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CAR, the forgotten country

March 26th, 2013

I start writing this story wondering how many people will read it. The Central African Republic, or CAR as it is usually abbreviated in the news, a country of 4.4 million people, has been going through tough times for years, and yet there has been very little interest in the plight of its people. Now it looks like CAR has fallen off the edge, and finally it is making the news, although by far not as much as Syria or Cyprus.

After months of unrest escalating into heavy fighting in the last few days, rebels captured the capital, Bangui on Sunday. The change of power risks taking a heavy toll on the population: many people have been injured, the hospitals (some of which have been looted) are struggling to cope with the influx of victims, and frequent power failures and water cuts are making the situation particularly difficult. The insecurity is preventing humanitarian workers from continuing with their life-saving missions.

But while this is bad, CAR has been hit by chronic conflict for many, many years. And you probably have not heard much about that, because CAR does not make a lot of headlines in the media. It’s not just that it is squeezed out of today’s news cycles by bigger and more “newsworthy” crises. No, most of the time, the Central African Republic is just invisible – a forgotten country, a crisis which has slipped off the international radar to such an extent that even when thousands of people are at risk the world does not pay attention. Even the social media, which are one of my yardsticks for measuring the pulse of public opinion, are largely quiet on this.

But there are some positive stories in the gloomy news from CAR. The good news (also under-reported) is that for many years, humanitarian organizations have been working in Bangui and elsewhere in the country. NGOs, the Red Cross, the UN. The European Union has been funding them for many years already – including humanitarians working in remote parts of CAR, far from any public attention. We will continue to support their activities and help make it possible for them to help the most vulnerable people in this long-suffering country. But ending this suffering and bringing lasting peace to CAR requires political, not humanitarian work. Under the mist of oblivion and while we are busy looking elsewhere, horrible things happen – with severe implications for people there, but also impact on the rest of the world. Somalia and Afghanistan taught us bitter lessons about what happens when a country is let to fail. For the sake of CAR, ourselves and our consciousness, may we find the will to care.

To those who read this story – thank you.

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