have come out of other agencies and national bodies that provide financial and human resource aid to the CAR, especially because the violence from Seleka is compounded by suspected corruption scandals in the highest ranks of the government.[4] From a look at the aggregate information on aid to the CAR and the uptick in violence, all signs point to a future decrease in traditional aid in the near future. Proponents of traditional monetary aid will surely decry any minimization of the dollar amount flowing towards the admittedly poverty-stricken and strife-ridden CAR. Yet what Todd Moss describes as the status quo of essentially “handing out charity” is long due for a reevaluation, particularly in the Central African Republic.[5]

As Dambisa Moyo argues, the practice of unchecked, annual aid in the name of humanitarian assistance—while perhaps ethically sound—promotes the continuation of conflict in the long run.[6] The Central African Republic is bountiful in its diamond resource, but most of the country’s population doesn’t stand a chance of benefiting from that financial pool. As such, the only other enticing and obvious opportunity for a more comfortable life lies in governmental positions. Public knowledge of aid in the range of hundreds of millions (and often billions) USD channeled through government, paired with a nation-wide (and partially-continent wide) tacit acceptance of national leaders siphoning off some of those funds for personal use, is a dangerous combination. The Seleka and anti-Balaka conflict can best be analyzed as a power struggle for the leadership of the country, perhaps even more than a religious conflict. The funds that incentivize struggle for national power are the same funds coming from aid plans aimed at alleviating the consequences of the struggle for national power. At the center of the cycle of violence, which in turn creates poverty and stalls development, is traditional humanitarian aid itself.

It is not a mistake that most major aid-giving nations, multilateral organizations, and NGOs are showing reluctance to continue their traditional aid gifts to the Central African Republic. On the country: their mistake was to continue this brand of huge loans and grants to the CAR’s government, and their failure to pursue more innovative forms of development support for the last half-century. This trend of cyclical violence is a barrier to development across the African continent. If, as Moyo argues and the CAR case proves, aid is a part of the cause of violence on the continent, a roll back in aid and a serious attempt at innovative ways to use financial resources to directly promote development without engaging directly with governmental power structures is long overdue.

[1] The International Monetary Fund, https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2016/07/21/20/54/PR16352-Central-African-Republic-IMF-Executive-Board-Approves-Three-Year-Arrangement-Under-the-ECF

[2] USAID, Central African Republican, https://www.usaid.gov/crisis/central-african-republic.

[3]

– Channel News Asia, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/cycle-of-violence-restricting-aid-in-central-african-republic/3220006.html

– UN News Center, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=55136#.WAjd8CMrKto.

[4] Central African Republic, Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2015/central-african-republic,

[5] Moss, Todd, “Chapter 8. The International Aid System.”

[6] Moyo, Dambisa, “The Myth of Aid”, Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), pg. 8.

 

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