Since December 2013, Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), has seen an unprecedented rise in violence. This has mainly been aimed at the city's Muslim population, though they themselves have often fought back. Already, thousands have fled and looting has been widespread, but a new scheme aims to alleviate the violence in an interesting way.
Talking to IRIN news, Eric Levron, livelihood adviser at the United Nations Development programme, says that the lack of jobs for young people is a major cause of the persistent violence. By investing $31 million into public works over four years, donor agencies aim to create thousands of low-skilled jobs. If successful, this project will reduce the numbers of young people in gangs, whilst also rebuilding Bangui's battered infrastructure.
Spreading the money around
Donors have taken the unusual step of limiting the contracts that unskilled employees get through the scheme to 45 days. Whilst this seems odd for a programme that aims to increase employment, it is to ensure that as many people as possible will benefit from the new jobs that are created. The scheme also ensures that employers pay workers more than the typical rate for their work, so that the benefits extend beyond the time of employment.
The idea is that, though these jobs are not permanent, people will be able to save money whilst working them and then invest that money productively afterwards. In similar 'cash-for-work' schemes, young people have shown themselves to be good savers, especially when earning higher than normal wages. The hope is that these savings will enable them to start doing the same kinds of labour activities that they did prior to this recent crisis, such as working as a street vendor.
A good start
Already, people are seeing the positive impact of the new jobs. Cedric Ondulka, a drainage ditch digger employed as part of the new programme, speaks to IRIN of his support for the scheme and his belief that the work will help put an end to gang violence. However, CAR governments in the past have focused only on the capital and have excluded other areas, so it is important that this is just the beginning of the project. There are already plans to launch similar programmes in more rural areas, but these have run into a number of problems.
Primarily, investment in farming would be essential for increasing employment and expanding agriculture, but donors and NGOs tend to dislike the idea of funding private landowners. Additionally, since most peacekeepers are stationed in urban areas, rural regions remain more insecure and harder to work in as a result. The French Development Agency is keen to fund work in the countryside, so they may now have to take the first step and demonstrate the effectiveness of this unconventional approach.
SOS Children is currently working to provide care and support to children and other vulnerable people displaced by the violence in CAR. Find out more about our emergency work and ongoing projects in CAR.