Central African Republic - Hope for a country on the brink
An interview with Christine du Coudray, head of the African section of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), speaking about the dramatic situation in the Central African Republic.
Question: You have welcomed the United Nations Security Council resolution which opens the way for intervention in the Central African Republic. Why?
Du Coudray: We are very happy that something is happening at last. Only a rapid intervention by the international community can free the country from Séléka's regime of terror. It's five to twelve! The country is sinking further and further into chaos, and there is a danger of a conflagration which could destabilize the whole region. This country needs help, not only from the aid organizations but also from the international community! The UN resolution is the first glimmer of hope for a country which has been on the brink for months.
Question: The fate of the Central African Republic is on the whole of hardly any interest to the general public. Why this indifference?
Du Coudray: The Central African Republic is a forgotten country which also plays no role on the world map of the powerful. Many people don't even know that the Central African Republic exists! For them "Central Africa" is a term for the geographical region somewhere in the middle of Africa. That's why the fate of the country also arouses little interest in the media. This is highly regrettable.
Question: On September 13th, President Djotodia officially dissolved the Séléka rebel alliance, which helped him to power in March of this year. How do you assess the present situation?
Du Coudray: The situation is becoming steadily more dramatic. Torture, lootings and the murder of civilians are continuing unabated, whole villages are being burnt down and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee. Our partners on the spot speak of sometimes "apocalyptic scenes." The ex-rebels are going about their mischief unhindered. Even the road into the capital of Bangui is still in the hands of the ex-rebels. This is actually inconceivable given the fact that they have officially been dissolved. How can a state tolerate people who are regarded as "bandits" controlling the main access roads into the capital?
Question: On the road out of the capital there was a dramatic incident last week …
Du Coudray: Yes, on October 3rd the car of the Italian Carmelite Father Aurelio Gazzera was shot at by a member of the dissolved Séléka at a road block as it left the capital Bangui. On the other side of the road policemen were standing, but they did nothing to stop Séléka rebels' actions, who, after all, have been declared criminals. The minister responsible for security in the country has not apologized for the incident, quite the opposite. He attacked the victims and accused them of "acting provocatively". Why does a security minister come to the defense of bandits? In the course of the same day the missionary was followed by cars containing a number of ex-rebels, who tried to cut him off. There are indications that this was an attempted abduction. To put it briefly: Séléka can still make trouble completely without hindrance, and not only in remote villages, but in broad daylight in the country's capital!
Question: It was announced that the former rebels would be disarmed, but this appears to be taking place mainly on paper …
Du Coudray: Yes, that is indeed the case. Within three weeks it is clear that only 123 weapons have been seized. It's a complete farce! There are 25,000 ex-rebels in the country terrorizing the population and the government is doing nothing to stop them!
Question: What do you expect of the country's present government?
Du Coudray: The government must finally meet its responsibilities! The schools are closed, wages and salaries are not being paid, the state's revenues are in the hands of Séléka, the economy is in a terrible state and tensions are rising. Public life does not function and the country is still being destroyed. Since nobody wants to stop Séléka's doings members of the population sometimes take measures to defend themselves, and this exacerbates the situation further. But people are simply desperate and don't know what to do. Who can they call on to help them? The state must finally do its duty. Even in the past it was almost exclusively the Church which took care of the population.
Question: The chaos that reigns in the country is also being fanned from outside. What are the forces involved here?
Du Coudray: A major portion of the Séléka rebels come from the Sudan or Chad. Many of them speak neither the national language Sango nor French, but only Arabic. A part of the "rebels" are now importing Islamism, which has not existed in the country to date. Up to now the co-existence of Christians and Muslims has been good. Repeatedly there are joint peace initiatives of all the religious communities represented in the country. The native Muslims do not want Islamists and are themselves victims of the attacks!
Questions: What can we as Christians do to support our brothers and sisters in the Central African Republic?
Du Coudray: The people in the Central African Republic urgently need our prayers! The Month of the Holy Rosary in particular gives us the opportunity to pray for our brothers and sisters in this long-suffering country. We Christians have no other weapons than prayer! Let us take up the rosary and plea for peace and protection for this country's population. In the midst of suffering, death and despair there are also signs today that the Lord has not forgotten this country. The Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, recently ordained seven young men as priests. Is that not a cause of joy? In his sermon on September 29, he said, "Our faith in Jesus, the victor over evil, demands that we bear greater witness to the hope which lives within us." The Church also bears witness to this hope on the Calvary of this country, the hope for the resurrection which conquers death.