World Watch Monitor

The Central African Republic (CAR) is gradually recovering from the two-and-a-half-year crisis which ravaged the country, according to its top three religious leaders.

World Watch Monitor spoke with the clerics  - Rev Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, president of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, Monsignor Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, and Imam Oumar Kobine Layama president of CAR’s Islamic Council – during their visit to Switzerland last week, where they received the 2015 Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize at the UN office in Geneva.

Named for Sergio Vieira de Mello - the UN’s Special Representative in Iraq who was killed when the UN headquarters in Baghdad was bombed in August, 2003, the award is presented every two years to an individual, group or organisation that has done something unique to reconcile people and parties in conflict.

LOOKING FORWARD TO A NEW FUTURE: Left to right: Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, Msgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Rev Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou received the 2015 Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize at the UN office in Geneva, Switzerland on 19th August. PICTURE: World Watch Monitor



UN child focused agency UNICEF last week welcomed the release of 163 children by an armed group in the Central African Republic but noted that thousands of boys and girls are still serving various militant factions as combatants, cooks and messengers.

The children, who were released by an anti-Balaka militia group at a ceremony facilitated by UNICEF and the UN mission in CAR in the town of Batangafo last Friday, included five girls and take to more than 600 the number of children released in the CAR since May.

Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF representative, said the release was "a sign that the process of implementing the commitment made by the leaders of these groups, as a part of the peace and reconciliation process, is on track".

But he added that he expected to see e fully expect to see hundreds more children released before the end of the year. UNICEF estimate that between 6,000 and 10,000 children have been associated with the armed factions in CAR since 2013.

The children received medical care and spoke to social workers following their release before being taken to a "transition centre" where they will be supported to either go back to school or enrol in vocational training. UNICEF and partner organisations have also begun the process of tracing the children's families in a bid to reunify them.

Last week's ceremony comes three months after 357 children were released.



In the midst of the Central African Republic’s two years of violence, often portrayed as a religious conflict, the clerics formed a joint ‘platform’ to promote peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. Their message: violence in CAR is not primarily a religious conflict; instead, the root of the conflict lies in the struggle for political power.

The security situation has dramatically improved despite the persistence of violence and attacks in some areas of the country (such as in Bambari recently, when at least 10 died), the clerics told World Watch Monitor.

In Bangui, life is returning to normal, including at PK5, a popular district and the economic heart of the capital, where business has resumed.

At the height of the crisis, PK5 was considered by many in Bangui as a stronghold of Séléka rebels, and a “no-go zone” for all non-Muslims.

But now, Central Africans of all faiths can come and go there safely, the clerics say, a sign that the country is beginning to recover.

However, this is at odds with Amnesty International’s recent report.

The report, Erased identity: Muslims in ethnically cleansed areas of the Central African Republic, claims Muslims returning to their homes in large parts of western CAR have been prevented from practising their religion by armed “anti-balaka” militias. Some have been forcibly converted to Christianity and threatened with death if they refused, claims Amnesty.

Such allegations came as a “surprise”, and could “incite hatred” and “harm” the efforts of the interfaith platform, the clerics (who said they were not consulted by the authors of the report) told World Watch Monitor.

“We are currently witnessing a mixing of the population. In Bangui and elsewhere, Muslims are no longer confined in ghettos as during the crisis. They begin to have space and can run their businesses normally,” said Imam Layama.

However he said that both Christians and Muslims are afraid to go to certain areas of Bangui, or in the nation as a whole, due to past traumas and lingering pockets of insecurity.

The Archbishop of Bangui stressed that it was important to avoid premature “dramatisation” and “stigma”, based on a few examples.

“It is erroneous to consider that there is a desire from one group to destroy another, or that Christians seek to expel all Muslims,” said Msgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga.

“I would like to remind (people) that I hosted Imam Layama at the height of the crisis. Thousands of Muslims were accommodated in churches and Christians found refuge in mosques, even in PK5, unlike what some may think,” he said.

“'We religious leaders are working to pacify hearts and soothe spirits. If there are extremists committing these acts, we dissociate ourselves from this behaviour,” he added, before concluding: “Religious freedom is a reality in the Central African Republic”.

But the clerics also expressed their concerns over the upcoming elections, aimed at putting an end to the transition led by Catherine Samba-Panza, following the resignation of the ex-rebel leader and self-proclaimed president, Michel Djotodia, in January, 2014.

The elections were initially scheduled for February, 2015, but then postponed to June and now October. But the president of the Evangelical Alliance said the conditions for credible elections have not yet been met.

Noting that the 18th October date set for the first round of elections comes at the heart of the rainy season, Rev Guérékoyamé-Gbangou said: “How can we expect a Central African citizen who has lost faith in political affairs to take the trouble of going out on a rainy day to cast a vote?”

Insecurity is still a major source of concern, said Rev Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, noting that many armed groups remain and that more than 50 per cent of the budget for the electoral process still needs to be found.

“Do the candidates have all the time and freedom of movement to campaign?” he said. “The poor organisation of elections has always been the root cause of recent crises faced by our country.

“We say that we should not go to polls in a hurry, but we do not wait too long because no leader can feed his population with weapons, and no leader can feed the population with broken promises.”

The leaders of the interfaith platform also commented on the recent allegations of sexual abuse involving UN troops in CAR, which forced the sacking of the Head of the UN’s Multi-dimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon.

“When we preach the word of God to disarm the hearts, it is necessary that other forces support us in this work of pacification."

- Rev Guérékoyamé-Gbangou

“The cases of misconduct and sexual abuse are things which defile us and may also be detrimental to the UN’s beautiful mission in CAR,” said Msgr Nzapalainga. “We must consider that there have been ups and downs in this mission and it is necessary to analyse and find appropriate solutions to these shortcomings.”

These incidents provide a call for Central African and UN officials to effectively implement the MINUSCA mandate, added Rev Guérékoyamé-Gbangou.

“When we preach the word of God to disarm the hearts, it is necessary that other forces support us in this work of pacification,” he said.

“The warring parties which are still active on the ground must understand that the UN forces did not come for a walk, but for a mission. Only then will people see (the UN) starting to impose disarmament, order and security. Then they can understand the merits of the peacekeepers’ presence in CAR.”

But he added that the UN should also enforce discipline because an army that is not disciplined is “doomed to disorder and all behaviours that dishonour itself”.

Collecting their awards on 19th August, the three clerics spoke in turn.

Imam Layama expressed his gratitude to the jury for their choice, which “honours us”.

Msgr Nzapalainga said the award was “timely”, showing that Central African citizens are “capable”, at a time when many speak about the Central African Republic in a negative manner.

“It's the whole of humanity, through the UN, which awards the prize. It is also a message sent to each Central African citizen to take his responsibility and bring his contribution for the return of peace,” he added.

Rev Guérékoyamé-Gbangou said the award was recognition of “human efforts for the benefit of humans”.

“Our efforts will continue until the hearts of Central Africans are resolutely disarmed and reconciliation becomes possible among Central Africans,” he added.