Never an icon of stability and good governance, Central African Republic (CAR) has been falling apart since the Seleka rebels marched on Bangui in March 2013. The mainly Muslim rebels ousted President François Bozize and committed widespread human rights abuses, destruction and looting. Christian militia, the anti-Balaka, hit back and civilians have been caught in the tit-for-tat violence that has raged across the country since.
The unrest forced JRS to stop work that had been under way for years in Ouham and Haute-Kotto, two provinces affected by previous conflicts. Shortly after Bangui was attacked last year, a core team visited IDP sites there and distributed food. In June, despite the massive insecurity, JRS launched a project in 26 schools aimed at getting children to go back to complete the academic year. The draw was school meals, since hunger as well as danger had stopped parents from sending their children to school. Many children did go back as a result.
Bangui is calmer now, following the departure of the Seleka and the installation of an interim president. Displaced residents have left the camps and presumably returned home. In the Boy Rabe camp, there are 'only' 8,600 people left from 70,000 in December 2013. However, some parents are bringing their children back to attend JRS classes in the camp, because public schools have not re-opened yet. JRS has built 16 temporary sheds for education activities and some 3,200 children have registered.
JRS is conducting an assessment to see what else it can do in the rapidly changing security and humanitarian scenario. Certainly the crisis in CAR is far from over. As of mid-March, some 600,000 people were internally displaced and up to 300,000 more had escaped to neighbouring countries. Muslims have been displaced in droves, fleeing vicious reprisal attacks by the anti-Balaka.
The few Muslims left in Bangui are under the protection of foreign troops – the rest have gone. Although Bangui is now somewhat calmer, the situation in the city remains volatile. Crime is on the rise and food prices have soared amid shortages and worsening malnutrition. Across the country, the humanitarian response remains inadequate despite efforts on the ground, and attacks on aid agencies have increased. Regional and French peacekeeping troops badly need reinforcements to bring the situation under control. The priority is to restore security but right now, the fate of CAR is hanging in the balance and many think it will likely get worse before it gets any better.
I am a high school student, I was displaced to another part of Bangui and the war has been a very traumatising experience. I saw innocent people killed with machetes and guns, houses and belongings burned down and looted and profound misery in IDP sites. I was constantly afraid for my family because we were displaced in different places. We young people realise we are living a very sensitive moment for the future of our country and that politicians are manipulating us. Christians and Muslims used to live in harmony before. The archbishop and imam of Bangui have been doing everything so that peace may reign and have warned us many times not to allow ourselves to be manipulated by politics and politicians. My hope is that peace and security will return to my country.
I live and work in Bangui. Recently I witnessed horrible scenes of desolation: people beaten, mutilated by machetes, the pillaging of shops and destruction of homes, women and children running in all directions in search of a safer place. I have been living in permanent fear, locked up at home during the day and always on the alert at night in case of attacks. I put together a self-defence committee in my neighbourhood, gathering Christians and Muslims to tell people to return home and to see that badly intentioned people do not infiltrate the neighbourhood to sow disorder. I try to keep my serenity and not to give way to panic.
My greatest need is peace! From my perspective as a Catholic, my Church is playing a significant role in this crisis by preaching peace and discouraging people, especially Christians, from taking up arms. The Church has also been preaching forgiveness, reconciliation and religious tolerance. It is however unfortunate that some people, for selfish interests, are giving the conflict religious undertones.