Obo is a small, very remote community in the southeastern corner of the Central African Republic (CAR). It’s so remote that it’s often referred to as Africa’s “Pole of Inaccessibility” — meaning it’s one of the toughest places on the continent to reach. It’s also where one of our field offices is located and where much of our Invisible Children CAR team calls home.

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 1.44.54 PMThe entrance to Invisible Children’s field office in Obo, CAR.

The End of the U.S. and Ugandan Counter-LRA Missions in Central Africa

Until this year, Obo was also the host to U.S. and Ugandan forces pursuing Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who have targeted communities in southeastern CAR and northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with violence and exploitation for nearly a decade. While in Obo, U.S. and Ugandan forces not only helped to reduce LRA violence in the area, their presence also helped to prevent other armed groups in areas of western and central CAR from expanding violence into southeastern CAR. All in all, the U.S. and Ugandan forces helped make Obo and dozens of other towns in southeastern CAR safer from armed groups who would have otherwise had more opportunities to exploit these isolated and neglected communities.

However, this April, both the U.S. and Uganda concluded counter-LRA efforts and began withdrawing troops from the region, leaving Obo and other communities in southeastern CAR largely unprotected. In the months since counter-LRA forces left Obo, armed groups have begun to carry out increasingly bold attacks on communities in southeastern CAR, often targeting people based on their religious, ethnic, or livelihood identity. So far this year, hundreds of Central Africans have been killed and hundreds of thousands more have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety. Eastern towns like Bria and Zemio, which were previously considered relatively secure, have been devastated by violence in the last few months.

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 1.46.04 PMFrom our LRA Crisis Tracker, a map of incidents involving armed group violence in southeastern CAR in 2017. So far this year, armed groups, including the LRA, have participated in over 130 attacks and killed at least 515 civilians.

Citizens of Obo Work to Prevent Spreading Violence in Their Community

But, while Obo continues to face the realities of the insecurity and violence around them, the community has not experienced the kinds of brutal and widespread violence that many of its neighbors are facing. Obo’s location, in the far southeastern corner of the country, is partially responsible for this relative safety, but more importantly, the citizens of Obo have shown an unwavering dedication to peace and have taken proactive steps to address conflict and encourage social cohesion over the last several months. Their hard work has gone a long way in preventing large-scale violence from occurring in Obo.

For several years, Invisible Children has worked alongside members of a dedicated locally-led Peace Committee in Obo, providing them with training on conflict management, trauma-healing, and community protection. As violence has escalated in nearby areas, Obo’s Peace Committee, along with a number of other community organizations committed to peace, have responded by increasing their efforts to unify their community around a common goal of peace and to equip citizens of Obo with tools to become central agents in the safety of the whole community.

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 1.47.54 PMMembers of Local Peace Committees in Obo and surrounding communities who participated in a workshop on peaceful conflict resolution organized by Invisible Children.

With support from Invisible Children, Obo’s peace committee has carried out peace and conflict management workshops, and sensitization campaigns in Obo in order to help prevent conflict and violence. Just this week, the committee organized a peace march as part of efforts to unite members of the community around their shared goal for peace.

The community has also stepped up to include and support a growing number of internally displaced people who have poured into Obo, fleeing violence in nearby communities. In August, the Peace Committee elected representatives from Obo’s growing population of internally displaced to the committee so that the committee would be able to understand and support the needs of these new residents. Members of the Peace Committee also partnered with AFASVR—a community organization that supports victims of armed group violence—and our Invisible Children team, to host a festival for internally displaced children and their families living in Obo, welcoming them as part of the community. At the event, children shared a meal and spent the afternoon playing soccer and were given clothes and school supplies.

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 1.49.30 PMInternally displaced children living in Obo, play soccer as part of a locally-organized, Invisible Children-supported festival.

Continued Need for Protection

The steps that leaders in Obo have taken are working. The whole community is involved in supporting one another toward the common goal of peace and because of that, they are able to more effectively address challenges and threats to their safety together. But peace is not guaranteed in Obo, or any community in southeastern CAR, as long as they remain unprotected from armed groups who threaten their safety and exploit their vulnerabilities every day.

That’s why, as we continue to support solutions to violence at the community level through Peace Committees and other local organizations like those in Obo, we are also committed to calling on world leaders to take steps to protect families in southeastern CAR. Through our LRA Crisis Tracker, we’re providing policymakers with analysis on the threats armed groups pose so that they can make more informed and effective decisions on how to protect civilians in Obo and across CAR. We’re also working with other NGO partners to urge the US and other members of the UN Security Council to strengthen the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, which can play a critical role in providing a baseline of security in order to allow Peace Committees and other local mechanisms to reinforce positive relations between different groups in the community.