A security crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) - which began on 10 December 2012, when the rebel Seleka Alliance attacked the capital, Bangui, and continued after Seleka ousted former President François Bozizé on 24 March - is ratcheting up food prices, causing unemployment and salary payment delays, and throwing the banking system into turmoil.
Food prices have risen sharply in the past six months.
"Before, a sack of peanuts was 30,000 CFA francs [US$61], but now it's 55,000- 60,000 [$111-122], making it difficult for us to buy," said Ahmed Hassan, a wholesale peanut seller in marché du kilomètre 5, the largest market in Bangui. “If you buy at 60,000 CFA, you only sell very small quantities. Customers are complaining a lot.”
Numerous checkpoints on the main roads into the city provide an opportunity for racketeers to impose illegal taxes and extort bribes, and traders have to pass on these costs to their customers.
"The difficulties are at the checkpoints. When you arrive, you are told to unload all your goods so they can check you are not concealing weapons, and then you have to pay - that’s the main problem… They ask you to pay 60,000 [$122] or 50,000 CFA [$101], and you have to haggle long and hard to reduce that to 20,000, 15,000 or 10,000 CFA [$40, $30 or $20],” Hassan said.
Household food bills are rising. “Three months ago, you could get enough beef to feed a family of six for 2,000 CFA [$4], but that has now become impossible,” said a local housewife.
After the coup, banks imposed restrictions, including limits on the amount of cash that can be withdrawn.
Ecobank, "the pan-African bank" and the largest in the country, has posted a notice outside its branches specifying individual and company daily withdrawal limits - 200,000 CFA [$407] for individuals and two million CFA [$4,048] for large companies. Other banks have even tougher restrictions.
There have also been lengthy queues at banks and microfinance institutions.
“I’ve been waiting here since morning. I'm going to spend all day standing in the sun, queuing," said one young man.
Many bank customers told IRIN they were coming to the city centre several times a week to try to withdraw funds.
To make matters worse, hundreds of people have been laid off in the past few weeks in Bangui.
"We’ve suffered big losses amounting to 100 million CFA [$202,400], so there’s been a big slow-down in our business and financial activities. Economic realities are forcing us to lay off workers," said Jean-Gilles Kanko, the country general manager of TNT Express.
The owner of an academic computer centre in Bangui was forced to lay off all his 55 staff members after the establishment was looted and burned. “I do not know what to do. I wrote to the head of state, I wrote to the minister, but no one answered me," he said.
"We are in a very difficult situation. We challenge the government to restore peace and security so we can get back to work and earn our daily bread,” said a redundant employee whose company had about 1,500 employees before the start of the crisis.
According to local media reports, civil servants have not been paid for the past two months.
Pensioners, meanwhile, have not been receiving their benefits.
"We need the government to pay attention to our plight because the way we are living is beyond understanding. For more than three months we have not even had soap to wash our clothes,” said retiree Joseph Maité.
“We need our money to run our families and meet certain daily needs," said another pensioner.
Students have likewise gone without grant money for several months.
"I am a student teacher at ENI [Ecole Nationale des Instituteurs] in Bambari. Straight after the arrival of Seleka elements in Bambari, our leaders left us to our fate. We left Bambari on foot to get to Bangui, hoping to get our grant payment, which we have not received since October 2012. Now we’re in Bangui - still no grant,” said Olona-Saleh Teddy.
A new report on CAR by the think tank International Crisis Group warns that the new government is fragile and must work to avoid plunging the country into further chaos.
“To avoid having an ungovernable territory in the heart of Africa, the new government of national unity must quickly adopt emergency security, humanitarian, political and economic measures to restore security and revive the economy,” the report’s authors said. “For their part, international partners must replace their ‘wait-and-see’ policy with more robust political and financial engagement to supervise and support the transition.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions