CAR exodus may cause 'catastrophic market collapse'

  • 11 February 2014
  • From the section Africa
Women come back from the fields to sell vegetables at a market near the internally displacement camp close to the airport in Bangui on January 7, 2014.
Image caption With traders and herders fleeing the country, aid organisations fear the food crisis in CAR will only get worse

Aid organisations have warned that the continued exodus of Muslims from the Central African Republic (CAR) could lead to a catastrophic market collapse.

Oxfam and Action Against Hunger say fewer than 10 wholesalers remain in the capital, Bangui, with many considering leaving the country.

As a result, they warn staple food supplies could dry up and prices rise.

With 90% of the population estimated by the UN to eat one meal a day, there are fears the situation could worsen.

Violence between the Christian majority and Muslims has torn the country apart since a coup last year. Tens of thousands of Muslims have already fled the country to neighbouring Cameroon and Chad.

Backbone of the economy

Meat is already scarce because cattle herders have fled into the bush and, when available, it is twice as expensive as it was, says the BBC's West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy.

Many of the Muslims chased out by Christian militias were the backbone of the local economy, he adds.

Some 96% of farmers are without access to seeds, the UN says, just under a month before the main planting season.

The violence is preventing food from getting into the country with hundreds of food lorries stuck at the border with Cameroon because many drivers fear being attacked by armed groups.

The consequences of failing to protect those who remain, Oxfam says, could be disastrous for everyone.

Earlier, Human Rights Watch (HRW) told the BBC the religious violence could force CAR's entire Muslim population to flee.

HRW emergency director Peter Bouckaert said this could affect the economy, as Muslims control the livestock market and other businesses.

The CAR, one of Africa's poorest nations, has been in chaos for more than a year since Muslim Seleka rebels seized power.

Coup leader Michel Djotodia, who became the CAR's first Muslim leader, resigned as interim president last month as part of a regional peace process.

However, violence, largely perpetrated by either Christian anti-Balaka militias or Seleka members, has continued despite interventions by thousands of peacekeepers from the African Union and the former colonial power, France.

Image caption French peacekeepers continue to patrol Bangui as families mourn new victims of the inter-religious violence
Image caption Houses in Bangui's 5th district have been burnt down in the fighting
Image caption A mosque stood ruined in Bangui's 5th district on Sunday
Image caption Local police have started patrolling Bangui with the French military in a bid to restore order

War crimes inquiry

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda says she has opened a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes in the CAR.

Mrs Bensouda said she had received reports of "extreme brutality by various groups".

The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says all communities are affected by the violence, but lately there have been collective reprisals against Muslims.

According to MSF, about 30,000 refugees are already in Chad and another 10,000 have reached Cameroon.

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