The crisis in the Central African Republic is a tragedy not just for its people for us all. The sectarian violence setting Christians and Muslims against each other has torn apart communities and divided the entire country. We are witnessing a humanitarian crisis of immense scale. Close to a million people are without a home. Many are scattered around the country or have fled across the borders into neighbouring countries. Today, over half the population is in dire need of assistance.
The people of CAR deserve a better future. We cannot allow the Central African Republic to become a safe haven for criminals, terrorists and armed groups. Europe as much as its African neighbours needs to prevent the whole region becoming destabilised.
The EU is doing all it can to help through a comprehensive approach to the crisis that combines diplomatic, economic and military tools to help ensure lasting security and prosperity. Last year we more than trebled humanitarian aid to more than 76 million Euros to support access to clean water, food and healthcare for the victims of the crisis.
Many places where people are most in need of humanitarian assistance are hard to access. This is why we have established in December a daily air bridge between Bangui and Douala in Cameroon to transport humanitarian goods and staff into CAR.
To protect the populations most at risk, EU leaders decided on 1 April to launch a military mission to the country. EUFOR RCA will contribute to international and regional efforts to establish a secure environment, protect the free movement of civilians and create a safe haven for displaced people in Bangui and beyond. The mission will particularly focus on preventing violence against women. It will work closely with the African led MISCA support mission.
Swift action is also needed to re-establish a viable political system, based on national reconciliation. The EU is supporting an inclusive national dialogue to stem ethnic and sectarian violence. We will help rebuild state institutions and reform the security sector, restore basic social services and public finance management and assist the eventual re-establishment of civil servants and security forces. This will pave the way for elections, due in 2015, which the EU will support with 20 million Euros.
Our actions in the Central African Republic are an excellent example of the EU’s engagement in Africa. Today, half of the EU’s military and civilian missions are deployed on the African continent. The EU is the largest provider of development and humanitarian aid to the continent as well as its biggest trade and investment partner. We aim to provide crucial assistance in the short term, while working for lasting peace and prosperity by tackling the root causes of a crisis.
The EU’s actions in the Horn of Africa are a good example of how we can combine all the tools at our disposal to achieve lasting results. We have put naval vessels in the sea to escort food deliveries and catch pirates. We have worked with local authorities to establish due legal process. We have also built schools to ensure that young boys get an education rather than manning pirate ships. Piracy has been reduced by 95%.
We also recognise that change must be owned by the local people themselves. When I met with women leaders from Africa in Brussels last year, I was struck by their resolve to take their fate into their own hands and work towards a better future.
This is why we work closely with regional partners, such as the African Union, to consolidate democratic values, respond to security crises and encourage social and economic development. This week, leaders from all over Africa came to Brussels to meet with their EU partners. The summit was an important opportunity to work together and reaffirm the EU’s long standing commitment to the continent.
People are at the centre of the EU-Africa partnership. This is why we discussed how we can further invest in education and training. With prosperity so crucial for both our continents, we also looked at how to stimulate growth that will create jobs and unlock people’s productive and entrepreneurial potential.
The summit was a wonderful occasion to deepen our longstanding partnership of equals, through a focus on people, prosperity and peace.
Catherine Ashton is the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission.