The November/December 2006 issue (50) of Ethix was devoted entirely to the Central African Republic (CAR). I had visited there in June 2006, co-leading a team with Al Erisman. We were working with Integrated Community Development International, the only American NGO in the country, to explore the feasibility of micro-enterprise development (MED). The general conclusion was that the country was not ready for a widespread program. Its broken infrastructure, corruption in government, lack of education and health care, inability to enforce a contract, and the lack of safety made business extremely difficult. But we recommended they start a “small” MED program focusing on providing loans to those people already doing business in spite of the system.
In the September/October 2007 (Ethix 56) issue, we wrote a follow-up report on the 2007 visit to CAR. On that visit, we participated in the launch of the small-scale MED program through training, seminars, and the establishment of the loan-approval process. We reported some good signs in CAR, as well as some of the indicators of continued struggles. We also carried out an all-day seminar on ethics for the leaders at the University of Bangui at the invitation of Faustin-Archange Touadera, the recteur (similar to president in the West). His opening remarks for the seminar were used as the essay in Ethix 56.
In June 2008, we returned to CAR for a 15-day stay, this time with a slightly different focus. While we reviewed progress with the MED team, our primary focus was discussions with the university and the government on bringing MED and ethics more broadly to the country. Our primary host for this visit was Dr. Augustin Hibali, executive director of CIDEL (Center for Integrated Development of Ethics and Leadership). In particular, we were there to assist him and CIDEL in their mission to equip and empower ethical leadership at all levels of government, business, and education. He had been the subject of the Conversation in the November/December 2006 issue of Ethix.
Director, Center for Integrity in Business
Seattle Pacific University
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
Even before arriving in the country, we saw a difference from the previous two years. There seemed to be an increase in the number of Western and Asian people coming to the Central African Republic in 2008, indicating increased activity in development and trade in the country. When we arrived at the airport immigration area, the process was less chaotic, and all of our luggage arrived in a timely fashion. On driving to the capitol city of Bangui, we saw numerous road projects. The condominium project at the center of the city, in a partially constructed state with no sign of progress for the previous two years, had been completed and people were occupying it. We later learned that most of the units had been leased or purchased by wealthy expatriates.
A new bus terminal had been built two blocks from the center of the city, making the bus system more orderly, and the city center less chaotic. Further, the buses are now regularly washed, providing a vast improvement to the public transportation system.
When we met with Sylvain Maliko, minister of economic planning and international relationships, we found that his office had produced an impressive document titled “Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper,” (www.minplan-rca.org/), with copies available in both French and English. The document outlined the priorities for the reduction of poverty:
- Restore security, consolidate peace, and prevent conflict.
- Promote good governance and the rule of law.
- Rebuild and diversify the economy.
- Develop human capital.
This publication is filled with facts and figures about the country, and it lays out the priorities that the government wants to follow to reduce poverty by half over the next decade.
In addition, Maliko’s office had produced a full-color picture book on CAR, describing its beauty and opportunity. They had come a long way from two years earlier when Ethix 50 was the only document they had for describing their country.
In January 2008, Faustin-Archange Touadera had been named the country’s prime minister. We met with him on two separate occasions to understand his new role, to discuss a project he wanted us to undertake with the university, and to listen to his dreams for the country.
We met with university leaders for two days to identify potential collaborations between University of Bangui and Seattle Pacific University and the Center for Integrity in Business. At the completion of the discussions, we achieved a memorandum of understanding to pursue external funding for a project where SPU would identify two professors to spend up to two months at University of Bangui to help them develop curriculum for microenterprise development (MED) and business ethics. SPU is one of a very few universities in the country to offer both courses in its standard business curriculum.
Both of these projects are being pursued through the CIDEL organization and Augustin Hibaile. His ethics team through CIDEL will participate in the development of the ethics curriculum, and will be a part of the team that will help broaden the training in ethics for government personnel at the completion of the project. Our proposal to carry out this plan has the endorsement of Prime Minister Touadera, Planning Minister Sylvain Maliko, the new recteur at the university, and the U.S. ambassador, Frederick Cook.
Another aspect of the university partnership discussions focused on women in the academy. Women represent only about 16 percent of the student body at University of Bangui, and Sally Ivaska and Nancy Erisman from the InterVarsity team met with professors and students to discuss the challenges that women face in university and professional contexts. This project may continue in 2009 under the direction of Sally Ivaska, who works with Women in the Academy & Professions at InterVarsity.
The InterVarsity team spent one day interviewing 30 loan recipients from the Integrated Community Development International MED program that started in 2007. In two of the projects, the loan recipients had used the loan to expand services. One client added cakes to her coffee shop, opening the door to a broader clientele. A second loan recipient, a dressmaker, grew her business from a one-person operation to one that was able to hire older employees, enabling them to learn the trade, add production volume, and create sustainable employment in a context in desperate need of new jobs.
The ICDI MED program remains small and developing, but is beginning to make a difference.
A Long Way to Go
We were pleased to see the progress in CAR during this visit. But life remains difficult for the average person. There remains some hope for better transportation, with the potential of improved roads and, possibly, a railroad to be built by China. “But nothing comes for free,” the general secretary of the prime minister’s cabinet told us. “They are interested in our uranium, iron, and gold.” Diamonds and oil remain a largely untapped resource.
As we left the country, we were reminded of the challenges ahead. Upon our exit, the queuing system at the airport had broken down, leaving a shouting, pushing crowd trying to access the luggage check, security, and passport controls — six stops in all before the final check planeside at the airport. And there was only one flight that day. Nonetheless, we are anxious to return and encouraged by the people of the CAR who are working hard to improve the lives of all citizens.