BANGUI, March 22, 2017 – The scene is a familiar one for anyone who has traveled to the Central African Republic. With pickaxes or shovels in hand, men and women, the young and not so young, wearing bright orange construction vests are bustling about on the sides of main roads or in neighborhoods: one is filling in potholes, another is pushing a wheelbarrow, while yet another is clearing the way. Easily identifiable by their brand new bicycles, provided to them once they land one of these labor-intensive public works jobs, these workers are now part of the Central African scene.
Executed under the LONDO project (LONDO means “stand up” in Sango, the official language of the Central African Republic), these World Bank-financed road rehabilitation works provide temporary employment to many vulnerable persons, in particular unemployed young people, who in the past were at times tempted to join armed groups.
In Bimbo, the most densely populated suburb in the capital city of Bangui, which benefited from this operation in mid-2016, the views of Albert Panga, the sub-prefect of the area, speak volumes about the impact of the LONDO project: “The project was very well received because it created 500 jobs in my area and has had a major impact on sanitation, with the clearance of clogged streets, the cleaning of drains, the collection of garbage on the sides of the roads, and the cleaning of public places and administrative centers,”he asserts.
Bertrand Barafa Wikon is one of the beneficiaries. Bertrand, who holds a master’s in private law, secured a job as a team leader in Begoua. “The project helped me a lot because I was unemployed despite having a master’s degree. In the short time that I have worked, I have already been able to earn enough money to support my family. I am even getting ready to start up my own business,” he declares happily. In addition to the job that he landed under the LONDO project, Bertrand remains deeply affected by the lesson he learned while working: “The project has created social cohesion among us, the youth, whereas in the past we had not been accepting of each other. Persons hired to work on the project sites represent all ethnic groups and religions. Being in each other’s company all day long has created a bond among us,” he says.
“LONDO is a pioneer project that has demonstrated that it was possible to work in the most remote areas of the country, thanks in particular to the excellent collaboration between the World Bank and MINUSCA, the UN’s peacekeeping operation that provides security in the areas still under the control of armed groups,” explains Jean-Christophe Carret, World Bank Country Manager for the Central African Republic. Works were recently launched in Obo, an area where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is still wreaking havoc, and where no development project had been executed for 20 years. According to Jean-Christophe Carret, this project shows that economic recovery projects are indispensable for securing long-lasting peace in the Central African Republic.
“The originality of the LONDO project is also based on the fact that an innovative, transparent public lottery system designed to strengthen social cohesion is used to select the beneficiaries,” explains Sophie Grumelard, Social Development Specialist at the World Bank and co-TTL for the project. She further stated that the beneficiaries are actually selected by drawing lots publicly in the presence of all the villagers.
Jean Kokadian, a young resident of the Castors neighborhood, lost his small business during the war. Hired by the project to work as a laborer, he now earns CFAF 1,500 ($2.50) a day. “This is enough money to help my brothers and sisters at home,” he notes. This new opportunity enabled him to get his business going again: “I used my last paycheck, which is usually distributed every two weeks, to buy a bag for my school supplies. I also bought a table and empty mineral water bottles that I will use to sell gasoline and oil on the roadside.”
Carine Data was hired by the project in Bouar (main city in the northeast). Like the others, she earns CFAF 30,000 each month, which she uses to make ends meet. “The money I earn helps me meet my needs and take care of my family. My father is dead, so I depend on myself. I have been able to put a bit of money aside to buy a rickshaw once my contract expires. I plan to use the remainder to enroll in an evening class to prepare for my future.”
Augusto Ramos has been living in the CAR for more than 20 years. A foreman at one of the beneficiary companies (GER), he is convinced that the LONDO project has helped change the way people in the country think. “Seeing women holding pickaxes and shovels—that is something that I had never seen in this country. What I have learned from these works is that they have been a life saver for a country whose people are living in the most unstable of times following a violent conflict,” he remarked.
“The project has given new hope to communities ravaged by years of conflict,” opines Paul Bance, Senior Operations Officer and project leader. In total, the project disbursed close to CFAF 975,000,000 (over $1.5 million) in wages during 139 direct distributions on the project sites. To date, the 69 public lotteries organized in 35 sub-prefectures around the country have led to the hiring of 17,250 beneficiaries, 34% of whom are women.