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February 21 2014

‘Central African Republic's Most Pressing Need Is Security for its People’

Mme Beatrice Epaye via Centrafrique Press blog -Domaine public

Béatrice Epaye via the CAR Press blog – Public domain

Béatrice Epaye is a former member of Parliament and today a member of the Central African Republic's National Transition Council (CNT), the body tasked with selecting a transitional president who will lead the war-torn country until the next presidential elections. When an uprising plunged the country into crisis in late 2012, the previous President-elect François Bozizé was removed by the Séléka rebels.

The terrible religious conflict continues still in the Central African Republic (CAR). On February 19, heavy fighting erupted near the airport in the capital Bangui. Anti-Balaka groups tried to block the evacuation of Muslims and disrupted a visit by a top United Nations (UN) aid official.  

Epaye agreed to answer our questions on the current situation in the Central African Republic and the steps which need to be taken to avoid a human catastrophe in her country. In addition to her role on the National Transition Council, she is the president of the “La Voix du Coeur” (Voice of the Heart) Centre, which is currently a place of welcome and support for street children in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. She also sits on the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa's parliament (CEMAC) in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, where she represents the Council.

Global Voices (GV): What's the latest situation in your area? 

Béatrice Epaye (BE): Je suis une habitante de Bangui la capitale de la RCA, une ville meurtrie par le conflit. Tous les jours, de chez moi, j'entends des coups de feux venus de certains quartiers de Bangui. Ma maison comme beaucoup d’autres accueillent des proches venus de quartiers plus fragiles. Les gens fuient et beaucoup se sont regroupés dans des lieux qu'ils estiment sécurisés : Aéroport, Mosquées, Églises, dans des familles, en brousse dans la périphérie de Bangui ou en République Démocratique du Congo de l'autre côté du fleuve Oubangui.

De même, le Centre « Voix du Cœur » que j’ai fondé est devenu un lieu de regroupement pour les enfants de la rue en détresse. Là chrétiens et musulmans se côtoient, s’entraident.

Béatrice Epaye (BE): I live in Bangui the capital of the CAR, a town battered by conflict. Every day from my own home I hear shots coming from different areas of Bangui. Like many others, my house welcomes friends who come from the most fragile areas. People are fleeing and many gather together in areas which they feel are more secure: the airport, mosques, churches, with families, in the bush on the edge of Bangui, or in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the other side of the Ubangi River.

Likewise, the Voice of the Heart Centre which I founded has become a gathering place for distressed street children. Christians and Muslims come together and help each other.

GV: How do you manage the uncertainties? What are the most pressing needs so far?

BE: Effectivement c'est une situation difficile et précaire pour tout le monde : à tout moment le pire peut se produire! Quand on sent le danger, on cherche un abri.

Le plus difficile pour les familles et sur les sites des déplacés, c'est de ne pas avoir à manger ni avoir la possibilité de se soigner. Les salaires ne sont pas payés depuis 4 mois, et l'aide humanitaire n'est pas suffisante, ou même parfois inexistante. Dans leurs fuites les populations ont laissé derrière elles le nécessaire pour le quotidien et manquent du minimum pour la survie. Ensuite les enfants ne vont pas à l'école… on en est à un tel point que je ne peux pas le décrire.

BE: It's really a very difficult and precarious situation for everyone: the worst can happen at any moment! When we sense danger we look for shelter.

The most difficult thing for the families, and at the internally displaced persons sites, is having nothing to eat and no possibility of taking care of yourself. Salaries haven't been paid in four months, and humanitarian aid is not sufficient and sometimes even non-existent. As they fled, populations left behind things necessary for daily life and don't have the minimum needed to survive. Then children aren't going to school… we've reached such a point that I can't even describe it.

GV: How has the violence between Christians and Muslims increased so quickly in a country that isn't known for religious conflicts?

BE: Effectivement, le pays n'a jamais connu de conflits religieux. Les deux communautés ont toujours vécu ensemble en cohésion. Les familles s'échangent les repas lors des fêtes de Pâques, de la Tabaski, du Ramadan, de Noël et lors des mariages religieux. Lors du coup d’État nous avons vu parmi les rebelles des étrangers, engagés comme mercenaires. Depuis le début de leur progression ils ont utilisé les communautés musulmanes avec un discours de libérateurs des musulmans face aux mécréants qui les maltraitent. Ils ont pu enrôler beaucoup de jeunes qui les ont aidé à s'attaquer aux biens de l’église et faire les exactions que nous avons tous connues. Jusqu’à maintenant, nous avons toujours recherché à vivre en harmonie entre Centrafricains, avec nos différences de confessions ; comme nation, nous avons aussi accueilli beaucoup de personnes et de familles venant des pays voisins.

Cependant, il y a l'attitude de certains agents de l’État face à des concitoyens ou des résidents qu’ils supposent musulmans. Ceux-ci sont freinés dans leur démarche pour un papier administratif ou pour passer un barrage des forces de l'ordre. De même, les populations du nord-est de la RCA proches du Tchad et du Soudan (Darfour), vivant à plus de 1000 KM de la capitale, et majoritairement musulmanes, bénéficient peu du soutien de l’Etat parce que l’administration et les services publics sont quasi inexistants dans cette région, ce qui peut amener les habitants à se sentir laissés pour compte. Ces populations sont plus liées aux populations frontalières des autres pays voisins, ce qui est normal et parlent ensemble la même langue, ont une culture proche, mais ils sont alors perçus comme étrangers et eux-mêmes se sentent loin de la majorité chrétienne du pays. Au cœur du conflit que nous vivons, en ce moment, la grande majorité silencieuse des Centrafricains refusent la violence et beaucoup ont eu a agir pour protéger ou sauver la vie d’autres, souvent d’une autre communauté religieuse qu’eux.

BE: The country has never really known religious conflict. The two communities have always lived together with cohesion. Families exchange meals at Easter, Tabaski, Ramadan, Christmas and at religious marriages. When the revolution happened, we saw foreigners amongst the rebels, taken on as mercenaries. Since they started to advance they've made use of Muslim communities by making speeches about freeing Muslims from infidels who have treated them badly. They were able to recruit many young people who have helped them attack church property and carry out abuses which we've all experienced. Until now, we've always sought a harmonious life between Central Africans with our different faiths. As a nation we've also welcomed many people and families from neighbouring countries.

However, there is an attitude which certain public officials have concerning fellow citizens or residents who they believe to be Muslim. The movement of these people is slowed down by checking administrative documents or going through a security checkpoint. In the same way, populations in the northeast of the CAR close to Chad and Sudan (Darfour), who live more than 1,000 km from the capital and the majority of whom are Muslims, receive little benefit from state aid because the administration and public services are almost non-existent in this region, which can lead to local residents feeling overlooked. These populations are more closely linked to border populations from other neighbouring countries, which is normal, they speak the same language together, have cultural similarities, but then they are seen as foreigners and themselves feel a long way from the country's Christian majority. At the heart of the conflict which we're living in at the moment is the large Christian silent majority refuses violence and many have had to act to protect or save other people's lives, often from a different religious community to their own.

GV: You say that it's critical that the communities talk to each other and have a dialogue in order to solve problems. In your opinion, what conditions are needed in order to set up this dialogue? How can the international community help in this area?

BE: J'estime que parallèlement à la sécurisation du pays il faut commencer la réconciliation entre les communautés.

Tout d'abord, rassurer la communauté musulmane qui est en train de quitter le pays, elle fait partie prenante de la RCA. Il s'agit de réfuter toute idée soit de les chasser, soit de scission du pays. Il faut éliminer dans les mentalités la confusion systématique entre Seleka et musulman.

Inviter à ouvrir un processus de dialogue politique entre toutes les parties prenantes aux conflits, mais aussi avec les acteurs non-armés afin de lancer un processus de réconciliation nationale à même d'apaiser aujourd'hui les populations désemparées et leur redonner confiance dans l'avenir.

