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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Central African Republic 2019 Crime & Safety Report

Central African Republic 2019 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Bangui.


The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses the Central African Republic at Level 4, indicating travelers should not travel to the country due to crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping.


Overall Crime and Safety Situation


The U.S. Embassy in Bangui does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.


Review OSAC’s Central African Republic-specific webpage for OSAC analytical reports, Consular messaging, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

Crime Threats

 

There is serious risk from crime in Bangui. Reliable official statistics on crime are not available for the Central African Republic (CAR). The Embassy relies on reporting from the UN, other embassies/diplomatic missions, and NGOs to obtain limited statistics and reports of crimes.

 

Crime is a direct result of continued political instability and extreme poverty. When coupled with poor infrastructure, ethnic/religious conflict, and a weak education system, there are few licit economic opportunities for the country’s youth. Many individuals turn to criminal gangs and rebel groups to earn a living.

 

Within Bangui, crimes against foreigners occur periodically. Criminals continue to target neighborhoods where government leaders, business professionals, aid workers, and foreign diplomats live, despite an increased security presence. Home and compound invasions occur most often where security is the weakest, where exterior lighting is poor, and/or where there is insufficient access control. Generally, criminals do not kill their victims, but the threat of force or the use of force is not uncommon. Attempts to resist criminals often end with violence. Most recently, in January, assailants shot the driver of a UN vehicle during a carjacking.

 

Affluent CAR citizens are the targets of violent crime (e.g. home invasion, robbery, aggravated battery, homicide). Criminals view them as the softest targets with the least likelihood of potential consequence. Outside the capital, NGO staff members and other expatriates are regularly the victims of violent crime. Criminal activity targeting road travelers -- especially armed banditry -- is common, particularly along major transit arteries, including the main routes from Cameroon and Chad to Bangui. Much of this crime is opportunistic rather than directly targeted.


Sexual assault and domestic violence are widespread in the CAR.


Other Areas of Concern

 

During the dry season, there is more internal and cross-border population movement due to the movement of livestock, which often increases tensions between farmers and herders. Areas in which criminal activity is prevalent change regularly and sometimes quickly.

 

The Regional Security Office must approve all U.S. Embassy Bangui personnel travel outside of Bangui. Generally, such travel proceeds with a close protection team coordinated with UN security support.

 

Carry your passport at all times. Failure to produce your passport may result in detention and/or a fine.

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

In general, roads are in extremely poor condition throughout CAR. Virtually all roads are unpaved, and receive almost no maintenance. During the rainy season, most roads outside central Bangui become impassable due to flooding and the lack of drainage. Overland travel times are often much longer than what one would expect due to poor road conditions, frequency of vehicle disablement, unpredictable traffic, and checkpoints. Criminal gangs and armed groups control many roads, targeting logistical convoys (including UN convoys) and NGO workers. Because of these conditions, travel only during the day, with other travelers, and with a UN or government security escort if possible.

 

At night, it is exceptionally difficult to see pedestrians, road hazards, and/or other vehicles due to lack of lighting. Many local vehicles lack working headlights and necessary maintenance. U. S. Embassy personnel generally may not travel outside of Bangui at night due to an established UN curfew. Vehicles should carry food, water, a first aid kit, satellite communications, and tools to repair damaged vehicles or to extricate vehicles that become stuck. Within Bangui, it is difficult to find reliable mechanics and spare parts for automobile repairs. Outside of Bangui, it is virtually impossible.

 

There is little to no official driver training in CAR. Motorcyclists and drivers of minibuses and taxis frequently disregard the rules of the road and place themselves and their passengers in danger. Often, all types of transportation vehicles weave in and out of traffic, make frequent and unannounced stops, are overloaded, and are rarely in good working order. Recently, traffic accidents have prompted large crowds to gather, which often turn violent as they seek to exact mob justice on the party perceived to be at fault.

 

Traffic controls and streetlights are extremely limited in Bangui and non-existent in the rest of CAR. Traffic police patrol busy intersections in Bangui, but are often ineffective. Most drivers ignore traffic laws and any attempt to enforce them. Traffic accidents are common, especially at intersections without traffic controls. Pay extra attention when entering intersections and check all sides of the vehicle, as motorcycles may pass unpredictably on either side.

