Excellent use of Web 2.0 resources - particularly in a country where the net is frustratingly slow.
HDPT newsletters and reports are also stuffed into the seat pocket of UN flights and make for illuminating reading flying over the country in question.
This slide presentation gives a good overview of the situation in CAR and refreshingly it's in plain English.
For the scanners among you, here's some quick facts on CAR from HDPT:
- internal conflict has forced c.300,000 people to flee their homes - 67% of all Central Africans live on less than $1 a day - Almost no country in the world has a higher share of people living under $1 a day - Average life expectancy declined from 49 years in 1988 to 41 years in 2007 - One in five children do not live to their fifth birthday - In almost no country are there fewer kilometers of paved highway per capita - In almost no country is doing business as difficult as in the Central African Republic
So, is it all doom and gloom?
On face value, the statistics do not seem rosy.
While I was in CAR I spoke at length with Toby Lanzer, UN Resident Co-ordinator, and Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Representative.
Both point to the recent surge of NGO's setting up programmes in CAR as one indicator of putting CAR on the path to progres. A little over a year ago only a handful of NGO's were working in CAR - now there are well over 20.
At a community level, that boost in NGO and UN activity, they say, is helping to achieve things such as getting nearly 70,000 children back into school. A start, and a useful beachhead if you like to initiate other humanitarian and development programmes.
As a counterpoint, something to consider. Getting kids back into class - even in rough bush schools under tarps is positive - but CAR's government spends less than 2% of it's GDP on education.
CAR is a hard country to get your head around who's who and what's their grievance. Here's a concise little backgrounder on the ongoing internal conflict in CAR and who has the guns.
Meanwhile, for about the cost of a chicken you can get an AK-47.
Now that might sound like a good deal if you're in the market, but when moving through the northern zones controlled by the APRD rebels I saw a variety of bespoke and homemade weapons. Steel pipe of varying diameters, hand carved stocks and rubber band powered triggers produce anything from pistols to rifles to larger bore weapons.
This FACA soldier enjoys clowning around with his grenade - his only weapon. Showing it ready for action he says is good for security.
FACA is CAR's national army. This soldier came out of the bush with 4 others to offer protection at an airstrip in Sam Ouandja for a businessman on a flying visit - most likely for diamonds.
At the airstrip, EUFOR troops were also present to meet us. But even in the face of professional soldiers nearby, this fellow had a cavalier regard for weapon discipline and enjoyed basically break dancing with his grenade for the camera.
He assured me it was live, but I had some doubts.
Later when he approached our aircraft before take off, doubts or otherwise, I took my cue to make myself scarce. Grenade, avgas and a village idiot do not make a good combination.
On the way to Bangui Airport at the end of my trip my vehicle overtook a government army patrol in a jeep prowling slowly for something or someone. No break dancing going on here but troops armed with RPG's on patrol in suburbia seems excessive.
And while I'm at it. I prefer filming a nation's leaders addressing women and children when their soldier/ bodyguards have safety catches firmly on.