Dès la rentrée scolaire, qu'on commence à mettre en place un programme sur le vivre ensemble pour les enfants, et aussi l'élargir dans les quartiers et villages.

Il faut renforcer la sensibilisation déjà initiée par la plate-forme inter-religieuse dans les Églises, les Mosquées et autres Temples, ainsi que d'autres initiatives locales qui concourent à la paix”. Il est vrai que l'idée d'organiser des élections fait partie des priorités de la Communauté internationale, mais cette idée fait certainement peur à la communauté musulmane centrafricaine. C'est pourquoi il serait souhaitable que parallèlement au processus électoral, soit amorcé un programme de réconciliation nationale, une démarche qui assure à chacun qu’il sera reconnu comme centrafricain à part entière.

BE: I believe that parallel to securing the country we have to start the reconciliation process between communities.

First of all, we must reassure the Muslim community, which is in the process of leaving the country, that they are a stakeholder in the CAR. We have to refute any idea of banishing them or splitting the country. We have to eliminate the systematic confusion in people's minds between Seleka and Muslim.

We must encourage the opening of a political dialogue between all parties taking part in the conflict, but also key players who are not fighting, in order to start a national reconciliation process to give comfort to helpless populations and give them back confidence in the future.

Once the new school year begins we must set up a children's program about living together and also extend this to urban areas and villages.

We have to support the raising of public awareness, which has already been initiated by the inter-religious platform in churches, mosques, and other temples, just like other local initiatives which lead to peace. It's true that the idea of organising elections is amongst the priorities of the international community, but this idea also scares the Central African Muslim community. That's why it would be desirable to launch a national reconciliation program alongside the electoral process, an approach which assures everyone that they will be recognised as fully Central African.

GV: What are the other pressing needs for Central Africa at the moment? What solutions can be put forward?

BE: Le besoin le plus pressant pour la RCA c'est d'abord la sécurité pour son peuple. L'idéal serait que les familles rentrent chez elles avant les premières pluies du mois de février, que l'aide humanitaire arrive aux habitants partout où on peut les trouver (alimentation, eau potable, soins, couchages, produits d'hygiène, vêtements…). Ce serait aussi le paiement des salaires aux fonctionnaires.

BE: The CAR's most pressing need is security for its people. Ideally, families would be able to return to their homes before the first rains in February and humanitarian aid would arrive for local people wherever they are (food, drinking water, medical supplies, sleeping bags, hygiene products, clothes..). Also, public officials would have their salaries paid.

February 19 2014

“Now is the Time for Men of Goodwill to Stand Up” in the Central African Republic

Andrew Harding on Africa Review reports on the courageous acts of a congregation in the shabby town of Boali, Central African Republic and notably one Father Xavier Fagba. The St Peter's Parish church has sheltered Muslims seeking sanctuary from ethnic cleansing perpetrated by anti balaka gangs:    

“Now is the time for men of goodwill to stand up and prove the strength and quality of their faith,” said Father Fagba, [..] ”When I did this, nobody in the community understood me. They attacked and threatened me.” The Muslims – about 650 in all – arrived at the church on January 16 and 17. ”The Muslims discovered in our church that the God we worship is the same as their God,” said Father Fagba.

On twitter, a hashtag #CARKindness reports the local acts of kindness amidst the unspeakable wave of violence that plagues the country. Here is another instance of such kindness:

February 18 2014

“Bring All the Culprits of Ethnic Cleansing to Justice” Says a CAR Citizen of Muslim and Christian Descent

Here is Moussa Tanko–Tchaibou's take on the ethnic cleansing that is underway in his country, the Central African Republic and what should be done to stop it [fr]:

Je suis centrafricain de confession musulmane avec cette particularité illustrative de la cohésion sociale, celle d’avoir un père de confession musulmane et une mère d’origine chrétienne [..]  Alors que la maison commune est en train de bruler qu’apportent-ils comme contribution afin de mettre fin à cette situation? Rien à part se préparer pour les prochaines échéances électorales, à attiser à distance cette haine contre une certaine catégorie de population [..]  il faudrait que les choses avancent vite, car ne pas traduire les coupables de ces crimes horribles devant la cour pénale internationale laisse la porte ouverte à d’autres massacres.

I am a Central African Republic citizen who happens to be muslim. In what used to be an illustration of the social cohesion of the past in my country, my father is Muslim and my mother is Christian. [..] While the house of Central Africa is now burning, what did that they (political leaders) do to put an end to this situation? Nothing but prepare for the next elections and stir up hatred against a certain group of people [..] The world needs to move quickly (in identifying the culprits), because if we doe not bring the perpetrators of these horrible crimes to the International Criminal Court rapidly, we will leave the door open for other massacres to occur.

Hayes Brown unpacks why it is important to better understand the two-way atrocities in the region and whether the use of the term genocide in the media is appropriate. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch states that without prompt action, the country will be emptied of its Muslim population [fr]. 

February 07 2014

Change From the Ground Up in War-Torn Central African Republic

Refugees of the fighting in the Central African Republic via wikipédia Public Domain

Refugees of the fighting in the Central African Republic via Wikipedia – Public domain

Full-time volunteers from the ATD Fourth World Movement in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been working with those most disadvantaged since before the violent religious conflict there began to tear the country apart. The actions they have taken to support local populations have preserved unity and social cohesion in some of the communities weakened by the fighting between Seleka rebels, mostly of Islamic confession, and anti-Balakas, mostly composed of Christian youth groups. The group's continued presence within the community has rendered them key players and observers of the current situation.  

Global Voices approached the volunteers to learn their perspective on the situation and what they think needs to be done to rebuild the country. What follows is the second part of an interview with Michel Besse, the local team leader of the ATD Fourth World Team in Bangui and his collaborators. You can read the first part of the interview here

Global Voices (GV): Which of the actions taken so far have proved to be most useful to the population? 

Michel Besse: Pendant l'année de plomb qu'à vécu le pays en 2013, une douzaine de membres du Mouvement ATD Quart Monde, sont venus de leurs quartiers et de leurs villages chaque semaine jusqu'au Centre-Ville. Ils ont procédé à l’élaboration du programme d'action du Mouvement pour 4 ans, exprimer ce qui est le plus important pour leur pays ne pas laisser se perdre l'intelligence des enfants, et rejoindre d'autres qui souffrent plus encore ! Dans un pays ou même le lendemain est incertain, ils ont persévéré et résisté : malgré la pression de l'urgence et des dangers, malgré les incertitudes du présent, pour eux penser l'avenir était important. Ils voulaient semer l'espoir maintenant pour garantir l'avenir et ils continuent.

Michel Besse: During the year of carnage that the country endured in 2013, a dozen or so members of the ATD Fourth World organization travelled every week from their neighbourhoods and villages to the town centre. The members worked on the movement's four-year action programme, identifying what matters most for their country; not allowing children's intelligence to be wasted, and joining forces with others who are suffering even more! In a country where even the next day is uncertain, they have persevered and resisted hatred; despite the pressures of the emergency situation and the dangers involved, despite the present uncertainties, it was important for them to think of the future. They wanted to sow the seeds of hope in the present to secure the future, and they are continuing to do so.


Video of children in Bangui, CAR  with schoolchildren from other countries.

GV: You say that it is crucial for communities to talk to each other and maintain dialogue to resolve problems. What conditions do you consider to be necessary for this dialogue to take place? How can the international community assist with this?

MB: Ce que le Mouvement ATD Quart Monde a appris de l'expérience, pour l'avoir vécu ailleurs aussi, c'est que partout où il y a des catastrophes, des crises, les premiers à y faire face, ce sont les gens du pays, et en particulier les gens d'en bas : les habitants des quartiers qui s'organisent sans attendre l'aide internationale, ceux dont les paroles et les actes restent encore invisibles.  La plus grande crainte, c’est que le fossé ne se creuse trop entre les communautés, et qu’il soit trop difficile ensuite d’envisager la réconciliation. Alors, chaque perte en vie humaine est une souffrance pour tous ceux qui veulent la paix. Il faut soutenir les initiatives qui vont dans le sens de la paix, aider à faire entendre les voix et voir les gestes qui portent cette aspiration profonde de fraternité et d’unité.

Les jeunes n'ont pas attendu que le recensement du camp de personnes déplacées de 100.000 soit fait à l'aéroport pour commencer des bibliothèques de rue. Chancella, Kevin et Herbert l'ont fait sans autres moyens qu'un tout petit peu de matériel, quelques crayons et leurs chansons mais surtout toute leur personne. Ils n'ont pas attendus pour se mettre au service communautaire dans les camps : aider les personnes malades à prendre leurs médicaments, aller chercher de l'eau pour les plus faibles, enterrer les morts, mais aussi les mères de familles à réorganiser leur petits commerces pour les besoins du camp et pour nourrir leur familles. Comme ces jeunes, ce que les habitants du pays espèrent, c'est d'être aidés mais en étant soutenus dans leurs initiatives.

MB: The ATD Fourth World Movement has learned from experience, having gone through it elsewhere, that wherever disasters and crises occur, the local people are the ones who have to deal with things first, especially the poorer people; the neighbourhood residents, who organize themselves without waiting for international aid, and whose words and actions remain invisible. The greatest fear is that the gap between the communities will become too wide, making reconciliation a difficult prospect. Every human life lost causes suffering for those who want peace. It is important to support peace initiatives, to help ensure the voices and actions that convey this deep desire for brotherhood and unity are heard and seen.

The young people of Bangui did not wait for the 100,000 displaced people camped at the airport to be listed before starting to set up street libraries. A few of the youngsters who volunteered to help, Chancella, Kevin and Herbert, achieved that with nothing more than a tiny scrap of material, a few pencils and their songs, but most importantly, they put themselves into it. They didn't hesitate to put themselves at the service of the community in the camps, helping the sick to take their medicine, fetching water for the weak, burying the dead, and helping mothers to rebuild their small businesses supplying the needs of the camp and to feed their families. Like these young people, the country's inhabitants wish to be helped, but by being supported in their own initiatives.

GV: How can international aid help rebuild the country, without overlooking those who are the country's driving force?  

MB: On l'a souvent vu ailleurs, l'état a été dénigré et contourné par l'aide internationale.  Il faut soutenir les initiatives des gens du pays et ne pas les écraser. Comment dire qu'on ne peut se mettre derrière ceux qui sont engagés et ont une expérience et une réflexion sur ce qu'il faut faire, nourrie par des années d'engagement ? Les responsables  d'une « maison » pour enfants vulnérables a vu des tonnes de riz distribué en rations individuelles… et les plus faibles se faire dépouiller, ou le vendre à vil prix pour avoir quelques sous. Ces responsables auraient su comment procéder avec ses collègues pour qu'il serve à tous les enfants, plus équitablement.

MB: We've seen it happen elsewhere, the state being denigrated and bypassed by international aid. The initiatives of the country's people have to be supported, not crushed. Why refuse to support those who are involved and have experience and an appreciation for what needs to be done, gained through years of involvement? The people in charge of a “home” for vulnerable children have seen tonnes of rice distributed in individual portions… and the weakest ones having it stolen from them, or it is sold at a low price just to have a few cents. The people in charge of these homes would know how to work with these colleagues to ensure that the rice was used to help all the children more fairly.

GV: How should we go about gathering the people's views and ideas and engaging with them as partners?

MB: Alors qu'elle était Maire de Bangui, l'actuelle Chef de l’État de la transition avait expliqué lors d'une table ronde des organismes humanitaires cet enjeu central : « des chefs de quartier peuvent sembler de vieux messieurs, des instituteurs sans travail depuis des mois ou des responsables d'associations de jeunes dont les locaux sont détruits depuis des années peuvent ne pas ressembler à des interlocuteurs habituels pour ces ONG, mais c'est pourtant avec eux qu'une action passe et peut être acceptée par les habitants ». C’est vital, et c’est d’ailleurs le principe de respect des peuples et un sens profond de la solidarité qui garantie la paix et le vrai progrès avec tous.

MB: While she was Mayor of Bangui, the current transitional Head of State explained the key issue at a round table for humanitarian organizations: “It may seem that some community leaders are old men, teachers who have been out of work for months, leaders of youth associations whose premises were destroyed years ago, and they may not seem to be the kind of people these NGOs are used to liaising with, but it is through them that measures are achieved that are acceptable to residents”. It is vitally important, as it involves the principle of respect for the people and a profound sense of solidarity, which ensures peace and progress for everybody.

February 03 2014

Lessons of Peace from the Central African Republic's Most Disadvantaged

Une école à Bangui, Centrafrique via wikipédia - license  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

A school in Bangui, Central African Republic via Wikipedia. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Full-time volunteers from the organization ATD Fourth World in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been working with those most disadvantaged since before the violent religious conflict began to tear the country apart in early 2013.

The Central African conflict between the government and Seleka rebels has worsened alarmingly for the past year. The initially political conflict has now evolved into a religious conflict between Seleka Rebels, mostly of Islamic confession and anti-Balakas, mostly composed of christian youth groups. ATD Fourth World's mission in CAR is to support the more disenfranchised civilians living in extreme poverty by providing shelters for the neediest and some schooling for a few children.  

The actions they have taken to support local populations have preserved unity and social cohesion in some of the communities weakened by fratricidal fighting. Their continued presence within the community has rendered them key players and observers of the current situation. 

Global Voices approached the volunteers to find out how they see things and what they think needs to be done to rebuild the country. What follows is the first part of a lengthy interview with Michel Besse and the ADT Fourth World team in Bangui.

Global Voices (GV): What are the most  pressing issues for the Central African Republic right now?  How could they be resolved?  

Michel Besse (MB): Pour nous, ce dont le pays a besoin pour reconstruire,  c'est de tenir compte de ceux qui ont résisté, et compter avec eux, s’appuyer sur leur expérience et leur savoir. Des familles, des personnes qu'on considère pour rien, isolées de tous et sans appuis chez les « kotazo » (les puissants, en sango langue nationale), ont maintenu malgré tout un lien de paix et de survie, au cœur des conflits. C'est ce lien dont le pays a besoin pour se rassembler après toutes ces distensions brutales. En revanche ceux qui sont restés comme des « blocs » par l'usage de la force (les milices armées) ou par l'usage de la ruse pour la survie de leurs intérêts politiques ou autres, n'ont pas cette vision de résistance et de reconstruction. Nous souhaitons que cette sagesse de paix des très pauvres puisse être connue de ceux qui sont dans leurs sécurités, ceux qui peuvent se protéger, ou ceux qui sont à l'abri. 

Michel Besse (MB): For us, what the country needs in order to rebuild itself is to take into account the views of those who are fighting the hatred, and trust them, rely on their experience and their knowledge. Families and people who are being left stranded now, isolated from their loved ones and without any influence over the “kotazo” (the powerful ones, in the national Sango lauguage) have, despite it all, managed to maintain peaceful social relationships in the midst of conflict. It is these kind of links that the country needs in order to come together after all of these brutal flare-ups. On the other hand, those who remained in their fighting stances like “blocks of violence” (the armed militia) or by ruse in order to preserve their own interest or political agendas, these people do not hold the vision of resistance to hatred and reconstruction. We hope that the wisdom for peace held by the poorest can be felt by those who are in more privileged positions, those able to protect themselves, or those who are sheltered. 

GV: What is the current situation in the area where you are?  Are their refugees, and if so, where are they coming from?

