Field Notes Protecting Civilians in the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic is a world away.

Here the brutal violence of the past five years has left scars on the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, and turned towns to rubble.

Since 2014, MINUSCA — the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic — has worked to protect civilians and keep the peace. It's here in CAR that one sees firsthand the successes and failures of peacekeeping. To better understand CAR, what's worked here, what hasn't — is to better understand the challenges that peacekeeping operations around the world face protecting civilians caught in the crosshairs of conflict.

Stimson experts Aditi Gorur and Madeline Vellturo traveled to CAR to see the progress made, and the work that remains to be done.

These are their field notes.

When we arrived in Bangui, we were greeted with somber news.

During our flight, armed groups had attacked a U.N. convoy in the east of the country, killing one Moroccan and four Cambodian peacekeepers.

Only four days later, another Moroccan peacekeeper was killed while responding to an attack against civilians in Bangassou.

We attended the memorial and joined with the mission to pay our respects to those who had laid down their lives in pursuit of peace.

We went to PK5, a neighborhood in Bangui where some of the conflict’s most volatile clashes took place.

There, we spoke with former armed group fighters who were hard at work rehabilitating a neighborhood that had been razed by violence.

We met Abdoulai, a Muslim refugee who had fled to Cameroon during the conflict.

He had returned to Bangui two weeks prior upon hearing that his former neighborhood was being rebuilt.

He had built a roof for his house and told us that he was looking forward to bringing back his wife and children, who were still in Cameroon.

We met with the mayor of PK5, the local imam, and neighborhood council members to listen to their stories and the challenges and concerns they faced in their daily lives.

A chopper took us to Kaga Bandoro, home to MINUSCA’s sector headquarters for the restive and volatile central region of the country.

Stimson's Aditi Gorur arrives in Kaga Bandoro, a market town in the Central African Republic 200 miles north of the capital Bangui.

We spoke with former armed group fighters.

They were participating in MINUSCA’s skills training programs.

We visited a training center for women learning trades like sewing.

These programs are part of the mission’s efforts to deter former fighters from taking up arms again, by providing them with new economic opportunities.

All these perspectives helped us better understand the threats that civilians are facing in CAR, the work the U.N. is doing, and the challenges the mission is up against.

The horrors of conflict continue in CAR. The data we gathered will be used to inform this and future U.N. missions so that they can better protect innocent civilians caught in the crossfire of violent conflict. We hope that by sharing our visit — and through our ongoing work — others can better understand both the difficulty and the importance of protecting those whose lives remain at risk.

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