A year of inter-religious violence has left the Central African Republic on its knees. As a semblance of order returns to the capital Bangui, the new government is trying to restore institutions that have collapsed. Complicating that task: A slew of ex-combatants determined to play their part in the country’s future. Chris Moore and James André report.
It’s 9 am and we receive another anguished phone call from a source in PK5, the only semi-functioning Muslim neighbourhood left in Bangui: “Three bodies have just been found outside the Air France offices.”
We go to investigate – nothing left to see. But already the story is making the rounds: Three more Muslims who met a violent end when they tried to cross a Christian part of town (almost all parts of town are now Christian). In all probability, they were killed because of their faith – or more precisely the perceived association with the Seleka rebellion that goes with it. Last year’s mostly Muslim uprising threw the country into a year of chaos.
Later that day, we see three bodies laid out in a mosque in PK5. Outside, there’s no doubt over who was responsible: “The anti-Balaka.” The militia set up to defend Christians during last year’s rebel takeover is still on the streets in Bangui. The Seleka who remain are in confinement, though most have fled north and east. The same goes for the vast majority of the capital’s Muslims, the ones who haven’t left the country altogether.
Under the watch of French and African troops, a veneer of normality is returning to the city. Markets are open, the streets are busy, and Christian refugees are beginning to trickle home from the vast camps on the outskirts. The interim government is trying to get state institutions up and running again. The only problem: A year of violence means there’s not much of the state left.
We head out on patrol with the police, many of whom are returning to work after deserting when the Seleka arrived. The uniforms are new, the boots shiny, but most of the officers are lacking handguns. This puts them at something of a disadvantage in a country awash with weapons. “Anti-Balaka” “fake Anti-Balaka,” “former rebels,” “armed groups” – the endless labels are perhaps less important than the reality that, outside Bangui, men with guns run the show along hundreds of kilometres of road.
If it is to impose its authority, President Catherine Samba Panza’s interim government will have to deal with a host of armed elements. But who should be trusted? Who should be punished for past atrocities? Who should be brought back into the fold? One thing is certain: Many of the country’s former combatants are angling for a place in the new national army.