MB: On peut dire que depuis le 24 décembre, toutes les maisons dans notre quartier ont accueilli des familles déplacées fuyant les quartiers devenus dangereux ; nous-mêmes, à la Maison Quart Monde, nous accueillons désormais une vingtaine de personnes, des membres du Mouvement venant de quartiers proches. Par ailleurs, un site de déplacés existe à quelques rues de chez nous, avec 19.000 personnes déplacées.
Des jeunes de ces familles déplacées sont souvent envoyés pour essayer de passer une nuit dans les maisons familiales, mais au bout de quelques essais ils retournent à nouveau dans des quartiers plus sûrs, à cause de regain de violences et de scènes de tueries qui ont eu lieu dans les zones d'affrontement. La situation, d'après ce que nous entendons de leur part, ainsi que par d'autres amis du Mouvement ATD, l'instabilité d'un jour sur l'autre est la marque de cette insécurité. Elle empêche de pouvoir se réinstaller durablement chez soi.
Beaucoup de ceux avec qui nous sommes en lien, entre autres des jeunes qui viennent prendre des matériaux d'animation pour les Bibliothèques de Rues dans leurs sites, et qui nous racontent leur vie quotidienne dans ces camps dont le plus grand à l'aéroport compte 100.000 personnes, nous le disent : « Ça fait très mal quand je vois ma famille sur cet aéroport. Quand je fais l'animation avec les enfants, la douleur est enlevée, j'ai moins de soucis ni de tracas, pas de douleur ».

Quand il y a de l'électricité, nous pouvons rester en lien avec des membres du mouvement, donner et recevoir de nouvelles des uns et des autres. Comme les déplacements sont limités, ces liens se font par téléphone mobile, surtout avec des familles qui sont dans zones de combats, avec un SMS, un appel de quelques secondes, parfois ces familles répondent en murmurant, de peur d’être entendues par les groupes armés qui passent, dans les ruelles près de leurs maisons. Nous faisons tout le possible pour que les nouvelles circulent : nous savons que c'est vital pour ne pas se sentir seuls.

Nous avions un projet de faire découvrir aux enfants et aux animateurs de Bibliothèque de rue et d’action Tapori dans sept zones de la capitale un DVD de chansons Tapori . C’était prévu pour Fin 2013, début 2014 : malheureusement, la flambée du 5 décembre nous a empêché de vivre ce projet : « C'est reporté, pas annulé », disait un de ces animateurs. « Dans le pays, un jour le calme viendra, alors ça sera possible ». Mais en attendant, les animateurs ne restent pas les bras croisés. Ils ont rejoints les enfants dans différents camps de déplacés. A l’aéroport, ils les réunissent plusieurs fois par semaines autour des livres, des chansons, du dessin. C’est ainsi que les enfants de la BDR du Camp de Mpoko, ont réalisé des coloriages, et ont choisi de les offrir à l’hôpital-mobile de MSF [ Doctors Without Borders] lors de l'inauguration , et avec leur fameux DVD en prime ! En recevant ce cadeau, la Directrice de l’hôpital, une MSF qui avait travaillé dans bien d'autres pays, disait sa joie de voir pour la première fois de sa carrière, que la force des enfants à travers leurs paroles et leurs chansons des enfants pour la joie d'autres enfants était mise en avant.

MB: I can tell you that since 24 December all of the houses in our part of town have taken in displaced families fleeing those other parts which have become danger zones. At the ATD Fourth World HQ, we are also hosting 20 people from surrounding neighbourhoods. A refugee site for displaced people is set only a few streets away from us and it holds 19,000 displaced people.

Youngsters from the displaced families are often sent to try and spend the night in the family's homes, but after a few failed attempts, they return to safer neighbourhoods due to the increased violence and the killings which have taken place in the trouble spots. The situation, according to what they tell us, as well as what other friends of the ADT Movement say, is one of day-to-day volatility. It prevents people from going back home for good.

Many of those who we are in contact with, including the youngsters who come to get materials for use in activities at the street libraries, a collection of children’s artwork to decorate hospitals in Bangui on their sites, tell us about their day-to-day lives in these camps, the biggest of which is at the airport and holds 100,000 people. They say that “it makes us feel really bad to see our families at the airport. When we lead activities with the children, their pain is alleviated and they have fewer worries, less pain”.

When there is electricity, we can stay in contact with members of the movement, exchange news. As travel is limited, these exchanges are made by mobile phone, especially with families who are in the combat zones, by text message or a call lasting only a few seconds. Sometimes these families answer with only a whisper, scared of being heard by armed groups who pass by near their houses. We are doing everything we can to make sure news gets round: We know it is essential in order to combat feelings of isolation.  

We had a project to introduce a DVD of Tapori [a worldwide network of young members of the ATD Movement] songs to children and facilitators at the Street Library and Tapori action in seven zones around the capital. It was planned for the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. Unfortunately, the flare-up on 5 December prevented us from carrying out the project: “It is postponed, not cancelled” said one of the facilitators. “One day, calm will come back in the country, that's when it will be possible”.  But in the meantime, the facilitators are not just sitting around. They have travelled to the children in the various displacement camps. At the airport, they bring them together several times a week around books, songs and drawing. This is how the children of the Street Library in the Mpoko camp produced their colouring picture book, and decided to give them to the MSF mobile hospital during it's inauguration. On receiving the gift, the hospital's director, who has worked with MSF in many other countries, expressed her joy at seeing for the first time in her career that the strength of these children, coming from their words and their songs for the joy of other children, was being showcased.

GV: The day-to-day situation is truly worrying. How do you manage the uncertainty? What are the most pressing needs at present?

MB: Nous voyons que pour les familles qui sont déplacées, l'important est de pouvoir continuer à gagner de quoi vivre. Pour deux mères de familles qui sont avec nous, il s'agit de vendre de la farine de maïs : pour cela il faut aller acheter le grain en vrac, puis le mettre à tremper une nuit, le sécher et aller trouver dans le marché Lakouanga à deux kms un moulin qui fasse la farine à bon prix, et enfin organiser la vente au détail dans l'un ou l'autre marché « spontané » qui est né du déplacement de la moitié de la ville. Toute cette activité de survie donne à la famille toute entière une raison de se lever, de se battre, d'espérer.
L'incertitude, c'est de vendre suffisamment pour pouvoir acheter de quoi manger à la famille ; c'est aussi d'avoir à traverser des quartiers où les conditions de sécurité sont tellement changeantes : celui qui a moulu mon grain aujourd'hui sera-t-il encore vivant demain ? C'est par exemple sur ce trajet de fabrication de la farine de maïs qu'une des mamans a été témoin devant ses yeux du lynchage d'un homme par la foule. C'est aussi l'incertitude de pouvoir rentrer avant le couvre-feu et la tombée de jour à 18 heures, alors que des bandes commencent à sortir pour aller piller des maisons désertées. L’autre souci des parents, c’est l’éducation des enfants, ils ne veulent pas que les enfants soient témoins de scènes de violence. depuis le début des tensions, les animateurs disaient : « il nous faut continuer nos Bibliothèque de rue pour désarmer l’esprit des enfants ». c’est aussi pour cela que nous allons soutenir l’initiative de l’école qui se trouve proche de la Maison Quart Monde. elle accueille depuis quelques jours plus de 1000 enfants et proposent des activités ludiques.

Depuis le jeudi 20 janvier 2014 et la prestation de serment de la Présidente de la transition, les radios nationales donnent des communiqués sur les réalités de violence qui continuent de toucher le pays : cela fait que les déplacés qui vivent avec nous, et d'autres qui passent nous voir, se posent beaucoup de questions pour le devenir de leur pays. Si malgré un deuxième gouvernement de transition les choses en restent à la violence, alors qu'est-ce qu'on va devenir?

La situation est très compliquée, c'est vrai. Mais on ne peut pas dire que tout le monde est ennemi. On ne peut pas sous-estimer les risques que prennent certains pour sauver d'autres qui ne sont pas de leur communauté. Par exemple, telle maman musulmane qui un midi voit passer une jeune fille chrétienne, ployant sous le poids du sac de grain qu'elle est allée moudre, et s'avance dans une rue ou des exactions viennent d'avoir lieu : « Viens ma fille »,dit-elle pour faire croire qu'elle est une parente, « je t'aide à porter »… et elle lui montre une ruelle pour éviter le quartier ! Dans ce même quartier, 17 lieux de culte chrétiens ont étés protégés par des groupes de jeunes musulmans qui ont voulu que l'honneur de leur voisinage soit respecté. Un autre exemple, un jeune chrétien a sauvé un homme poursuivi par une foule qui le soupçonnait d’être un ex rebelle. Lorsqu’on lui a dit : « mais pourquoi tu as sauvé ce rebelle ? » il a répondu : « j’ai sauvé un homme ».

En parlant de l'avenir du pays, un éducateur spécialisé dit : « Qu'on en finisse avec la haine. C'est une catastrophe. Les centrafricains veulent quelqu'un qui peut assurer cette transition, faire grandir un esprit qui bannit la haine et la jalousie. Qui favorise que l'un accepte l'autre. Un esprit de pardon pour assurer la paix, quelles que soient les origines de l'un et de l'autre. Les politiques doivent accepter que les gens veulent vivre en paix. Les gens réfléchissent : des dirigeants créeront-ils encore des divisions ? Car depuis si longtemps nous arrivions à vivre sans tenir compte de l'appartenance religieuse».

MB: We can see that for the displaced families, the most important thing is to continue to be able to earn enough to live on. For two of the mothers who are with us, it's a question of selling maize flour: to do that, they have to go and buy the grain in bulk, then leave it to soak overnight, dry it and then go to the market at Lakouanga, two kilometres away, to find a miller who will mill the flower at a decent price, before arranging to retail the flour at one or other of the “pop-up” markets which have been born out of the displacement of half the town. Any survival activity gives the family a reason to get up, to fight, to hope.

Uncertainty comes from whether enough flour will be sold to be able to buy the family something to eat; it is also about being able to cross neighbourhoods where the security situation is very changeable. Will the person who milled my grain today still be alive tomorrow? It was, for example, via the production of maize flour that one of the mothers came to witness the mob lynching if a man. Uncertainty also comes from not knowing whether you'll be able to return before the 6 p.m. curfew when gangs begin to appear looking to loot the deserted houses. Another worry for parents is their children's education; they don't want their children to witness scenes of violence. Since the beginning of the troubles, the facilitators have said, “We need to continue on with our street library in order to take away violence from the children's spirits”. This is also why we are going to support the initiative of the schools. For the past few days, the schools have entertained more than 1,000 children and offered fun activities.

Since Thursday, 20 January 20, 2014 and the swearing into office of the transitional president, the national radio stations have been broadcasting bulletins on the reality of the violence that continues to affect the country. This has lead to the displaced people who are living with us, and others who stop by to see us, to ask a lot of questions about the future of their country. If, despite a second transitional government, the violence continues, what will their future hold?

It is true that this is a very complicated situation. But it cannot be said that everyone has suddenly become an enemy The risks which some are willing to take in order to protect others not from their own communities shouldn't be underestimated. For example, a Muslim mother saw a young Christian girl passing by one midday, buckling under the weight of a sack of grain she was taking to be milled and heading for a street where scenes of violence had recently played out. “Come on, my darling girl”, she said to indicate that she was the girl's parent, “I'll help you carry it,” and she showed her a side street to bypass the neighbourhood! In this same neighbourhood, 17 places of Christian worship have been protected by groups of young Muslims who want to ensure the honour of their neighbours is respected. In another example, a young Christian saved a man who was being pursued by a crowd who suspected him of being a former rebel. When he was asked, “But why did you save this rebel?” he replied, “I saved a man.”

Talking about the future of the country, an educational specialist said, “The hate needs to stop. It's a catastrophe. Central Africans want someone who can ensure a transition, engender a spirit which banishes hate and jealousy. One which encourages acceptance of one another. A spirit of forgiveness in order to ensure peace, whatever each others origins. Politicians need to accept that people want to live in peace. People are thinking, will our leaders create further division? Because for a long time we managed to live without religious affiliation being an issue.”

The second part of this interview on how the Central Africans can be helped will be published in a follow-up post. 

January 25 2014

“Find and Support all the Mandelas in the Villages” for Reconciliation in the Central African Republic

Residents of Bangui were asked about the current escalation of violence in the Central African Republic. Here are some of their thoughts as collected by ATD Fourth World :

Muslim and Christian leaders try to lead reconciliation in CAR via @faitreligieux

Muslim and Christian leaders try to lead reconciliation in CAR crisis via @faitreligieux1

It’s a question of dialogue, because there are two parties, the Seleka and the Anti-balaka. If there isn’t dialogue, it will get worse. It’s become a question between Christians and Muslims, and that requires working from the heart, forgiveness, patience, so that there is no more hate.

A huge reconciliation won’t do anything. What we need is to find and support all those Mandelas in the villages

Respect things, people, without trampling on the rights of others.

We need forgiveness. The radio says it too, it’s their slogan. We have to bring people to love each other again.

January 24 2014

Minister Stabbed to Death by Mob as Violence Escalates in Central African Republic

Several sources report that a Muslim minister was attacked and killed with knives by mob in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) today (24/01). This recent twitter update by Peter Bouckaert, Emergency Director at Human Rights Watch confirms the identity of the minister:

The conflict between Séléka and anti-balakas in CAR has already forced the displacement of more than 1 million people.       

January 20 2014

Catherine Samba-Panza, Mayor of Bangui, Elected as Transitional President of Central African Republic

The Mayor of Bangui, Catherine Semba Penza participates in the clean up of the city via La Nouvelle Centrafrique Infos

Mayor of Bangui and now transitional president Catherine Semba-Panza via La Nouvelle Centrafrique Infos

After Michel Djotodia stepped down as president [fr] two weeks ago, the Central African Republic (CAR) Parliament elected Catherine Samba-Panza [fr], former mayor of Bangui, as the transitional president in charge of stabilizing the country until the next elections. Samba-Panza was recognized for her crisis management of the city during the rebels pillaging spree in 2013. It will marked the first time a women is selected as the head of the nation.    

January 17 2014

Two Opposite Arguments on Whether CAR Crisis is a Religious Conflict

The violent conflict that rocks the Central African Republic (CAR) spurred a debate on whether the conflict turned into an inter-religious conflict and therefore might escalate into a genocide.  Juan Branco, a researcher at Yale law School and a blogger for Rue89, argues that there is no history of such conflict in CAR and therefore, the media is at fault for overhyping this notion  [fr]:

Il n’y a pas de monstres au camp du Kasaï, censé abriter les miliciens les plus sanguinaires d’Afrique centrale. Personne qui ne tienne de discours de haine, même quand on les y pousse. Il y a des chrétiens qui citent des longs extraits de la Bible pour convaincre leurs camarades d’abandonner leurs gris-gris. Des musulmans qui font tant bien que mal une ou deux des cinq prières exigées

   There are no monsters in the camp of Kasai, a camp is supposedly a shelter for the bloodiest Central African militia. No one here is spreading hate speech even when they are edged on to do so. There are Christians who quote extensively from the Bible to convince their comrades to abandon their voodoo charms. There are Muslims who are just trying to go through their praying rituals. 

Florence Lozach is a war reporter that just finished an investigative report on the CAR conflict. She states that media certainly did not invent the growing tension between Christians and Muslims in CAR and that all indications points toward a very worrisome trend [fr]:

Le 5 décembre, vous n’étiez pas là visiblement, M. Branco. La plupart des médias, que vous méprisez aujourd’hui au plus haut point, étaient là, eux, dans les rues, puis dans la mosquée Ali Babolo, puis à nouveau dans les rues. Les propos ont changé ce jour-là. Avec plus de 500 morts dans les rues, le discours a penché puis complètement chuté dans la haine chrétiens-musulmans.

