BANGUI, Over 1,000 ex-fighters in the Central African Republic (CAR) have joined an FAO-supported UN initiative for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration.
The programme's message is simple: stop partaking in violence, put down your weapons and, in exchange, you'll get help to start a new life. Participants get certified training in gardening, horticulture, rearing chickens and pigs as well as tools, seeds or baby animals.
This initiative is an important steps towards reaching peace and restoring hope. We are seeing violence rising again to levels as high as in 2013-2014, so giving armed groups an option, a way out, couldn't be timelier, said Jean-Alexandre Scaglia, FAO Representative in CAR.
28-year-old Moussa (name changed), an ex-fighter, is now looking after his animals in a neighbourhood of the capital Bangui, known for its brutal clashes. He has recently sold one of the pigs he got through the UN programme and with the money, he started a little business - buying and selling bed mattresses and boards.
I don't know why I was fighting. It made no sense, and it got me nowhere. My mum is a Muslim, my father a Christian. So, who was I fighting against? he reminisces.
I chose to get the training in raising and selling pigs. I must say it feels like a new door is opening up in front of me, especially after I got my certificate. I do want to be part of this � to see peace and a better life in my country, he added.
Other young people like Moussa engage in growing and selling vegetables. Others still in repairing roads and public infrastructure destroyed by the conflict.
The programme also brings considerable financial gains. On average, the monthly earnings are about CFA 50,000 ($85), but these activities bring about CFA 200,000 � 300,000 ($300-500) per month. The programme doesn't only help restore peace, it also boosts the economy and gives young people a chance to rebuild their country, added Scaglia.
The three-month training takes place in Bangui and in regions that have been the hardest hit by conflict (such as Kaga Bandoro, Bambari and Haute Kotto), and are still hosting up to hundreds of thousands of displaced people.
Here, in brightly-coloured rooms in aging town halls or abandoned military quarters, the ex-fighters - men and women engaged not long ago in a violence that has divided the country's population and horrified the world - diligently sit at their desks, eager to learn.
Stella (name changed), an ex-fighter, has recently completed her training and got her certificate in rearing chickens.
She has already raised and sold about 600 chickens, and has just bought 1,000 new ones. She invests the money she earns in baking and selling banana cookies to multiply her income.
Before the crisis, it was difficult to find work, even though I studied IT and administration. When the fighting started, I got close to certain elements. This is how it all started. I was driven by the need to find work. I now know that this new activity will help me have a normal life, says Stella.
For Stella, normal life means not only earning enough to sustain herself, but being also able to walk freely again, and being accepted in her community.
FAO supports the expansion of the UN initiative for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, and as part of a new project, will help ex-fighters to have access to micro-credit schemes to start their own business.
Renewed violence pushed CAR into its fourth year of conflict. Over half a million people have fled their homes, across the borders or into sprawling internally displaced persons camps.
One in two people suffers from hunger.
FAO urgently requires $10 million by February to support more than 350,000 people � displaced people and vulnerable host communities - to resume their agricultural activities and prepare for the next harvesting season (March?April 2018) by providing them with seeds and tools, and basic veterinary services for their livestock.
Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK