The CSS Blog Network

Book Review: The Central African Republic’s Vanishing State

Courtesy of caratello/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 4 May 2017.

The Central African Republic was most recently in the news when armed helicopters assigned to the United Nations mission in the country (MINUSCA) fired at a group of rebels near the town of Bambari. This was deemed necessary to protect civilians from attacks, which has been a central part of MINUSCA’s mandate since 2014, the year in which an armed rebellion ousted then-President Francois Bozize. Bambari marks a frontier between two groups that were part of the Séléka—the rebels that deposed Bozize but have since faced off against each other.

Notably missing from descriptions of this recent incident is the role of the government of CAR itself. Reporters and government officials alike attribute that absence to a “lack of capacity“—the state can scarcely project any presence beyond the capital city of Bangui. A stated goal of international engagement in CAR is to restore and extend state authority and legitimacy, ultimately producing a government able to resolve such insecurity without external assistance. While all involved acknowledge that this is an ambitious undertaking, to fully appreciate its magnitude one must read Yale University anthropologist Louisa Lombard’s account of state-making and rebellion in CAR, State of Rebellion: Violence and Intervention in the Central African Republic.

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Cameroon: Electric Dreams for Development by 2035

Power lines in Cameroon

Power lines over buildings in Cameroon, 2008. Photo by Zzilch on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

After his reelection in November 2011, President Paul Biya of Cameroon announced [fr] that the country would soon become a giant “construction site”. The goal for his new term is for Cameroon to reach emerging market status by 2035 through a series of “great achievements” in transport and energy infrastructure development [fr]. It’s a deadline that fails to convince [fr] many commentators, if only because the challenges are so great.

Energy, and specifically electricity, is especially problematic.  Like many other African countries, Cameroon suffers from insufficient electricity supplies.

Journalist Leopold Nséké explains in an article published in Afrique Expansion Magazine:

Underequipped, the African continent is awash in the obsolescence of its facilities and bore the brunt of poor management of available resources. Representing 15% of the world population, Africa consumes paradoxically only 3% of the total world production of electricity. » More

Polio is Back

Mothers and babies waiting in line for a Polio vaccination; photo: hdptcar/flickr

A mere two weeks after World Polio Day, a fast moving polio outbreak has struck three central African countries. The first confirmed re-appearance of the disease was reported on 4 November in the Republic of Congo (also known as Congo-Brazzaville), but the disease then quickly spread to both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. Within a week, the UN reported 226 infections and 104 deaths, with numbers rising quickly.

Polio is a contagious viral disease that attacks the body’s nervous system. Left untreated, polio can cause paralysis and death. It strikes children and young adults of both sexes equally. Usually, however, less than 10 percent of cases actually develop symptoms, and only 1 percent of these remain permanently paralyzed. This particular outbreak, meanwhile, is proving past medical statistics wrong.

According to the joint communiqué released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the rate of mortality for the current outbreak is alarmingly high. This has spurred the government in Brazzaville and numerous international agencies to launch a large-scale emergency vaccination campaign, which is to begin today. The vaccination drive is supposed to provide vaccinations to 3 million children and adults in central Africa.

Over the last decade, the number of polio cases reported annually had ground to a virtual standstill. Nigeria, for example, long considered to be Africa’s polio hot spot, had an impressive 98 percent drop in cases since 2009. International health authorities are therefore still musing on the causes of last month’s outbreak. It seems that the immunity of the children, teenagers and young adults in the region may have been lower than expected. Furthermore, today’s virus seems to be of a relatively new Indian strain that was first found in Angola in 2007 and which now slowly found its way further north.

Although the current outbreak may be considered an unexpected setback in what can otherwise be considered a fairly successful fight against the disease, we must never become complacent. As promised time and time again, polio must be made history.

The ISN holds an excellent set of resources on infectious diseases, epidemics, pandemics, and disease control. In addition, the ISN Digital Library also offers a comprehensive list of international health organizations.