Central African Republic: Participatory programming, even in times of crisis

BY Meïssa Dieng Cisse | October 27, 2016|Comments 0

The US election and the Syrian war are all over the news. The recent crisis in Central African Republic is not. Unfortunately, we don’t make it to the news, but now that I got your attention, here it is:
There is a crisis in the Central African Republic. Over the past three years, the country has experienced a major political crisis which has resulted in a violent conflict affecting nearly the entire population and leaving some 2.3 million people, over half the population, in dire need of assistance. For a full report on the situation, you can check the OCHA Central African Republicwebsite.

Adapting the UN to fit the needs of Central African Republic

With all the challenges that a humanitarian situation of this nature brings, it was a must to adapt the response of the UN to the country according to these urgent needs. In principle, in 2015 we were supposed to start planning our new four-year strategic framework, which takes two years to plan, but due to the circumstances, we couldn’t afford that.

Upon consultation with the transitional Government, the UN team in the country agreed to develop a temporary strategic plan to address the urgent issues in 2016 and 2017.

In this strategic framework, the UN team in Central African Republic complements the work the peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts of the organization in the country. However, to better understand the future development priorities of the country, and therefore the ones for the UN, we left our offices and went “outside” to ask the people of the Central African Republic.

Innovation in times of crisis

Traditionally, the development of a UN strategic framework is always preceded by a situation analysis to outline the key development issues in any given country. This analysis will later inform the key priorities of the UN in the country. In this “standard” country assessment the Government, as the UN key counterpart, is always consulted.

This analytical exercise also incorporates conventional data, that is helpful to predict potential scenarios for development. However, under the current circumstances, data in Central African Republic is obsolete and unfit for the purpose of a national exercise like this. So what to do? How could we supplement conventional data sources?

We decided to go where the data is and consult the people, the ultimate beneficiaries of any development effort. You might be thinking “that this is not innovative approach…”.  Well, keep reading.

It was an innovative approach: For the first time ever for the UN and for the Central African Republic, the population was directly consulted to get its opinion about the country’s political and socio-economic situation and the possible solutions.

For this kind of analysis, traditionally the UN organizes meetings or workshops with the main counterparts of our programs and projects to design strategies, elaborate or validate draft documents.

This time we consulted people directly, in their own environment. The Red Cross managed directly the consultation, where opinion leaders, local authorities and the local population were  interviewed separately which allowed all of them to speak freely.

Reaching those who policy consultations miss

For each prefecture, representatives of vulnerable populations (indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, older persons, girls and boys up to 25 years old, people living with HIV and AIDS, refugees, internally displaced populations), disadvantaged groups (women’s organizations, informal sector workers, youth organizations), local authorities (prefects, mayors, heads of districts), opinion leaders (crowned heads, traditional leaders, teachers and religious groups), and civil society participated in the consultation.

These public consultations gave a voice to non-traditional stakeholders, especially the most disadvantaged who are not formally organized. We ensured that necessary measures were in place to allow participants speak freely. Such was the case of women, who were interviewed separately so they could express their opinions openly.

A total of 660 persons were interviewed covering Bangui and all the 16 prefectures of the country. In addition to the focus groups interviews, 176 local authorities (in the rural areas) and opinion leaders (in Bangui) met to discuss about the major issues that arose during the focus group interviews.

This public consultation exercise allowed us to map the priorities in a more disaggregated level,  geographically as well as demographically.

As a result, the focus groups and the local authorities identified the following areas as the maincauses of the recurrent conflict in the Central African Republic:

  • Weak governance and lack of local leaders consultation and involvement in their communities projects
  • Insecurity and lack of peace
  • Weak national capacities
  • Absence of basic social services (education, health, clean water and sanitation, etc.)
  • Lack of social cohesion

It was interesting to find out that even though the expressed needs of all groups participating  are similar, the priority of the needs varies depending on the group.

For instance, the lack of food and education has been identified as the most important need by vulnerable groups, while for opinion leaders, NGO and women associations, the first need is security. This differentiation will need to be addressed when designing responses to the crisis in our programming.

Making public consultations part of development planning

The consultation was key in the development of the UN common country analysis which now relies on broad participatory consultations; an innovation that the UN country team decided to introduce instead of just following the classical methodological approach (data review, supplemental surveys) to develop the common country analysis.

The findings of the public consultations exercise were vital to identify the priorities of the UN Interim Strategic Framework (2016-2017) which is the reference plan for the UN in the Central African Republic for the coming two years.

And last, BUT NOT LEAST, the consultations are also helpful in validating the Government’s priorities in the Recovery and Peacebuilding Strategy.  We’re proud of this!


Meïssa Dieng Cisse Meïssa Dieng Cisse manages the Multi-Partner Trust Fund at the United Nations Resident Coordinator Office in Central African Republic. You can follow Meïssa on Twitter.

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