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With no army or basic services, C.Africa leader eyes donors

BANGUI (CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC) (AFP) – 

Though elected early this year, Central Africa’s new president has no army to command or civil service to call on. He still fills in as a university maths lecturer due to lack of teaching staff.

But this week could offer Faustin-Archange Touadera a lifeline, as donors come together in Brussels to plot a future for a country strategically positioned at the heart of Africa, but ravaged by three years of intense inter-religious strife.

He hopes Thursday’s donor conference generates a massive financial shot-in-the-arm for the around five million residents of one of the world’s poorest nations.

“We have come a long way and the country needs to be rebuilt,” 59-year-old Touadera told AFP in an interview. “We’re working in favour of peace but our situation remains extremely fragile.”

That will be the message that the academic will want to send to prospective donors including the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, France and the United States.

Despite the presence of a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping force — MINUSCA — Touadera’s Bangui-based government has failed to establish control over the entire country.

Efforts to disarm the pro-Muslim and pro-Christian militia groups responsible for thousands of deaths and the displacement of half a million people — one in 10 Central Africans — have failed, with bloodshed once again making a resurgence.

Recent weeks have seen fresh flare-ups of the militia violence that began with the 2013 ouster of Christian president Francois Bozize by a largely Muslim rebel group, triggering revenge attacks and a spiral of atrocities between the two communities.

– ‘Regional stability is at stake’ –

French troops who deployed in late 2013 amid fears of a sectarian bloodbath left earlier this month.

The plight of those displaced by the three-year conflict remains all too visible, with many still clustered in squalid conditions along the tarmac of Bangui’s M’poko airport, despite the end of all-out fighting.

In the absence of a competent national security force, UN peacekeepers watch over security at the airport as well as at the presidential palace.

Touadera, who continues to teach at the university between meetings, will on Thursday set out his priorities to donors.

Disarmament, restructuring the armed forces, national reconciliation, the launch of a special warcrimes court and providing basic social needs will be top of his list.

Touadera said he hoped to secure pledges worth “$1.6 billion (1.5 billion euros) over three years and three billion over five years”.

Touadera told AFP he had been asked to pledge to use the funds appropriately.

“Fighting corruption is a key element,” he said.

But opposition leader Anicet-Georges Dologuele warned that it might prove difficult for the country “to absorb an enormous amount in five years. We will need a lot of professionalism”.

France, the former colonial power, is maintaining a couple of hundred troops in the country because “regional stability is at stake” as Boko Haram jihadists shore up their bases in Nigeria and northern Cameroon, according to a French source who asked not to ne named.

The US too is maintaining around 100 special forces in eastern Central Africa near the border with South Sudan to ward off trouble from Ugandan rebels.

© 2016 AFP