The Central African Republic (CAR) now has over 4,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19, although the real number is likely higher due to low rates of testing. As healthcare systems in wealthier countries struggle under the strain of the pandemic, healthcare workers in places which have already been weakened by years of conflict such as CAR face an even greater challenge. A peace deal signed in February 2019 is yet to be fully implemented, and the COVID-19 pandemic comes at a time of continued insecurity and ongoing operations of armed groups.
Alongside our partners AAHC and FHAP, we have been working with over 600 young people living in areas heavily affected by displacement and insecurity in Bossangoa and Paoua sub-prefectures. Together, we’ve trained young people in peacebuilding skills including how to identify and analyse conflicts in their community, develop action plans for addressing these conflicts, and how to put the action plans into practice in their everyday life.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been working with these young people to adapt their conflict analysis and action plans to factor in new challenges arising from a potential outbreak in their communities. They have worked with health officials to map likely areas of COVID-19 hotspots and have created new conflict mapping resources. They have analysed how increasing tensions over resource scarcity, potential lockdowns and economic hardship will interact with existing conflict drivers.
The young people recently invited mayors from five different communes to hear their updated analysis and learn how the pandemic might impact conflict dynamics in their communities. Workshops took place in Bossangoa in May and Paua in June and the mayors were impressed with the work done by the young people. Our Central African Republic Programme Officer, Theophane Ngbaba, explains:
“This sign of support from the mayors is an important step, especially as young people have historically been viewed by authorities as unimportant, ignorant or troublemakers. At the end of the workshops, a commitment was made by the mayors to keep lines of communication open between local authorities and the young people.”
The young people we work with in Bossangoa and Paoua have also been producing radio shows to educate people about the risks of COVID-19. Working with journalists and health professionals, they have produced both factual shows and plays. They ran a series of shows where they collected rumours about COVID-19 from members of their communities, and then interviewed a doctor to myth-bust the misinformation.
Theophane is working with these young people living in the Central African Republic and recognises their ability to lead COVID-19 responses in their communities:
“As cases of COVID-19 increase across the Central African Republic, these young peacebuilders will have a really important role to play. They are becoming respected leaders within their communities and can help to persuade their communities to listen to the medical advice. They are also able to identify potential tensions early on and can advocate for additional support from local authorities.”
Our COVID-19 work with young people and local authorities is funded by the UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund’s Gender and Youth Promotion Initiative and UK Aid from the British Government.
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The Central African Republic (CAR) has had a long and turbulent history of violent conflict and political instability. Since the most recent crisis erupted in 2013 huge efforts have been made to pull the country back from the brink of armed conflict.