In addition to the depressed prospects for commodity prices, the population is widely dispersed, there are few large towns, and violent highway robbery is commonplace. It will therefore be hard to stimulate more lively trade flows of farm goods into urban areas, bolster urban food supplies or increase the flow of cash income out to the villages. Moreover, owing to the scattered geography of settlement the cost of setting up or improving education and health services for rural communities is high.
One of the most serious challenges facing the government in its efforts to ease poverty is the creation of new jobs in Bangui. The IMF estimates that the crisis of 1996-97 led to the loss of around 3,000 formal sector jobs in the capital, pushing the formal sector unemployment rate to 10% by December 1997. Generating new opportunities will be particularly difficult as many private-sector businessmen, particularly Lebanese and French expatriates, who were targeted by looters in the 1996 mutiny, are likely to be reluctant to set up new firms, while potential newcomers will probably wait to see if the CAR remains stable once the UN peacekeeping force, the Mission des Nations Unies en Republique centrafricaine (Minurca), has left the country.
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