The Central African Republic's capital is on edge with mounting insecurity and food shortages
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People living in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, are facing growing insecurity as clashes between the army and rebel groups have continued in the five weeks following the presidential election. A ban on motorcycle taxis has caused chaos in the transportation sector and the price of food and other basic goods have skyrocketed after rebels cut off the main supply road with Cameroon. Our Observers say they are exhausted by these struggles, but appreciate the solidarity among residents.
On January 25, a truck driver was killed when rebel groups ambushed the road between Cameroon and Bangui. This incident doesn’t bode well for the more than 1,500 trucks carrying food and medicine who have been blocked for more than a month in the Cameroonian border town of Garoua Boulai. The drivers are waiting for a pause in the conflict that began on December 19 when rebel groups contested the presidential election. They believe the election was rigged in favour of President Faustin Archange Touadéra, who was reelected on December 27 with 53.92 percent of the vote.
The frontline has gotten closer and closer to Bangui. Fighting has now reached the neighbourhoods of PK11 and PK12, which are located about a dozen kilometres from the town centre. After a deadly attack on January 13, authorities banned the circulation of motorcycle taxis, which are the main form of transportation for Bangui residents, especially students.
Schools were closed then reopened this Monday, leading to scenes of chaos as commuters jockeyed for a place on the buses and taxis.
'I had to scramble to get to work on time'
Our Observer, Fridolin Ngoulou, is a journalist who runs Oubangui media. He witnessed the chaos firsthand.
Motorcycle taxis are the easiest way to get around in Bangui. However, the impact of the ban wasn’t too significant until Monday [January 25] when the schools re-opened after certain security measures were lifted. All of the children needed to get to school by 7.30am, when classes start here. There weren’t enough buses and taxis to meet the demand and they were quickly overwhelmed.
I saw some pretty chaotic scenes yesterday and I took photos of the crowd. I waited an hour and a half on Monday morning with my children. At 8.30am, we realised it was still impossible to board and we had to give up.
Since then, I was lucky enough to find a solution to get my children to their school, which is nine kilometres from where we live. An uncle who has a motorcycle has agreed to do the school run every day. We are lucky because a lot of children have to walk.
There are just too many students and other people who need to commute every day for the limited buses and taxis. I had to scramble to get a bus to the office before the deadline for the paper.
'The frontline is just six kilometres from my home'
Our Observer Vicky Nelson Wackoro works as a capoeira instructor and studies cinema. Wackoro faced the same issues.
There has been a 6pm curfew since January 7 so everyone is on the road at the same time in order to get home in time. That makes it even harder to get a place on the bus. It’s a stressful situation for everyone, especially because the city is very tense right now. There are a lot of policemen around. They are stopping a lot of people to check their identity. There are lots of soldiers and their vehicles in the streets.
This morning, explosions woke me up. The frontline is just six kilometres from my home.
However, this stressful and tense environment has led to some solidarity. Our two Observers were able to get to work thanks to the help of other drivers – friends and strangers alike – who gave them lifts.
Cut off roads lead to shortages and skyrocketing prices
Aside from the insecurity and the issues with transportation, Central Africans are also facing shortages of food and medicine because the main supply road is partially controlled by rebel groups.
Prices overall have increased by 16 percent while the price of imported products has risen between 15 to 240 percent, announced the Central African Institute of Statistics on January 27.
'The most worrying trend is the rise in food prices'
Fridolin Ngoulou has also seen a sharp increase in the price of essential goods.
There’s so much demand for transportation that we’ve seen an increase in the price of bus tickets, especially during the late afternoon rush hour. The cost has gone from 150 francs to 200 or 300 francs [that's a rise from between €0.23 and €0.31 to €0.46].
But the most worrying trend is the rise in food prices.
I saw bowls of manioc [also known as cassava, a tuberous root plant] being sold for 3,500 francs instead of the usual 2,500 francs [Editor’s note: that’s roughly €5.34 instead of €3.81), bread for 150 francs instead of 100 francs [€0.23 versus €0.15] and 25kg bags of flour being sold for 52,000 francs instead of the usual 20,500 [close to €80 instead of €31].
Moreover, many basic food items have become rare or, in some cases, almost impossible to find, including flour, oil, onions, frozen chicken, ground meat and fish.