 

Police and Gendarmerie presence on roads outside of major towns is almost non-existent. Security checkpoints can occur at any time. Checkpoint authorities may stop and harass diplomatic, UN, and NGO drivers. Security officials at checkpoints have appeared intoxicated, and sometimes demand payment (e.g. food, money) to pass.

 

If you are involved in a traffic accident, wait until the police or Gendarmerie arrive, unless you feel threatened. There are currently no distracted driving laws in effect in CAR, but police may pull over drivers who talk or text while driving for not following safe driving procedure.

 

Consider parking your vehicle inside a compound with a security presence.

 

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s reports on Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

Bangui’s public transportation system consists of green buses and yellow taxis, though these vehicles are often dangerously overcrowded and very badly maintained. Avoid public transportation due to the poor mechanical condition of the vehicles, driver disregard for traffic laws, and the target you present when aboard. U.S. Embassy personnel may not use non-U.S. government vehicles in Bangui.

 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

 

Bangui M’poko International Airport (BGF) does not operate after dark due to insufficient runway illumination. In the dry season, dust and smoke from nearby fires may obscure the runway, causing the cancellation of flights.

 

Other Travel Conditions

 

Embassy personnel may not travel on the Oubangui/Ubangi River by boat.

 

Taking photographs of police or military installations, airports, or any other government buildings is illegal. Unauthorized photography may result in the seizure of photographic equipment by the CAR authorities. Police or other government authorities can provide information and grant permission for photographing a particular subject or location. Local residents may be very sensitive to all photography; obtain permission first. Should you find yourself detained because of photos, do not argue. It is best to agree and delete all photos. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Bangui. Ineffective border controls may allow criminal and terrorist groups to seek temporary refuge in CAR, but there is no evidence that terrorists train or regularly operate in CAR.

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

 

Harassment of foreign nationals is common, but focuses primarily on employees of the UN, NGOs, and humanitarian organizations working in contested areas. However, in 2017, there was a spate of violent mobs and protests after the local population (fairly or unfairly) blamed drivers of UN vehicles for causing serious vehicle accidents in Bangui. Harassment of UN staff is largely in relation to perceived ineffectiveness of operations and a perception of favoring one group over another. Criminals often view non-CAR African nationals and members of NGOs as potential victims of crimes of opportunity.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

There is serious risk from political violence in Bangui. The CAR government is able, at best, to project power within the immediate area of Bangui.

 

Civil Unrest

 

Demonstrations and protests occur regularly. Gatherings can escalate to violence quickly; rival factions can become aggressive toward one another and toward police. Police often respond in kind, exacerbating already tense situations. Avoid large crowds, public gatherings, or demonstrations, which have the potential of becoming unruly, resulting in physical injury or death. Protests do not usually occur in front of the U.S. Embassy or other diplomatic facilities, though they sometimes occur at the UN headquarters.

 

In the event of unrest, airport, land border, and road closures may occur with little or no notice.

 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

 

Inter- and intra-ethnic violence is common, driven by resource competition. These groups are often, but not solely, based on ethnic and familial ties. These ties and perceived political and economic inequities are highly correlated with religious affiliation, though this correlation is not the cause of most violence. To combat these perceptions, there is a long tradition of “self-defense” groups created to defend against real and/or perceived threats from those perceived as outsiders. Initial attacks often inspire reprisals, creating a vicious cycle of violence. Although these various groups either have been a party to a peace process or have expressed an interest in peace, violence by armed actors continues.

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Environmental Hazards

 

During the rainy season, flooding can close roadways and make areas impassable for lengthy periods. During the dry season, indiscriminate burning to clear land and to dispose of trash creates smoke to a level that can cause health issues and obscure airport runways around the country. This can severely affect air transportation.

 

Critical Infrastructure

 

Infrastructure is underdeveloped. Roads and bridges are in disrepair. Airports lack current technology and sufficient lighting.


