If the TV show Pointless asked contestants to name countries with UN peacekeeping missions then the Central African Republic would almost certainly be a ‘pointless’ answer: one that no-one was able to guess. Yet, in this country with a population smaller than Scotland (4.6 million) thousands were murdered, raped and mutilated at the end of last year in a conflict fuelled by complex tensions that left over half a million people displaced from their homes.
Supported by Tearfund, the humanitarian NGO, Baroness Elizabeth Berridge and I are determined to keep the good and long suffering people of the Central African Republic in the public eye. We have travelled to Bangui, the capital, just two weeks after the new UN peacekeeping force begins its mission. They are replacing an African Union peacekeeping force supported by France and European Union who have done much to stabilise the country since 2013.
We will not be able to travel far outside the capital as the roads infrastructure will not support that during a short four day visit, and the security situation is still volatile. But we will visit Government Ministers, rural agriculture projects, international organisations and camps for those most affected by the horrific violence.
Why should we care, I sense some readers asking already. What can we do?
Well the humanitarian situation should motivate us to do what we can. The conflict last year, and previous outbreaks of extreme violence and human rights abuses, are horrific. Even before the crisis, CAR has the 3rd worst maternal death rate in the world, and the 6th worst child mortality. It has the lowest literacy in the region, and the highest prevalence of HIV/Aids. As UNICEF told us yesterday, the Central African Republic is truly one of the worst places in the world for children. And in 2014 surely we can help change this.
But furthermore, this may be an overlooked French speaking country in which there is little direct UK interest, but it is right at the heart of Africa and this particular heart is on life support.
Neighbours include Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Congo, the DRC and Cameroon. Instability is rife. Kony and the Lords Resistance Army roam the south-east. Blood diamonds and other minerals generate and pay for armed groups. And even Boko Haram are in the neighbourhood.
The new UN mission will integrate more closely than ever before the essential military and police work of peacekeeping with the important building blocks of peace-building: a legal system folk can trust, local security forces who can do their job, reliable elections, and infrastructure to rebuild the economy and provide basic services. The UK will not be a main player on the ground, although individual officers and diplomats, and of course UK charities, will play their part. But we are at the centre of decision making in the UN, the EU and other places.
So yet again we can help ensure the global community puts people first, and protects those who are vulnerable. And we can help ensure that effort also supports the next generation here to have a functioning state, a life without fear, a life that is healthier and better educated and that lasts longer that would have otherwise been the case.
That would not be pointless.