On December 5, evidently you were not here (in Bangui) Mr. Branco. Most of the media that you despise so much today were here, in the streets, and then in the Ali Babolo mosque and then again, in the streets. The words that were used have changed that day. With over 500 dead people in the streets, the words we heard turned into hate speech between people of Christian and Muslim faith.

January 13 2014

How New Interim President Nguendet Can Bring Stability Back to CAR

After Michel Djotodia stepped down as interim president of the Central African Republic (CAR), Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet was selected as the new president of the national council of the transition.

Alexandre Ferdinand Nguendet, new CAR President via wikipedia CC-License-BY

Alexandre Ferdinand Nguendet, new CAR President via wikipedia CC-License-BY

 

Philippe Hugon opines on what needs to be done to bring stability back to CAR [fr]:

Il est très important qu’il y ait une conférence nationale qui regroupe les différentes forces, tels que les partis politiques, les entités religieuses et les représentants de ce qu’on appelle la société civile, pour permettre une réconciliation durable. Celle-ci me semble d’ailleurs tout à fait possible étant donné que traditionnellement il n’y a pas de conflits majeurs dans le domaine ethnique ou religieux en Centrafrique [..]Je pense qu’il faut donner là du temps au temps et que ces changements ne peuvent se faire immédiatement.

It is very important that a national conference takes place soon that brings together the various forces of the country, such as political parties, religious entities and representatives of the civil society, to enable a lasting reconciliation. Reconciliation is a very feasible goal given that historically there are no major religious conflicts in the country [..] I think we should give enough time for that to take place and that such changes cannot happen overnight.

January 08 2014

Reason for President of Central African Republic Djotodia Imminent Resignation

Multiple sources report [fr] that Michel Djotodia, Interim President of Central African Republic (CAR) will step down tomorrow (January 9) as his country is rocked by violent inter-community conflicts. Although the minister of Communication denied [fr] the president's resignation earlier, Simon Koitoua in Bangui, CAR opines that it was bound to happen because of the president's recent ill-advised decisions regarding weaponry [fr]:

Le chef de la transition aurait approuvé et validé un montage financier colossal lié à l’achat d’armes via le Soudan et Tchad malgré l’embargo imposé sur les armes en destination de la Centrafrique

The head of the transition allegedly approved a financial package that green lighted the purchase of heavy weaponry via Sudan and Chad. The purchase was validated in spite of the embargo on weaponry in the Central African Republic

January 07 2014

A Call for Africans Leaders to Stand Up for the Central African Republic

As the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) drastically worsens [fr] (935 000 IDPs as of today), Thione Niang, the Senegalese head of the GIVE1Project and Mehdi Bensaid, a Moroccan MP, calls from the African continent to stand up and show support to the victims of the  conflict in CAR [fr]: 

Nous ne pouvons plus accepter que des frères s'entretuent sur le sol africain [..] Ainsi doit émerger une nouvelle génération de politiques inquiets pour l'avenir du continent et qui comprennent que servir l'intérêt général est l'unique solution pour résoudre les problématiques de développement en Afrique [..] Nous appelons l'ensemble des parlementaires africains à se préoccuper de la situation en Centrafrique, à inviter leurs gouvernements à s'impliquer davantage dans ses problématiques sécuritaires, à la construction d'une Afrique stable, seule solution possible à une croissance globale et sereine.

We can no longer accept that our brothers are killing each others on African soil [..]  A new generation of politicians worried about the future of the continent must emerge, politicians who understand that serving the general interest of all is the unique solution to development issues in Africa [..] We call on all African parliamentarians to address the situation in the Central African Republic and we urge their governments to get more involved in its security issues and build a more stable Africa. This is the only solution to foster a sustainable and peaceful growth across the continent.  

January 02 2014

3 Suggestions for Good Governance in the Central African Republic, Madagascar and Mali

Three countries in francophone Africa are fighting to exit prolonged social crises that stem from broken political systems. Over the past five years, the Central African Republic, Madagascar and Mali went through political takeovers that involved the participation of armed factions: 

All three nations face similar long odds before a sustainable political system can be stabilized. Here are three conditions that civil societies in these respective countries have identified in order to start the reconstruction of the political system.

Madagascar   

Emmanuel Jovelin, a lecturer at the Université of Lille, and Lala Rarivomanantsoa, a professor at the University of Antananarivo, wrote a book called “Opinion publique et bonne gouvernance à Madagascar” [Public opinion and good governance in Madagascar]. The authors addressed a multitude of issues pertaining to Malagasy citizens’ perception of their political representatives. One of their most outstanding chapters is the proposed framework for evaluating governance in Madagascar. They opine [fr]: 

Le gouverné n'est pas, comme on a toujours tendance à le croire, une masse informe que le gouvernant pourrait modeler à sa guise. L'opinion qu'il se fait de la gouvernance prend des formes variées parfois contradictoires pour mettre en place une administration efficace. [...] Mais l'ensemble des opinions recensées dans cette étude peut constituer la base d'une gouvernance respectant les règles de la démocratie [...] La succession des différents régimes depuis l'Indépendance peut s'expliquer par une faiblesse des structures intermédiaires de dialogue (à travers l'administration et au sein de la société civile) qui n'ont pas fonctionné comme on aurait pu le souhaiter.  

Citizens are not, as one tends to believe, a shapeless mass that could be shaped as rulers would wish. Citizens’ opinion of governance takes various forms sometimes contradictory to the establishment of an effective administration. [...] Still, all opinions identified in this study can form the basis of a governance that respects the rules of democracy [...] The succession of different regimes since independence can be explained by a weakly structures intermediate dialogue (through government and within civil society) that did not work as one might wish.

Below is the matrix they propose to evaluate the performance of the governing administration:

Screenshot of the  framework to evaluate governance in Madagascar from an extract of the book by Jovelin, Rarivomanantsoa - CC-license-BY

Screenshot of the framework to evaluate governance in Madagascar from an extract of the book by Jovelin, Rarivomanantsoa – CC-license-BY

The first two lines details the skills/competence that any governing bodies should showcase and provide a scoring chart  :

1. Scoring for “Academic Achievement” : primary school: 1; secondary school: 2 ; higher education: 3.

2. Scoring  for the feasability of development programmes : weak : 1; medium: 2; strong: 3. 

Central African Republic

The conflict in the Central African Republic has escalated to an alarming level of victims: the death toll has now reached at least 500, according to the local Red Cross.

Map of the battles in late 2012 in the CAR civil war via wikipedia CC License-BY

Map of the battles in late 2012 in the CAR Civil War via Wikipedia CC License-BY

The following video illustrates the level of fear and insecurity across the country:

The OCBG blog based in Bangui reports on the proceedings meeting on good governance [fr] in the CAR:

En Centrafrique ou ailleurs, par crainte ou par méfiance et quelquefois désintérêt à la chose politique, nombreux sont ceux qui se cachent [..] Notre pays a été marqué par des mutineries successives, des coups d’état et des rebellions ce qui affecte sa stabilité et son développement économique [..] En effet, les centrafricains attendent des gouvernants de demain : L’organisation d’une véritable armée nationale ; la garantie sécuritaire des populations sur toute l’étendue du pays ; l création des infrastructures (écoles, routes, hôpitaux, bâtiments administratifs etc.,) les accords de Libreville ne peuvent résoudre les problématiques récurrentes à notre pays, dans la mesure où Libreville a été qu’une course à l’échalote et des maroquins, aucun des protagonistes n’a posé la question relative à l’urgence sociale qui prévaut

In CAR and the greater region, many people are hiding because of fear, distrust and disinterest towards politics [...] Our country has been marked by successive mutinies, coups and rebellions which affects its stability and economic development [...] In fact, the CAR expect the following from their leaders: the establishment of a truly national army, the guaranteed safety of populations throughout the country, the creation of infrastructure (schools, roads, hospitals, administrative buildings etc.). The Libreville agreement cannot solve the recurrent problems of our country because the Libreville agreement [a ceasefire agreement signed in January 2013 that stipulated the integration of the opposition in the government] was a race for money and power, neither side even addressed the question of social emergency that prevails.

