Central African Republic suffers food shortages as rebels cut off capital

State of emergency declared after armed opposition forces attack convoy carrying supplies and blockade the city of Bangui

Central African Republic is facing serious food shortages as election violence has cut off the country and stranded hundreds of trucks carrying supplies outside its borders.

Food prices have risen steeply since the landlocked country’s main supply route from Cameroon was cut off by armed groups trying to blockade the capital, Bangui, where the government declared a state of emergency on Thursday.

The price of staple foods has risen by more than 50% in rural areas, according to the UN, which said an attack last Monday by rebels on a convoy carrying humanitarian supplies was “totally unacceptable”. Three drivers were injured in the attack.

More than 1,600 trucks have been stuck at the border, a third of them carrying humanitarian aid, including food and medicine.

Under the new umbrella Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement (CPC), armed groups launched an assault on Bangui ahead of the 27 December election, protesting against the exclusion of former president François Bozizé.

The CPC has seized towns around the country, but has been repelled from Bangui in clashes with government armed forces and the UN peacekeeping mission Minusca.

Hans De Marie Heungoup, senior central Africa analyst for Crisis Group, said the blockade of Bangui was “a deliberate tactic to strangle the capital economically, to force the government to the negotiating table”.

He said Bozizé had met with rebel leaders after his candidacy for the presidential election was thrown out by the constitutional court, his aim to prevent the elections taking place and to march on the capital.

A woman who fled the violent rebellion in Central African Republic holds her child as they wait to be processed in the border town of Garoua Boulai, Cameroon.
A woman who fled the violent rebellion in Central African Republic holds her child as they wait to be processed in the border town of Garoua Boulai, Cameroon. Photograph: Reuters

Both the rebels and the traditional opposition groups have rejected the election results, which confirmed the return of incumbent Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

“Many trucks of the UN come through Cameroon. Some come by air but most pass on land, through Cameroon,” said De Marie Heungoup.

“It’s not just the usual business activity that has stopped. With the fighting ongoing in several provinces, people are not receiving the assistance they usually do and this is a challenge,” he said, adding that some humanitarian groups had also been looted.

More than 100,000 people have been displaced since violence began last month, including 84,000 who have fled to neighbouring countries, according to the UN. About 10,000 refugees arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 13 January alone.

“This new wave of violence and displacement is increasing humanitarian needs at a time when the Central African people are already dealing with the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and years of conflict and insecurity,” said Fran Equiza, the representative for Unicef in CAR.

“It is likely to lead to an increase in the incidence of malnutrition among children and gross violations of their rights, such as recruitment or killing.”

Mankeur Ndiaye, the UN secretary-general’s representative to CAR, told a UN security council meeting on Thursday that seven peacekeepers had been killed. He said the peacekeeping mission needed more personnel because its forces were overstretched.

Bozizé was overthrown in 2013 by the rebel alliance known as Seleka, sparking a conflict between mainly Muslim and Christian armed groups. Many of CAR’s major armed groups signed a peace deal in Khartoum in 2019, but several joined the CPC.


Kaamil Ahmed

The GuardianTramp

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