Central African states to fight food security threats

A truck driver from Chad walks between trucks at the border of Garoua-Boulai, Cameroon, Jan 8, 2021. [AFP]

Transport ministers from landlocked central African countries say increasing commodity prices are causing civil strife in Chad and the Central African Republic. The ministers, meeting Friday in Cameroon, say the three countries want to find immediate solutions to obstacles facing the transportation of goods moving from Cameroon's Douala and Kribi seaports to central African states.

The Douala and Kribi seaports handle 90 percent of goods delivered to Chad and the Central African Republic, or C.A.R. The ministers and transport officials, meeting in the city of Kribi this week, said goods now take about a month instead of two weeks to arrive in Chad's capital, N'djamena.

Herbert Gontran Djono Ahaba, C.A.R.'s transport and civil aviation minister, said current food price spikes that are causing daily protests in Chad's towns and villages are fueled by insecurity, illegal police checkpoints, and the deteriorating roads along the more than 1,400 kilometers between the Douala seaport in Cameroon and the C.A.R. capital, Bangui, and the close to 1,600 kilometers between Douala and N'djamena.

Chad and the C.A.R. say that last month, police used tear gas to disperse civilians in several towns and villages protesting hikes in commodity prices. There is a close to 35 percent increase in food prices, the two governments say.

The ministers say price hikes have also been triggered by rebels, who continue to attack goods in transit to Bangui on the C.A.R. side of the border, and Boko Haram terrorists operating in Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad. Central African states say that rebels last month harassed and seized goods and money from scores of truck drivers on the transport corridor to N'djamena.

Laurent Dihoulnet, secretary-general of Chad's Ministry of Transport, said the attacks, illegal police checkpoints and abuses against drivers in transit in Cameroon suffocate trade and increase food shortages and hunger in the sub-Saharan African states.

He said Cameroon, C.A.R. and Chad transport ministers have decided to dismantle 16 illegal police and military checkpoints on the corridor from Cameroon's Douala seaport to Bangui. Dihoulnet said the ministers have authorized the creation of seven checkpoints that will assure the safety of drivers and their trucks and make sure goods, especially humanitarian needs, reach their destinations in the C.A.R. and Chad.

Cameroon, Chad and the C.A.R. also said they will dismantle over 70 checkpoints they say are illegally set up by Cameroon police and military along the Douala-N'djamena corridor.

Cameroon's police and military say the checkpoints are set up to control illicit trafficking of goods and protect truck drivers and their goods from armed groups, but the drivers say they are forced to pay illegal fees or bribes at the checkpoints.

The transport ministers say joint military and police convoys will protect the drivers in areas prone to Boko Haram and C.A.R. rebel attacks.

Cameroon says it is negotiating with the World Bank, the European Union and other international funding agencies to construct the roads and facilitate the passage of goods on transit.

In their New Year's messages, Presidents Mahamat Idriss Deby of Chad and Faustin-Archange Touadera of the C.A.R. called for emergency food support for close to five million people they said are either facing hunger, threatened by food insecurity, or finding it especially hard to cope with rising prices.

Chad and the C.A.R. say millions of their citizens are also going hungry because of climate shocks, inter-communal tensions, and rising food and fuel prices.

The U.N.'s World Food Program says that 1.4 million people in Chad, a country that has experienced an influx of over 600,000 refugees in less than a year from the fighting in Sudan's Darfur region, and over two million C.A.R. civilians are threatened by a severe hunger crisis.