Mali

The Malian crisis was partly resolved by the French military intervention in 2013, but despite the presence of the peace forces, unrest is still prominent in the northern territory.

 A Tuareg rebel in northern Mali on wikipedia CC-license-BY

A Tuareg rebel in northern Mali on Wikipedia CC-license-BY

In light of many still unresolved issue of governance, Michael Bratton, Massa Coulibaly and Fabiana Machado report on the survey they conducted with Malian citizens on what they expect in a good governance [PDF] : 

Malians prefer democracy to other political regimes but their perception of democracy is culturally distinct. Malian satisfaction with democracy is often seen in terms of the personal performance of individual political leaders. They judge the legitimacy of the state based on popular trust in public institutions and perceptions that public officials are not corrupt [..] Malians continue to regard the State as the most reliable provider of employment. They prefer cosnensus and unity to political and economic competition. 

December 05 2013

Heavy Shootings between Seleka Soldiers and Bozize Loyalists in Bangui, CAR

On the morning of December 5 in Bangui, heavy weapon fires were heard in several districts of Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic. Eye witnesses and journalists are reporting on twitter via the hash tag #Bangui. Here is an update by Vianney Tricou on site at 9:51 am local time :

Violent clashes in Boy-Rabe, the Fouh district (around Amitié Hospital) and Gobongo district. Antibalakas (ed's note: literally, anti-machettes men, armed men close to former president Bozize) are present in the 4th borough.

@peggybrug posted the following photo of Sekela soldiers patroling the city :

Ex-Seleka soldiers in the city. Very worrisome situation in #centrafrique according to UNICEF on site

One of the villagers Issa Roua reports on the recently attacks [fr] via Christophe Boltanski :

Les assaillants étaient près de quarante. Ils venaient des villages environnants. On a reconnu deux d’entre eux. Ils ont encerclé le campement et commencé avec les enfants

There were about forty attackers. They came from close by villages. We recognized some of them. They circled the camp and started with the kids..

December 03 2013

The President of the Central African Republic Isolated amidst Swirling Crisis

Maria Malagardi reports from the Central African Republic News Blog that President Michel Djotodia is increasingly isolated [fr] from his allies as the crisis deepens in his country and a French military intervention is in the works :

Certains de ses proches de passage à Paris ne savent même pas à qui il faut s’adresser à l’Elysée ou au Quai d’Orsay pour évoquer la situation en Centrafrique. Les autorités françaises, visiblement, préférent dialoguer directement avec le Premier Ministre, Nicolas Tiangaye [..] Certes, Michel Djotodia, un temps diplomate au Soudan, n’a pas réussi à ramener la sécurité dans son pays neuf mois après son arrivée. Un échec réel mais qui ne doit pas faire oublier que dans ce pays connaît aujourd’hui des affrontements intercommunautaires d’une ampleur inédite 

Many of his close allies do not know anymore whether they should liaise with the French presidency or the Foreign office Ministry to exchange on the situation in the Central African Republic. French authorities seem to exchange directly with the prime minister Nicolas Tiangaye. [..] For sure, Michel Djotodia, who once was a diplomat in the Sudan, did not manage to bring peace and security back in his country nine months into his mandate. It is clearly a major failure but one should not forget that the country has faced an unusual massive number of inter-communities conflicts.

Nicolas Tiangaye, prime minister of the CAR

Nicolas Tiangaye, prime minister of the CAR CC-license-BY 2.0

October 02 2013

Central African Republic: “Don't Forget About Us!”

The Central African conflict between the Central African government and Seleka rebels has worsened alarmingly since December 2012. After months of conflict, Seleka rebels announced the taking of the presidential palace on March 24, 2013. President François Bozizé is taking refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Michel Djotodia, head of the rebellion, has named himself president of the Central African Republic. Several attempts by rebels to integrate have failed and the Seleka has been officially disbanded. Nevertheless, the ex-rebels continue to act ruthlessly in the region, looting and pillaging any town they pass through with impunity.

Humanitarian crisis

The humanitarian situation is catastrophic in certain towns, especially in the interior. The abuses of power committed by the rebels are making people angry. Camille Mandaba [fr], a resident of Bangui, described a rebel operation which was “presented as a disarmament operation”:

Ils m'ont mis à genoux, menacé de leur arme avant de piller mon domicile. L'argent, les matelas, la télévision, les vivres, les téléphones, le réfrigérateur, tout a été emporté.

They put me on my knees, threatened me with their weapon before looting my house. The silver, the matresses, the television, the food, the telephones, the refrigerator, everything was taken.

The Right Reverend Nongo-Aziagbia [fr], Bishop of the town Bossangoa, also witnessed crimes by the ex-rebels who sometimes claimed to be repesenting the forces of law and order:

“La dignité humaine a été complètement bafouée. De part et d’autre, les exactions qui sont commises sont vraiment effroyables.”

Human dignity has been completely disregarded. On both sides, the abuses of power committed have been really dreadful.
Rebelles en République centrafricaine via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Rebels in the CAR via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

 
In the countryside, the abuses were even crueller. An image taken by United States satellite showed the destruction of entire villages:

Central African Republic @ONU_RCA The American satellite could only film burned villages of Bossangoa. Nothing about the LRA. [Lord's Resistance Army] pic.twitter.com/htIYOYdBuD— ewalifete (@frugalisorg) September 24, 2013

A report from Human Rights Watch [fr] revealed more than 1,000 houses destroyed in at least 34 villages as well as summary executions:

Les premiers ont quitté leurs maisons, cinq d'entre eux, et ont été regroupés sous un arbre … ils étaient attachés ensemble par les bras. Ils ont ensuite été tués par balle l'un après l'autre.

The first people left their houses, five of them, and were gathered together under a tree … they were tied together by the arms. Next they were shot dead one by one.

The conflict spared no-one. Even children were recruited in the armed groups, as shown in this photo of a child soldier:

Central Africa: Dreadful situation in the country, the Seleka rebels are out … [of control] – http://t.co/4XS1S5LVSQ pic.twitter.com/Il1y3Mzs9o— Thierry Barbaut (@TBarbaut) June 28, 2013

Systematic Looting and Destruction

Several observers have suggested the conflict is becoming a battle between Christians and Muslims. The tension between the Christian civilians and the rebels, for the most part Muslim, has certainly been increased, but other observers believe that the conflict is more economic than religious in nature. Thierry Vircoulon, Central African specialist with the International Crisis Group (ICG) stated that:

la Séléka ne sont pas venus convertir les Centrafricains, ils sont venus les voler. Cela n'a rien à voir avec ce qui s'est passé au Mali.

The Seleka have not come to convert the Central Africans, they have come to steal from them. This has nothing in common with what has happened in Mali.

An unnamed resident [fr] shared this point of view:

Les patrons militaires de la rébellion n'ont jamais eu l'ambition de reconstruire le pays. Ils savent qu'ils n'ont pas vocation à durer alors ils considèrent Bangui comme un butin

The military chiefs of the rebellion have never wanted to rebuild the country. They know that their mission will not last but they consider Bangui as their spoils.

Beatrice Epaye [fr], ex-Member of Parliament, and now a Member of the National Transition Council, despaired of the catastrophic situation in the country:

Nous sommes les oubliés de l’Afrique, même ce conflit a été oublié. Mon appel c’est qu’on ne nous oublie pas. Il ne faut qu’on nous laisse nous entretuer et on en est déjà arrivés là.

We are the forgotten people of Africa, even this conflict has been forgotten. My appeal is for people not to forget us. We must not be allowed to kill one another and this has already happened here.

