Central African Republic

“They killed my dear brother”: Civilians caught in the conflict in the Central African Republic

By Daniel Timme

As the violence continues in the Central African Republic, civilian populations suffer the most – especially women and children.

KAGA BANDORO, Central African Republic, 9 April 2014 – When night falls and the shooting starts, Adeline jumps up, grabs her 13-month-old son, Dimanche Jesus, and runs as quickly as she can to hide in the bush. She has spent too many nights like this. Her movements are slow, and her tired eyes show her exhaustion.

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© UNICEF Central African Republic/2014/Timme
Adeline takes her son Dimanche Jesus for a medical check at a mobile clinic in the camp where they have taken refuge.

Along with around 1,300 other men, women and children, Adeline has taken refuge in the yard of the Nativité Church in Kaga Bandoro, now an informal settlement for people who have fled their homes because of widespread violence.

In front of the church, a group of 30 children are playing a game. By day, life may appear normal, but around the corner there remains the misery of a makeshift camp: overcrowding, lack of proper shelter, and poor hygiene and sanitation.

By night, the danger only increases.

Pushing the limits

UNICEF has provided tarpaulin sheets, jerry cans, soap, mats and mosquito nets to the people who have taken shelter here. Water pumps have been installed, the World Food Programme provides food, and a mobile health team comes in every day for mass consultations.

“All this has eased the situation a little bit, but as long as the insecurity persists in the surrounding area, there will be more and more people with the same needs moving in,” says Ibrahim Abdi Shire, Chief of UNICEF’s Kaga Bandoro Field Office. “They will be pushing the capacity limits of the camp. And then we have the rainy season knocking on the door.”

Lack of proper latrines in informal settlement sites such as this one brings serious health risks: When the rain sets in, water contaminated by human faeces can easily spread waterborne diseases.

Drawn into conflict

Adeline and her family arrived two weeks ago. As she waits in the long line leading to the medical consultation spot under a mango tree, she tells her story: “We were working in the fields when suddenly armed men appeared and immediately began shooting at us. We ran for our lives, but one of us didn’t make it. They killed my dear brother just like that.”

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© UNICEF Central African Republic/2014/Timme
A UNICEF convoy in northern Central African Republic. Access to the country's most vulnerable populations remains a major challenge.

With tears in her eyes, she describes how their houses were looted and burned. The same day, she walked 10 kilometres with her husband and two children to this encampment in the churchyard.

Adeline’s family is one among thousands displaced by the violent conflict that erupted in the Central African Republic more than a year ago. The rebel group Seleka seized control of the capital in March 2013, but the newly installed president was forced to step down under international pressure in January 2014. Rebel forces fled north, and many of the armed men who came to Kaga Bandoro and the surrounding areas have been targeted by local militias known as “anti-balaka” (anti-machete).

With the Seleka rebel groups mainly made up of Muslims and the anti-balaka militia predominantly Christian, the conflict has taken on a bitter sectarian character, and the violence has spilled over into the civilian population. Christians and Muslims who lived together harmoniously in towns like Kaga Bandoro were suddenly drawn into religious and ethnic conflict.

The men who allegedly killed Adeline’s brother were from the Mbororo, pastoralists from the Fulani ethnic group, who live across much of the Sahel region. Tensions over land use between these Islamic, semi-nomadic cattle herders and local farmers have existed for decades, but a long-standing conflict resolution mechanism provided some means to manage disputes. Together, communities would assign fields for farming and separate corridors for cattle herding and grazing.

The militia presence eroded the trust between communities and destroyed these mediating structures. As a result, conflicting interests grew into violent clashes.

Restoring security

The head of the prefecture, Thirose Gabriel Doumoloko, says that he is trying to relaunch the dialogue between communities. “So much pain and sorrow has been inflicted on each other,” he says. “It is difficult to forgive, but we have no choice. We have to learn to live together again.”

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© UNICEF Central African Republic/2014/Timme
UNICEF Director of Emergencies Ted Chaiban in Kaga Bandoro with Thirose Gabriel Doumoloko, head of the prefecture.

UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs Ted Chaiban, who has arrived on mission to the Central African Republic and visited the camp at Nativité Church, notes the urgent need for restoring security and beginning the process of reconciliation.

“The communities must engage in dialogue again. People have to return to their homes and work in the fields. Children need to get back to school,” Mr. Chaiban says. “Our staff and partners’ movements are still limited by outbursts of violence, which limits our access to the population in need. We are welcoming new international efforts to bring security to the country.”

Mr. Chaiban also emphasizes the importance of responding to the humanitarian situation. “There are several major emergencies in the world at present,” he says. “But the United Nations and UNICEF cannot forget the women and children of Central African Republic.”

Fully exposed

Finally, it’s Adeline’s turn for the medical consultation. Roger, the nurse, is taking her son’s temperature. Little Dimanche Jesus has a high fever and is vomiting. He has caught malaria.

“Here in the camp, people sleep under mosquito nets, but when they have to hide in the bush they are fully exposed,” Roger says. “It’s very likely that he got it during one of these horrible nights under the open sky.”

Adeline receives medication for her son. But in order for him to get well, he and his mother will also need a lot of rest and peace of mind – and an end to the violence that has brought their suffering.


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Children in danger

 

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