At PK5, the Bangui shopping district, where most of the goods imported into the Central African Republic normally arrive, the sellers look annoyed. Trade is slowing down. In the Sambo market, the stalls are still a bit thick, but customers take a second look before buying. “This pile of onions, before, it was 500 CFA francs [0,76 euro]. Now it is 2,000 CFA francs and it’s even gone even higher! “, protests Blandine, a client. The bulb is somewhat the standard meter on the market. And in recent weeks, its price has been soaring. Inflation due in large part to the insecurity that reigns in the country.
Since December 15, the Central African Republic has experienced a resurgence of violence. A new coalition of armed groups is confronting the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and their allies in Minusca, the United Nations mission, as well as reinforcements from Russia and Rwanda. On Wednesday January 13, the rebels leading an offensive against the regime of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, recently re-elected, launched two attacks at the entrance to the capital.
The armed groups still control a good part of the west of the country, in particular the Garoua-Boulaï-Bangui corridor, one of the main axes between the Central African Republic and neighboring Cameroon. About 80% of imported goods pass through there, according to the World Bank. Already, in March 2019, the blockage of the corridor by an armed group had caused significant inflation in Bangui. However, in the Central African Republic, 71% of the population lives below the poverty line.
“We are reaching the end of our reserves”
At PK5, a taxi stops in front of the displays arranged under colorful umbrellas. It is stuffed with sacks of onions and garlic from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “We stand in solidarity with our brothers in the Central African Republic”, explains a Congolese trader from Zongo, a small town just opposite Bangui, on the other side of the Ubangi. He had his goods transported by road from Kinshasa and says he does not sell his bags of onions for more than before the crisis. This is not the opinion of a trader, who notes on the contrary that the price of the bag is “ almost two or three times the normal price ”.
While some foodstuffs end up on the shelves – at prices that are admittedly astronomical – the bulk of stocks, in particular of inputs for crops or starches, are starting to run out. “The country is blocked, dry. We are in a critical situation ”, alarmed Adoum Adam, responsible for transport and logistics of a family business of wholesalers from PK5, who shows the state of its warehouses: “Normally this warehouse is full, and here we are at the end of our reserves. “ Peanuts, cereals, semolina, beans, but also cereal breads for animal feed… There are still bags, but not for long. “We want peace”, insists Adoum Adam, who asks the authorities to find a solution to let the convoys pass.
Officially ” in war “, in the words of Faustin-Archange Touadéra, the government is taking the problem very seriously. In addition to the looming shortage, taxes on this corridor constitute a very large majority of the country’s fiscal resources. The shortfall for the state is therefore enormous. On Monday January 11, Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada announced on his Facebook account that he had chaired an emergency meeting on this topic, during which a crisis unit was set up. “In accordance with the Minusca, is it specified, traffic will resume on Tuesday 12 January with escorts who will ensure the protection of each convoy with air support. “ An assessment must be carried out three days after the departure of the first convoy.
Truck drivers are at their wit’s end
Contacted, Minusca confirms having “Made a commitment to help the Central African authorities in the escort of the convoys”. However, she specifies that she will put “Providing human resources for this task, while taking into account the mission’s commitments on other fronts in support of the FACA against the coalition troops. “
A hundred trucks were to leave under escort from Bangui on Tuesday morning to reach the Cameroonian border and return with some of the 800 trucks waiting on the other side, in Garoua-Boulaï. According to the president of the Union Syndicale des Drivers de Centrafrique, Wilfried Dimanche Nguissimale, the death of a transporter during an accidental maneuver in the morning postponed the departure of the convoy. He still hadn’t left Wednesday morning.
At the Central African Road Charter Office (BARC) in Bangui, the situation is increasingly worrying. In the yard, several dozen trucks are parked with their loads in the parking lot. More than 360 vehicles have been waiting to leave for Cameroon for three weeks, most often with a crew of two people each. They are at their end, insists Wilfried Dimanche Nguissimale. Usually, drivers stay only a few days. “By being there, they spent what little they have. And they are not paid. Some, Cameroonians in particular, have left their families for weeks. ” At BARC, they receive a daily ration of food. Many sleep on the ground or in their trucks.