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Country focus: Technology and troubled Central African Republic

January 23, 2014 • Features, Top Stories

Former CAR President François Bozizé (image credit: diasporas.fr)

Former CAR President François Bozizé (image credit: diasporas.fr)

At the beginning of 2014 internal conflict between Christian and Muslim communities in the Central African Republic (CAR) grabbed the world’s attention. History shows that periods of stability have been few and far between for the region and according to latest reports, interim president Catherine Samba-Panza has appealed to EU countries for help to achieve order following fresh waves of unrest and uprising.

The conflict has forced almost a million people from their homes and EU leaders are poised to send a military force to support French and African troops already deployed in the region.

The United Nations (UN) chief special advisor on genocide prevention, Adama Dieng, is quoted by a German news broadcaster as telling the global body’s Security Council that the country was at “a high risk of crimes against humanity and genocide.”

But how did this former French colony arrive at this point?  More recent history chronicles how, in January 2013, former general François Bozizé, opposition leaders and rebels formed a government of national unity headed by Bozizé as president and an opposition prime minister. The agreement only lasted till March and led to insurgence by rebels and leader Michael Djotodia taking drastic action, suspending the constitution and stepping into the position as president.

However, Djotodia resigned after a regional summit in early January and has agreed to go into exile.

Ongoing conflict and trouble with the rebel Sélèka movement has seen international bodies like the African Union and UN commit peacekeeping forces.

Can technology help?

Research by Informa Telecoms & Media entitled Africa Telecoms Outlook 2014: Maximising digital service opportunities, identifies mobile broadband and the increase in global connectivity as key drivers behind projected growth for Africa in 2014.

According to statistics revealed in this research, there were 778 million mobile subscriptions in Africa by end June 2013 and the expectation is that the mobile-subscription count will reach one billion during 2015.

Contrary to what is being experienced in other regions, in Africa mobile voice revenues are expected to grow over the next few years. The research adds that annual mobile data revenues on the continent are expected to rise from US$8.53 billion in 2012 to US$23.16 billion in 2018.

CAR has been identified as one of the countries that stands to benefit from The Central African Backbone Project, at the heart of which is the development of fibre optic internet backbone, supported by the World Bank. It is anticipated that affiliation to this Project will do much to help develop and sustain international connectivity.

There is also a strong global focus on the critical communications role that technology has the potential to play – particularly in terms of providing up to date and relevant information to humanitarian groups.

There are 150, 920 internet users in the country and the objective is to enhance online and phone services to support aid operations.

This technical capacity has been reinforced by the deployment of 3G services in Bangui by telecommunications services provider Orange.

However, despite the ongoing objective to bolster communications, in July 2013 the ICT Humanitarian Emergency Platform quoted Komi Amedjonekou, ICT officer for the World Food Programme (WFP), as describing the communications in the country as “weak”. “You can’t rely on the local ISP (internet service provider) as coverage is very patchy. NGOs are writing to us asking when we can provide connectivity,” said Amedjonekou.

As many as 2.0 million of the country’s citizens are believed to be in need of some form of humanitarian aid, according to the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT).

The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), activated in 25 countries since 2007 and established to provide critical IT and telecommunications services to support humanitarian efforts, is also active in the region.

 

 

* Image via Shutterstock

Chris Tredger – Online Editor

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