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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Impact of war on the northwest

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


BANGUI, 3 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - Cotton farmer Faustin Bagaza, 55, wears the cloak of poverty around him even tighter these days. Despite harvesting his crop for two successive years, he has made no sales. The reason? A rebellion in northwestern Central African Republic (CAR) that has devastated the country's agriculture, health, education and other services.

"I have kept the cotton I harvested in 2002 and 2003 in my house and nobody has come to buy it," he told IRIN on 26 February.

Bagaza lives in Sibut, Kemo Province, 185 km northeast of the nation's capital, Bangui. He has been able to keep his three children at Sibut Secondary School, despite his meagre earnings and despite not having planted cotton in 2004.

Bagaza's situation is not unique. Poverty seems to be the experience of most people in the northwest, an area that bore the brunt of a six-month rebellion waged by former army chief of staff Francois Bozize against President Ange-Felix Patasse. The rebellion ended on 15 March 2003 when Bozize overthrew Patasse.

History of civil strife

The country has undergone several armed conflicts since the mid-1990s that badly affected the population. But unlike the 1996-7 mutinies and the May 2001 coup attempt by former leader Andre Kolingba, which affected a section of Bangui residents, Bozize's October 2002 to March 2003 rebellion wrecked havoc in five provinces: Ouham, Ouham Pende, Nana Grebizi, Kemo and parts of Ombella Mpoko. Thousands of people abandoned their homes for the bush or for neighbouring Chad.

As a result of the rebellion, most peasant farmers lost two planting seasons and have had no buyers for their last cotton harvest; health and educational facilities were looted, exposing people to diseases and epidemics; and insecurity increased in villages as armed robbers acquired modern guns and ammunition.

So far, an estimated 41,000 refugees remain in southern Chad, afraid to return home because of continued insecurity, the collapse of infrastructure, and destruction of villages.

To assess the situation and to prick the conscience of the international community to the plight of people living in the northwest, a mission of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) arrived in the country on 22 February for a two-week evaluation tour.

Headed by Special Humanitarian Adviser Ramiro Lopes Da Silva, the mission toured the provinces of Kemo, Nana Grebizi and Ouham from 26 to 28 February. Besides other OCHA officials, those from the UN Children's Fund, the UN Development Programme, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) accompanied Da Silva.

Plight of cotton farmers

The UN mission found that despite the adverse impact of the rebellion on the cotton-rich northwest, farmers had been picking their cotton - their major source of income - since 2002. Unfortunately, the cotton factory in Bossangoa, 305 km north of Bangui, was looted during the rebellion and its equipment taken to Chad by former rebels loyal to Bozize. Consequently, the Société Centrafricaine de Developpement des textiles (Socadetex), which was the only taker, was unable to buy from the farmers.

Bruno Gona dumped excess cotton on the Sibut to Kabo road

"Together with Socadetex, we began in January a campaign among farmers to encourage them to resume cotton farming," Jean de Dieu Sepokode, the deputy governor of Sibut, told IRIN.

He said Socadetex would rehabilitate its factories and could buy this year's cotton harvests.

On 3 February, CAR Prime Minister Celestin Gaombalet set up a committee to coordinate the rehabilitation of cotton factories in Bossangoa and Bambari, 385 km northeast of Bangui.

In villages along the road from Sibut to Kabo, a town 260 km north of Sibut in Ouham Province, farmers like Bruno Gona dumped cotton on the road for lack of storage room in their homes.

"The cotton I have in my house is worth up to 300,000 francs CFA [US $580]," Bruno Gona, a 25 year-old cotton farmer from the village of Patcho, 60 km south of Kabo in Nana Grebizi Province, told IRIN on 27 February.

In 2003, when an oil and soap firm, the Huilerie, Savonnerie de Centrafrique (Husaca) learnt of the cotton farmers' plight, it urged them to switch to maize and pledged to buy their crops. However, when the maize was harvested, the firm failed to keep its promise.

"We have stored our maize harvests in one of the village chief's houses as we wait for a buyer," Gona added.


 Theme(s) Peace Security
Other recent CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC reports:

Sudanese refugees visit home ahead of repatriation,  14/Nov/05

Civil servants reach agreement to end strike, for now,  14/Nov/05

Regional Summit postponed,  8/Nov/05

Food shortage looming, FAO official says,  7/Nov/05

CEMAC troops deployed to mining town of Bria,  31/Oct/05

Other recent Peace Security reports:

SUDAN: First APCs to arrive in Darfur on Friday, 15/Nov/05

SOMALIA: Heavy sentences for murder of aid workers in Somaliland, 15/Nov/05

AFGHANISTAN: Election results finalised, 14/Nov/05

IRAQ: Ongoing violence sees rising concern for journalists’ safety, 14/Nov/05

BURKINA FASO: Blaise Compaore, a president on a quest for legitimacy, 14/Nov/05

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