Integrating economic development approaches into peacebuilding in the Central African Republic

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    The BêkouTrust Fund, the first ever European Trust Fund, has been established to go beyond humanitarian assistance and stimulate economic recovery as well as strengthen stability in Central African Republic.
    A volatile and fragile context

    For decades, the Central African Republic has been subject to a recurring cycle of instability and violence, which keeps the country in a state of vulnerability, while the main indicators of development have stagnated for 20 years.

    In 2013 a rebel movement, the Seleka, put an end to François Bozizé’s presidency. At this stage politically sponsored armed groups emerged and a culture of retaliation between armed groups and communities, seen as aligned with or supporting them, started to develop. This led to massive violence and human rights violations. The common efforts of the African Union, UN, EU and France to stabilise the country led in 2014 to a ceasefire agreement and to the establishment of a transition government, presided by President Catherine Samba-Panza. Despite the fact that the Central African Republic has regained the attention of the international community, tensions and conflicts between communities, the presence of rebel movements and armed groups and the manipulation of religious differences still represent, among other factors, a threat to peace and reconstruction in the country (International Crisis Group, 2015). Since a new outbreak of intercommunity violence at the end of September 2015, the security situation has been very volatile.Nevertheless, after a few signs of stabilisation, presidential and legislative elections took place to choose a legitimate government who will lead the country to stability. In addition to or even due to this fragile context, the number of development actors and donors in the country is limited and does not allow for the launch of ambitious programmes for economic recovery.

    A European first: the Bêkou Trust Fund

    In order to respond to the consequences of the 2013 crisis, the European Union, together with France, Germany and the Netherlands, created the BêkouTrust Fund, the first ever European Trust Fund. This instrument has been developed to enable donors act efficiently in a post-crisis situation and to allow the swift transition from humanitarian aid to early recovery and development (the so called LRRD approach - Linking Relief Rehabilitation and Development).

    It makes use of flexible and faster procedures, different from traditional EU development tools, opening new possibilities to implement projects in a fragile context likethe Central African Republic. Moreover it aims at pooling resources and expertise between humanitarian and development actors working in/for the Central African Republic and at ensuring better coordination between interventions. In addition, the Fund should reinforce the effect and the visibility of EU’s interventions in Central African Republic, in the aftermath of the violence of 2013/2014. The Fund's main objective is to strengthen the resilience of populations, providing for urgent needs and mostly basic services while, at the same time, addressing the root causes of violence and tensions between communities. As one of the root causes of these tensions lies in poverty and inequalities between social groups, the Fund considers economic recovery and job creation as essential in supporting the country's development, stabilization and social cohesion. As such, the Fund integrates actions to support economic recovery in specific programmes and as an important component of most of its projects.

    In practice

    The Fund has launched specific programmes aimed at stimulating economic recovery and job creation:
    • A programme of economic and social reconstruction in urban areas (PRESU) that aims to improve socio-economic conditions in Bangui’s poor neighbourhoods. It intends to provide inhabitants with social support and better access to basic services, as well as to create economic opportunities for households to boost their social and professional integration.
    • A programme to promote the economic recovery and the empowerment of Central African economic actors: It aims to financially empower economic actors working in the informal economy and/or who were particularly affected by the crisis. By financing economic activities of local entrepreneurs, this programme brings added value, employment and economic growth, contributing to restoring the Central African Republic’s socio-economic fabric.
    Economic revival and job creation are also fundamental components of other programmes funded by Bêkou:
    • Food security: The programme aims to sustainably improve food and nutrition security in the Central African Republic, through different actions: re-establishing people's livelihoods through capacity building of farmers' organisations and boosting savings and capital at community level. The objective is to strengthen communities' overall resilience on three pillars: food, professionalisation and income-generating activities.
    • Gender: The programme aims to improve the economic situation and social status of women and their families in the Central African Republic, to contribute to a more equal society and to promote social cohesion. In strong partnership with local associations and NGOs, different actions are implemented through this programme: workshops, revenue generating activities, support for victims of gender based violence, support to the launch of economic activities, activities to raise awareness on women’s situation and their role in the social and economic recovery of the country.
    • Reconciliation Revenue-generating activities are foreseen as a core part of the activities to restore dialogue and social cohesion. This aims notably at addressing inequalities and lack of access to resources, which are one of the major sources of tensions between communities.

    Beyond humanitarian assistance, towards economic recovery

    The Fund has, from time to time, been questioned about the relevance of such programmes in a fragile context such as the Central African Republic, where as yet the response to emergency needs is not fully covered. In fact, this mechanism has been put in place specifically to go beyond humanitarian assistance, while laying the basis for development in the long term; as such, investing in economic recovery, job creation and better overall prospects for the younger generation (notably as an alternative to joining armed groups) is a key tool to ease tensions, to give hope and perspectives to strengthen stability. Perceived inequalities inside and between communities are in fact among the causes of destabilisation (CRISE, 2010). While the Fund works to provide the conditions for economic recovery, the lasting effects in terms of stimulating private sector initiatives will not be guaranteed without the strong reengagement of the private sector, notably to restart businesses and economic activities affected by the crisis.

    References :

    Read more on the Bêkou Trust Fund at: CRISE  (2010), “Horizontal inequalities as a cause of conflict: a review of CRISE findings”, January. International Crisis Group (2015), “Central African Republic: the Roots of Violence”, 21 September. About the author  Irchad Razaaly is Bêkou Trust Fund Manager,  EU Commission, DG DEVCO.  
    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 1 (February 2016).

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