Newly elected interim president Catherine Samba-Panza has asked families displaced by weeks of inter-religious violence in the Central African Republic to return home. But first she will need to convince them it is safe to do so.
Pastor Narlais Ngoualesso has decided to return home to Bangui after fleeing to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Weeks of violent clashes between Christian “anti-balaka” vigilante militias and former rebels from the predominantly Muslim Seleka alliance have forced many in the Central African Republic to seek safety outside the country’s borders.
Ngoualesso says he hopes Samba-Panza, who is due to be sworn in on Thursday, will help the country get back on its feet, but says his wife still fears for the safety of their five children.
He shows us where one bullet struck a wall inside his home and where a second bullet fell into his child’s crib.
''My child used to rest here in the daytime, and when they shot, the bullet fell here,” he told us, in broken English. “I decided to take my family out of here because we were no more secure here."
While the preacher's wife says it's more comfortable to be home than abroad, she hasn't forgotten about the persistent violence that still threatens her family.
"Our kids are small, so if something bad happens again, we are going to have to flee,” she said. “That's very scary."
The country descended into chaos after Seleka rebels led by Michel Djotodia seized power in a coup in March last year. Djotodia officially disbanded the rebel group after he seized power, but some of its former members launched a campaign of killing, raping and looting, prompting some Christian communities to form vigilante groups.
Djotodia stepped down on January 10 after coming under intense international pressure for failing to halt the violence.
Narlais says he can't go back to his church because it remains surrounded by Seleka rebels. But he says it is important to start trying to rebuild a normal life in his old neighbourhood.
With Samba-Panza – the former mayor of Bangui – now in power, the country is on the right track, he said.
"The election of the new president is good news because I know that this woman will not be part of any military group,” he said. “She is going to play a role as a neutral person to bring back peace and to also bring reconciliation between the people.”
But Samba-Panza will face huge challenges as she seeks to re-establish stability in the country, including disarming the militias, establishing a new national army and ending outbreaks of sectarian violence. The recent unrest has also brought the country's food production to a halt.
International donors meeting on Monday pledged $496 million dollars (€365 million) in aid to the Central African Republic for 2014, but the impoverished nation will soon need to hammer out a long-term plan for its future.
Date created : 2014-01-22