BY INSI

TRAVEL ADVISORY: Central African Republic as at 21/11/13

The security situation in the Central African Republic has deteriorated since March this year when rebels seized power and forced the President Francois Bozizé into exile.

This week, the United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon warned that the violence there risks spiralling out of control as armed groups incite Christians and Muslims against each other.

The following information is meant for journalists and news crews travelling to the Central African Republic (CAR).

General

There is ongoing violence due to the virtual collapse of the government and fighting between Christian and Muslim groups. Civil unrest is frequent, and has been reported in numerous areas of the capital, Bangui..

Car-jacking, robbery and looting are common and a curfew is currently in place from midnight to 0400 in Bangui.

Corruption is significant. Government officials have been known to demand bribes from foreigners.

Preparation

Ensure that you have undertaken a hostile environment and first aid course prior to deployment.

Ensure you have appropriate vaccines prior to travel, including yellow fever. The government of the Central African Republic requires proof of yellow fever in order for you to be able to enter the country. You should also take anti-malarial tablets. For more information about the vaccinations and medication you will need, contact the Fleet Street Clinic.

Areas outside the capital are not necessarily under the control of the central government. Ensure that you are briefed by the UN or by security experts beforehand.

Carry a medical pack/first aid kit with you at all times and know how to use it.

Bring a mobile phone and buy a local SIM card. Mobile phone and 3G coverage is intermittent and unreliable and often only available during the day. It is advisable to take a satellite phone as mobile network is poor/non-existent in rural areas.

Internet access is available at some Catholic missions and at UN and other humanitarian compounds.

French is spoken locally, so ensure that you can either speak French or that you have a French-speaking translator on your team. People living in rural areas are likely to have limited knowledge French. Learning Arabic will help you communicate with mainly Muslim groups like Séléka.

You can get press accreditation at the Ministry of Information in Bangui.

Bangui M'poko International Airport

Get your visa before you fly, either at the Central African Republic embassy or French embassy in your country.

Direct flights to Bangui operate from Paris. The World Food Programme-managed United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) operates internal flights.

Europeans and Americans can register with the French Embassy, which is located inside the international airport, upon arrival.

Be wary of flying in to Bangui M'poko at night as travel from the airport to your destination can be extremely dangerous. If you are in this position, consider spending the night in the airport. Ensure that you have a trusted driver to take you to your accommodation. One journalist avoided using a 4x4 to travel from the airport to his accommodation in the capital because it would have raised his profile. Instead, he chose to use low-profile yellow taxis.

Transport

Any travel needs to be planned beforehand and done during the day. If you plan to travel with humanitarian organisations be aware that most do not travel outside of urban centres.

Ensure that you have a trusted fixer/driver and a roadworthy vehicle. Have a spare tyre and know how to change it.

The roads are in poor condition outside of the capital, and road accidents are common. You will need a 4x4 to travel in rural areas – A car and a driver is likely to cost $140/70,000 CFA Francs per day. ATMs are not common so ensure you have cash. 

Consider that driving a 4x4 will raise your profile considerably and may make you a target for carjacking. If you are working in rural areas, consider hiring escorts or travelling in convoy.

If you are going to rural areas, ensure that you have enough fuel for your trip as there are no fuel stations outside the urban centres.

Consider using a smaller/low profile car if travelling in the capital.

Checkpoints are common. You will need an ‘ordre de mission’, or mission statement, from the organisation you are working for, to get through checkpoints. If you are travelling through checkpoints alone, you are likely to be asked for a bribe in order to pass. This is less likely to happen if you are travelling with the military.

False roadblocks are common in rural parts of the country, particularly along the Chad border.

Try not to be on the roads after 1700 in the evenings as you are more likely to be targeted by criminals.

Food and water

Food is likely to be unsanitary. For more information about food safety read INSI’s safety advisory on Traveller’s Diarrhoea (TD). 

Bring water purifying tablets. Bottled water is also available, and drinking water is pumped in some villages but must be purified before drinking. Cheap meal sharing plans are available at some humanitarian compounds.

Accommodation

Hotels with decent security are available in Bangui. Check with those on the ground to ensure you are aware of the safest places to stay and the changing safety situation.

UN compounds and Catholic churches offer accommodation, but these are reportedly overcrowded. One of INSI’s contacts suggested bringing a light tent, self-inflating mattress or roll matt (which is less likely to puncture) and sleeping bag and camping in UN compounds when travelling in rural areas. 

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) may be able to advise what accommodation is available in different towns.


Note: The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist the media in preparing to work in the Central African Republic and are not meant to be negative in nature. If they cause offence to anyone, sincerest apologies are offered in advance. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems, bodily harm or death in relation to this advice.

Photo: Civilians fleeing violent attacks by armed rebels seek refuge in the yard of a church in Bossangoa, Central African Republic. (AP Photo)