Having previously pondered how pushed-for-time reporters tend to write about life, and more especially death, here in the Central African Republic (CAR) I thought I’d post my own guide to writing about CAR. With a nod and heavy wink to Binyavanga Wainaina’s stupendous 2005 satire, ‘how to write about Africa,’ which still makes me laugh today. NO wonder it’s the most downloaded Granta article of all time.
So, if you want to write about CAR, here are some suggestions:
Write about the Central African Republic as an all-out tragedy of inter-religious war featuring machete-wielding ‘Anti-Balaka’ rebels and Muslim ‘Seleka’ mercenaries from neighbouring Chad and North Sudan. Who have been killing everyone they can without discrimination since the spring of 2013; do not delve into decades of foreign interference in CAR or talk about reductions of violence over these last twelve months, nor successful community peacebuilding initiatives as this will only confuse your narrative.
Describe the Central African Republic herself as isolated bush country (the size of the state of Texas) with terrible rebel-infested roads and ragged villages where people eat cassava, boiled bush meat (including primates) dance barefoot and all ‘marry’ each other so they overbreed and interbreed. Plus most of them can’t read nor write. You can find a list of terrible diseases over the Internet, and don’t worry, they are all bound to be lurking somewhere as ‘De-developed’ as CAR.
In keeping with this poignant portrait of this failed state in the heart of Africa, scan its history of despots and pay special attention to mad old Jean Bédel Bokassa who ruled CAR 1976-79 and proclaimed himself Emperor and was far more colourful than Ange Félix Patassé or André Kolingba, two other former Presidents who don’t quite live up to the ruthless African dictator stereotype. Be sure to refer to the current, unelected, female President, Catherine Samba-Panza, as ‘Mother Courage.’
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission to CAR (MINUSCA) set up shop here in September 2014. Now lets be clear: there are many serious problems with the UN Department of Peace Keeping Operations, and with this UN peace-keeping mission (like covered up child sexual abuse and ongoing allegations of child sexual abuse) that deserve exposure: but do not credit MINUSCA with anything at all. Slag them off, that’s what they are here for. MINUSCA is 12,000 strong in CAR and easy to criticise. Details of UN work that has helped calm areas of Bangui, plus the cities of N’délé and Carnot and Bria are easy to skip, so keep up the pressure. Though good luck with finding a viable alternative.
When referring to the forthcoming legislative and Presidential elections scheduled for November, be grave and very concerned and cast doubt on all process. The elections will be late, and may well be contested to some degree, and there may be violence afterwards. But do not write in nuance. This is a failed state waiting to fail again.
The same principle applies to aid. The courage of national non-government organisations who deliver humanitarian services to their own people, plus traditional leaders and local mayors who have negotiated and dialogued between communities for years, pale when you can describe the courage of foreign ‘aid workers’ who risk life and limb to work in CAR. Nah! Its all going to go badly wrong and there will be more eruptions of bloody inter-ethnic inter-religious violence et al.
Finally, when talking about ex-pats (not migrant workers!) who carry out all these life-saving operations in CAR, make sure to reassure readers just how hard core it is living in Bangui. The Bangui Rock Club swimming pool and tennis club do not need to feature, nor the MBEYE dance club, nor the restaurants where you can get a very decent biriani from a resident Gujarati family, or authentic Lebanese food, or expensive but tasty pizza every night of the week. And lots of cold beers.
Remember the only people who live out in the bush are illiterate villagers, meddling/ Godly missionaries (depends which way you swing religiously) and those thieving, throat-slitting rebels. Who have never been financed nor supported to any degree whatsoever by interfering Western powers at all.
Bless! Enjoy your biryani and keep up the good work.
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There’s certainly a lot to learn about this topic.
I like all the points you have made.