September 23 2013

In The Central African Republic, “We Still Hope to Live Together In Peace”

Rebels in the Central African Republic. CC License-BY-2.0

Rebels in the Central African Republic. CC License-BY-2.0

As the conflict between the rebels of Sékéla and the national army of the Central african Republic rages on, tension mounts in the city of Bossangoa. Locals fear that the conflict may not spill into open fighting between the christian and muslim communities. Some still hold hope for appeasement though, like the Iman of the downtown mosque [fr]:

C’est notre pays, nous sommes aussi natifs. Mais nos frères chrétiens nous prennent toujours pour des étrangers. Ils nous assimilent à leur malheur et nous ne comprenons pas. Nous demandons aussi la paix..

This is also our country, we were born here. But out christian brethren still see us as strangers.They think we are the cause of their sorrow and we do not know why. We too still hope for peace..

The humanitarian crisis in the country is getting worse by the day. Hippolyte Donossio reports that 150 people were killed and thousands of homes were burnt by the rebels during the week-end.

March 11 2013

Rebels Attack in Central African Republic

RJDH -RCA reports that [fr]:

According to multiple NGOs in the region, the cities of Mobaye and Bangassou are under attack by dissident rebels of the Sekela coalition in the Central African Republic. No confirmation has been given yet by the government. Bangassou's phone network is currently cut off.

February 20 2013

[Webcast] Thoughts On The Fallout from Kony 2012

Every Tuesday, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society hosts a public lunch gathering in our conference room in Boston. Each session involves a short presentation by a guest speaker or one of our community members, talking about a challenge that emerges from his or her current work. We are excited to partner with Global Voices to bring these presentations to a wider audience.

Title: The Next 27 Minutes Are An Experiment: Thoughts On The Fallout from Kony 2012
Date: February 19, 12:30pm ET
Presenter: Ruha Devanesan, Executive Director of the Internet Bar Organization and Berkman Fellow

On March 5th, 2012, the American nonprofit, Invisible Children, published a video called “Kony 2012″ on the social video-sharing network, Youtube. Within six days, the video was dubbed the “most viral video in history,” beating out pop artists Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Beyonce’s music videos in how quickly it hit 100 million views. Much has been written on the Kony 2012 phenomenon by journalists, bloggers and academics. My aim in this talk is to only briefly summarize their thoughts and my own on the successes and failures of the initial Kony 2012 campaign, but then, more importantly, to explore the way in which Invisible Children has responded to criticism and adapted its messaging, and to ask what lessons can be learned by the human rights advocacy community from Kony 2012 and Invisible Children's subsequent actions.

About Ruha

Ruha is the Executive Director of the Internet Bar Organization, a nonprofit organization working to improve access to justice through technology through applied research in the fields of Online Dispute Resolution, mobile technology for dispute resolution, ICT4D, ICT4Peace and digital-economic inclusion for individuals in emerging economies. In her capacity as Executive Director, she has led the design and implementation of several tech-focused social justice initiatives, of which PeaceTones is her personal favorite. The PeaceTones Initiative helps talented, unknown artists from developing nations build their careers while giving back to their communities. Through PeaceTones, Ruha and her team are looking to rework the traditional record label into something more fair to the artist, while teaching musicians the legal, marketing and technology skills they need to succeed as social entrepreneurs of their own making.

Links

January 28 2013

Central African Republic: How Strong Is The Peace Deal?

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

Rebel in Northern Central African Republic by hdptcar on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

On January 11, 2013 the Central African Republic (CAR) government, led by President François Bozizé, and the rebel coalition Séléka signed a new peace deal. The agreement comes after a month of political and military instability that saw rebels advance on the capital Bangui in an attempt to overthrow Bozizé during a military advance. It is expected that the peace deal will result in the naming of new a prime minister and the formation of a government of national unity. According to Centrafrique Presse Info, President Bozizé is expected to respect the decision to appoint Nicolas Tiangaye, [fr] a lawyer and former president of the Central African Human Rights League, as the country’s new prime minister.

Questions over Séléka’s supporters

Despite the rebels’ attempts to seize control of an important region of the CAR, little is known about Séléka and its coalition partners. L’Observateur [fr], for example, raises the following questions:

Qui est cette rébellion? D’où sort-elle? De qui reçoit-elle les financements? Autant de questions dont les réponses ne sont pas faciles.

Pour certains analystes, comme Thierry Vircoulon, chercheur à l’International Crisis Group (ICG), les insurgés centrafricains bénéficient d’une logistique importante et sans doute des soutiens politiques au Tchad. (…)

Ce pays est depuis une dizaine d’années le protecteur de la Centrafrique. La libération des geôles de N’Djamena dans les mois passés de plusieurs opposants aujourd’hui dans les rangs du Séléka étaye notamment les soupçons. Tout comme la passivité montrée ces derniers jours par la force d’interposition tchadienne dépêchée à Sibut, un verrou à une centaine de kilomètres de Bangui.

Who is behind this rebellion? Where does it come from? Where does it get its money from?

For some analysts, such as Thierry Vircoulon, a researcher at the International Crisis Group (ICG), Central African insurgents enjoy significant logistics and probably political support from Chad. (…)

This country has been for the past ten years the protector of the CAR. The release from N’Djamena jails in the past months of several opponents today in the ranks of Séléka supports such suspicion. As well as the passivity shown in recent days by the Chadian interposition force dispatched to Sibut, a barrier located a hundred kilometers from Bangui

A Wikieaks cable by the US embassy in Bangui from 2009 confirms suspicions of the involvement of Chad in supporting the rebels. However, Séléka has always denied being supported by a foreign power, a stance that it reaffirmed as recently [fr] as January 1. These declarations, however, have not stopped President Bozizé from accusing the coalition of being manipulated by outside actors.

African Mobilization

The renewed violence prompted a host of African states to redeploy troops in support of MICOPAX [fr], the peacekeeping operation in CAR led by the Economic Community of Central African States. On January 6 South Africa announced that they were also sending 400 troops to the CAR, a decision that was criticized [fr] by the country’s opposition. Pretoria’s decision nevertheless reflects that South Africa has a history of providing military to support to the CAR. In 2006, for example, the US Embassy in Pretoria revealed that South Africa had agreed to provide military training and assistance to the CAR on the basis that stability in this region is important to the country’s wider interests.

Yet in an opinion piece [fr] published on Le Plus Nouvel Obs, Florence Gabay, Vice-President of the Robert Schuman Institute for Europe, suggests that such mobilization represents a turning point for conflict resolution in this part of Africa:

Il est intéressant de noter que la force apaisante est ici une force économique, la CEEAC. C’est un fait lourd de sens : Benjamin Constant décrivit fameusement comment le commerce tendait de plus en plus à se substituer aux conflits armés. L’Afrique en montre des signes clairs : on ne fait pas la paix d’abord au nom d’abstractions, au nom d’idéaux, si nobles soient-ils, mais on la fait au nom d’intérêts économiques.

It is interesting to note that the soothing strength here is an economic strength, the ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States). It is a fact full of meaning: Benjamin Constant famously described how trade tended increasingly to replace armed conflict. Africa is showing clear signs of it: Peace is not done first in the name of abstractions, in the name of ideals, however noble they may be, but it is done in the name of economic interests

Solid Ground for a Sustainable Peace?

However, some of observers question the ability of this new deal to bring a sustainable peace to the CAR. Survie, a French Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that is critical of the ‘Françafrique system’ published an article claiming that the CAR remains ‘terminally ill’ [fr]. Its author, Raphaël de Benito, argues that conditions for the next crisis are ripe:

L’accord qui en a découlé ne satisfait personne : Bozizé allant jusqu’au bout de son mandat en 2016, flanqué d’un premier ministre de l’opposition civile tandis que la coalition Séléka rentre bredouille au grand dam de ses chefs militaires qui contrôlent la majeure partie du pays.

This agreement will not satisfy anyone: Bozizé will stay in power until the end of his mandate, flung with a prime minister from the civil opposition, while the Séléka returns empty-handed, to the chagrin of its military chiefs, who control most of the country.

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

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