Sunday, January 26, 2014

Populations at Risk in the Central African Republic

A land-locked sub-Saharan Africa country with Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad as neighbors is likely to have a hard go of it, and the Central African Republic has been struggling ever since its independence from France in 1960. It is home to an estimated 4.7 million people, a large fraction of whom are displaced by violence, including threats of genocide. There was hope this week, though, that the country's first female President might be a change for the better, as The Atlantic reported (and this report includes a good synopsis of the history of the situation):
On Thursday, the Central African Republic swore its first female president, Catherine Samba-Panza, into office, with the interim leader vowing to “safeguard the peace” and “strengthen national unity” without “any ethnic, regional, or religious considerations.” It’s a selection that, coming on the heels the European Union’s decision to deploy troops to the country, has prompted speculation that the humanitarian disaster that has plagued the heart of Africa in recent months may be drawing to a close.
Sectarian violence of Christians versus Muslims has been especially problematic, as noted by the Guardian:
With thousands dead and atrocities on both sides, UN officials warned that the cycle of reprisals was at high risk of degenerating into a genocide. Overwhelmed, Michel Djotodia, the country's first Muslim president,walked away after nine dismal months. Enter Samba-Panza, 59. Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society in the UK, said: "In a such a time you might expect a macho man to create a dictatorship and take control. Instead they elected a woman and it might be the answer."
It is difficult to imagine the future for a country in which women are having more than six children each (although nearly 2 in 10 children born will die before reaching age 5), and in which life expectancy is in the high 40s--among the very lowest in the world. This is compounded by high HIV infection rates. In general, it is a very young population trying to find work in an economy dominated by subsistence agriculture. President Samba-Panza (a Christian) has her work cut out for her, without question.

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