So, its been another while since I wrote a blog update – and this one is going to be short. Because here in the lovely sunny hill town of Bouar, the internet is not always friendly and the keyboard is sticking! Bare with me folks!
I’ve been driven to write this spontaneous update – without spell check I must add – becaue some of the reports of CAR being ‘on the verge of genocide’ have disturbed me and many people here in Central Africa that I know. The security situation here is not good, we all realise that: I have been out in the bush this week, north of Bouar, visiting a route of villages that – between August and November this year – were burnt down by Seleka. At least 2,500 buildings were partly or totally destroyed, and still no-one can be entirely sure how many people were burnt to death, or have died from their injuries. I spent a day in Bohong, where the majority of these homes were torched, and it was unforgettable; people have built temporary shelters of mud and straw amidst the ruins of their homes and the vilage centre is filled with rubble. The atmosphere is of distrust and grief. Seleka’s arson has shattered the trust between the Christians and Muslims in the village, people who lived side by side for years, someltimes generations.
Yet when I read reports in the press about CAR being on the verge of genocide, I am not convinced. And this is why; despite the brutality of Seleka – and they are brutal beyond doubt – life here in the Central African Republic goes on. Reports that it is not safe for people (i.e. foreigners) to travel in the countryside are blatantly not true: I have travelled independently all over this country, and will continue to do so. I am vigilant, and the vast majority of people I meet are kind. I have never been threatened, or robbed or physically attacked.
Many Central Africans tell me they are worried – but most of the people I speak to do not believe their country is on the brink of genocide. They want international peac-keepers to come and secure the country – because the current prescence of regional FOMAC peace-keepers is not sufficient. Security in cities and towns has generally improved, but villages are very insecure and villagers often living in fear. It’s a fragmented sometimes complex situation. My local and foreign friends, and people I’ve met through my research say they are dismayed by press reports that take the horrors of what happened in Bossangoa – a bloody massacre that has rendered thousands camping outside the local Catholic mission for fear of going to their homes – and to apply to the entire country. CAR is not only Bossangoa and it is dangerous to talk about the country as thought it is.
There are solutions to this crisis of security – but ramping up the ‘verge of genocide’ factor is not one of them. An international peace-keeping force with a solid mandate to be deployed throughout the country, especially rural areas, would be a wonderful start; alongside negotiations between Seleka and other ‘rogue elements’ such as the now-infamous anti-Balaka gangs. Restoring the crushed national institutions of the police and judiciary would give peeople a sense they have some human rights. Foreign mercenaries need to be confronted. And mediation between communities whose trust has been shattered by Seleka is really vital: Christians and Muslims have lived together in CAR for generations but many Christian communities feel they are baring the brunt of Seleka’s brutality. Muslims I have spoken to say they are isolated, not trusted and Muslims are seen as being ‘with’ Selekaregardless of their affiliations. Trust has been shattered by politics.
I have not lost hope for this country – otherwise I wouldn’t be here. But I want press reports to reflect the nuances of life here, and see that CAR’s resilience can be nurtured and the country can be taken out of this chronic crisis. I want them to write and report about what can be done and how it could change life in this beautiful fragile country.