News / Africa

Bangui Work Program Targets Potential Troublemakers

Muslims with their belongings are seen before they are escorted by French peacekeepers from their homes in Bangui, Central African Republic, April 27, 2014
Muslims with their belongings are seen before they are escorted by French peacekeepers from their homes in Bangui, Central African Republic, April 27, 2014
Nick Long
Aid donors have come up with a plan to put young people back to work in the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui - at least for a few weeks.  C.A.R. authorities say they hope this will keep restive youths out of trouble and enable them to restart their own businesses.  

This week donors announced plans to spend around $31 million on public works programs that would rapidly rotate job opportunities among Bangui’s unemployed.

The private companies bidding to work on these projects will have to meet some unusual conditions: They will have to pay their unskilled employees about twice as much as usual - $6 a day instead of $3 - and they will have to limit each unskilled worker’s contract to just 45 days.

Eric Levron of the United Nations development agency (UNDP) said in a VOA interview that the idea is to increase employee turnover, to give more people a share of the work and income.   

"This high turnover condition is new in the sense that donors - in this case, the French Development Agency [AFD], the World Bank, the European Union and UNDP - have not previously insisted on such conditions in dealing with the private sector," said Levron.

At a meeting this week between donors and the government, a spokesman for the C.A.R.’s public works agency, Diogene Gon, made no secret of the fact that they are hoping such public works programs will keep potential troublemakers out of mischief.

"The objective is to put a lot of young people to work, so they will be tired and sleep well at night and not do 'stupid things,'"said Gon.

Since last December, when violence escalated between the anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka militias, thousands of homes and shops in Bangui have been looted, many have been destroyed by mobs, more than a thousand inhabitants have been killed and most of the Muslim population has fled.

The $31 million from international donors over the next four years will support program to dig drainage ditches, unblock sewers and repair roads.  This is only part of the aid these donors will spending on Bangui’s infrastructure by 2017, but other improvements will not focus on jobs programs.

A few hundred people work on those kinds of projects in Bangui at the moment.  In the next few weeks their number will rise to several thousand.

One ditch-digger who is on the job already is Cedric Onduluka.  He took a break to talk to VOA this morning.

"It’s good news that there will be more of this kind of work. This will be a great relief to young people.  When they have work they won’t be tempted to break into people’s houses and loot and steal," said Onduluka.

The French development agency says no target number has been set for the manual-labor team.  They could employ a large part of Bangui’s population - estimated to be close to one million, depending on how frequently the work is rotated among the same people.

Most contracts are likely to last about a month.  One aid organization that has been running labor-intensive or so-called "cash for work" programs in Bangui is the French technical agency ACTED.  Its boss in Bangui is Frederic Linardon.  

'In my experience, many young people in Bangui who work for $5 or $6 a day can save enough money in a month to relaunch the kind of activity they had before the crisis - as street vendors, for example," said Linardon.

So far all the "cash-for-work" jobs will be in Bangui, but the C.A.R. public works agency says future programs will extend outside the capital, at first in southwestern parts of the country, when security conditions permit.

C.A.R. governments have traditionally focused resources on the capital to the exclusion of the rest of the country, and aid agencies and international NGOs currently have most of their key staff in the capital - factors that could also weight development spending towards Bangui.

"Too much of the aid the Central African Republic receives does not reach outside Bangui.  Too much of everything is concentrated on the capital," he said.

The French development agency’s manager in Bangui, Julian Boglietto, says that he is looking to set up some pilot projects offering cash for work in agriculture, which he says might show other donors what is possible.

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