Personal Identity Concerns


Cultural/religious practices may encourage discrimination based on sexual orientation. The penalty for "public expression of love" between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years, or a fine. When one of the participants is underage, the adult may receive a sentence of two to five years’ imprisonment or a fine.

 

Public infrastructure is generally in poor condition. Sidewalks, buildings, and public transportation do not cater to special accessibility needs.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the CAR are severe. Convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

Criminal gangs and armed groups employ kidnapping for ransom on a frequent basis, mainly outside of Bangui. There is little law enforcement can do to aid kidnap victims.

 

Police Response

 

The CAR National Police and Gendarmerie suffer from limited resources, a lack of training, illiteracy, and weak command/control that make basic policing services rudimentary at best. Law enforcement and security services receive pay only irregularly, which encourages corruption and predation on civilians as a source of income.

 

There have been reports that some law enforcement officers are perpetrators of crimes. They use their weapons and uniforms in the commission of crimes, further weakening public confidence in law enforcement.

 

The further one gets from Bangui, the more loosely laws are enforced and the more subjectivity they are applied.

 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

 

Law enforcement officers reportedly make arbitrary arrests based on suspicion rather than actual evidence. The judicial system suffers from a lack of resources; the public perceives it as ineffective with regard to the provision of due process. There are few practicing attorneys in the country, especially outside Bangui.

 

U.S. travelers experiencing police detention or harassment must contact the American Citizens’ Services Section at the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon at +237-2222-01500.

 

Crime Victim Assistance

 

Law enforcement response to public requests for assistance is unpredictable. Do not rely upon law enforcement agencies for security or medical emergencies requiring immediate attention.

 

Police/Security Agencies

 

The two primary law enforcement groups are the National Police and the Gendarmerie. Each focuses primarily on the larger towns and cities. Each suffers from lack of training and equipment necessary to enforce the law adequately.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Medical care is extremely limited, particularly outside of Bangui. Regional UN hospitals may provide some level of care, but not at the standard one would expect in a developed nation. There are few ambulance services; none meets international standards. There are no Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines in Bangui, only a couple of marginally functioning X-rays. Primary health care workers, especially in rural areas, lack adequate professional training, supplies, and equipment; instances of incorrect and improper treatment occur regularly. Sanitation levels are low.

 

If you use prescription medication, ensure you have sufficient supplies to last you during your stay. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication. Most pharmacies have limited stocks of prescription drugs. Drugs in stock at local pharmacies may be counterfeit or of unknown origin.

 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

Providers are limited. There has been some success working with the French Embassy Medical Officer; call +236-72-21-35-30.

 

Insurance Guidance

 

Purchase overseas medical insurance that includes air ambulance/medical evacuation coverage before visiting CAR.

 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

In addition to the transportation problem, smoke aggravates respiratory conditions.

 

The following diseases are prevalent: Meningococcal meningitis, Rabies, Malaria, diarrheal diseases, HIV, Schistosomiasis, and Tuberculosis. Carry an updated vaccination card for travel to CAR, including evidence of Yellow Fever vaccination. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) classify CAR as a “High Risk” zone for Malaria. User Malaria prophylaxis while in CAR. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for CAR.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

The OSAC CAR Country Council is no longer active. The U.S. Embassy plans to re-constitute a council in the future, but that will depend on support from limited business ventures currently in country. If you are interested in helping restart the program, contact OSAC’s Africa Team.

 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

 

Avenue David Dacko, Bangui

Monday-Thursday 0730-1700, Friday 0730-1330.

 

Embassy Contact Numbers

 

U.S. Marine Corps Post 1: +236-75-41-11-11 (24/7)

Embassy Operator: +1-301-985-8613 x3201 or +236-21-61-02-00  /  +236-75-79-60-50

Satellite Phone: 8816-7633-6069

Regional Security Officer (RSO): +236-75-42-32-29

Assistant Regional Security Officers (ARSOs) +236-75-28-43-91 / +236-75-88-11-33

 

Website: https://cf.usembassy.gov/


Embassy Guidance


U.S. citizens traveling in CAR should register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.


Additional Resources


·         Central African Republic Country Information Sheet

·         Travel to High-Risk Areas Webpage

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