Re­cov­ery from civil war sur­pris­ingly fast

Cen­tral African Republic rises

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TONNY ONYULO

BANGUI, CEN­TRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC | Three years after his gro­cery stand was looted dur­ing this coun­try’s civil war, An­dre Cola is busy re­build­ing.

“We are now feel­ing safe and ev­ery­thing is re­turn­ing to nor­mal,” said Mr. Cola, a fa­ther of three who lost his fam­ily in the war, as he ham­mered nails into his kiosk’s roof. “We can now op­er­ate busi­nesses and peo­ple can walk freely.”

From 2013 to 2015, vi­o­lence gripped the Cen­tral African Republic as mainly Mus­lim Seleka rebels seized the gov­ern­ment, trig­ger­ing bloody reprisals by Chris­tian “anti-Balaka” mili­tias. As many as 6,000 peo­ple died in one of the world’s blood­i­est sec­tar­ian con­flicts. Armed groups re­cruited an es­ti­mated 10,000 orphaned chil­dren as fight­ers, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. The coun­try’s econ­omy col­lapsed, shut­ter­ing gov­ern­ment of­fices and schools.

To­day, how­ever, traders trek to and from the cap­i­tal car­ry­ing goods. A new wa­ter sys­tem is

up and run­ning. Refugee camps that once housed more than 415,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, are clos­ing as their in­hab­i­tants re­turn home.

Crews are build­ing homes, ho­tels and shops ev­ery­where in Bangui. Home­own­ers are re­claim­ing their prop­erty from squat­ters. Street­lights are work­ing — a sign of se­cu­rity. Banks, hos­pi­tals, trash col­lec­tion, fire and po­lice de­part­ments and the lo­cal elec­tric­ity util­ity are op­er­at­ing.

Two years ago, the war­ring par­ties agreed to a cease-fire. Child sol­diers were de­mo­bi­lized. Elected a year ago, Pres­i­dent Faustin Ar­change Touadera has pushed the mili­tias out of the cap­i­tal with the help of African Union sol­diers and French troops.

To­day, those se­cu­rity forces keep the peace in the city.

Sex­ual vi­o­lence was wide­spread dur­ing the civil war. Ed­u­ca­tors are now work­ing over­time to help the coun­try’s of­ten-trau­ma­tized young peo­ple re­ject vi­o­lence.

It’s a rare African suc­cess story, bring­ing a coun­try seem­ingly back from the brink in a sur­pris­ingly brief time.

“We are say­ing no to vi­o­lence, never again in our coun­try,” said Stephen Tob­ule, a coun­selor for sex­ual vi­o­lence vic­tims. “We are giv­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal help to sex­ual vic­tims and even spon­sor­ing them to at­tend train­ing in­sti­tu­tions so that they can learn var­i­ous crafts and skills to aid their so­cial­iza­tion and pro­vide them with a liv­ing back in the so­ci­ety.”

Par­ents are com­fort­able enough to ex­press their grat­i­tude for sur­viv­ing.

“We are now happy again be­cause we can­not die in our houses due to lack of medicines,” said Clara Baya­maa, a mother of two, wait­ing in a long line on the street to see a doc­tor. “There have been no hos­pi­tals since the civil war be­gan in 2013, but we are feel­ing OK right now. We are not go­ing to lose our chil­dren and rel­a­tives be­cause of lack of med­i­cal care.”

Eas­ing sus­pi­cions

Work­ing with of­fi­cials in Rwanda who re­built their coun­try after the geno­cide of the 1990s, the gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to es­tab­lish a com­mis­sion to doc­u­ment the hor­rors of the war and hopes to ease sus­pi­cions be­tween for­mer en­e­mies.

“This will help us bring rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and har­mony in our coun­try and con­trib­ute to our growth and econ­omy,” said Vir­ginie Baik­oua, the Cen­tral African Republic’s min­is­ter for so­cial af­fairs and na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Chris­tians and Mus­lims are liv­ing and work­ing to­gether too.

“Har­mony be­tween Chris­tians and Mus­lims is re­turn­ing back to this cap­i­tal,” said the Rev. Bi­dace Kossingo, a Catholic priest in charge of a grass-roots ef­fort to rec­on­cile mem­bers of both faiths. “We used to live as brothers and sis­ters. So it’s im­por­tant to re-cre­ate that har­mony for our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions and for sta­bil­ity of the coun­try.”

Sarah Biyaata, 35, is a sign of the progress. She had been liv­ing with her two daugh­ters at St. Joseph Mukassa refugee camp in the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal since 2013 after Seleka rebels at­tacked her home and killed her hus­band be­cause he was a Chris­tian.

“They killed my hus­band as I watched,” she re­called. “I have been liv­ing in fear and hav­ing bad dreams. But I have for­given those who killed my hus­band. I want to start a new life and take care of my chil­dren.”

The wel­come re­turn of se­cu­rity and or­der is not com­plete, how­ever. In some sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods and ru­ral ar­eas that com­pose about 60 per­cent of the coun­try, Seleka and Balaka mili­tias still con­trol the gov­ern­ment’s check­points, ac­cord­ing to Ox­fam.

Fight­ing in the north­ern town of Bria broke out last month, killing at least five be­fore U.N. peace­keep­ers quelled the vi­o­lence.

On the same day, Red Cross of­fi­cials said at least 115 peo­ple had been killed in vi­o­lence in the Ban­gas­sou, when Chris­tian fight­ers at­tacked a Mus­lim neigh­bor­hood in the south­ern di­a­mond min­ing city. U.N. peace­keep­ers were try­ing to se­cure the city.

“The worst is over. I think we hold the ground and our men will con­tinue the sweeps,” Gen. Bala Keita, com­man­der of the U.N. forces, said in a state­ment. “This must not only stop at Ban­gas­sou, but must con­tinue in the sur­round­ing vil­lages, where these armed men came from.”

Fight­ing isn’t the coun­try’s only prob­lem.

Half the pop­u­la­tion is go­ing hun­gry, Ox­fam has warned, be­cause of dis­rup­tions that have stopped farm­ers from plant­ing.

“De­spite last year’s demo­cratic elec­tion that fol­lowed three years of po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion, one year later there is now a risk of de­rail­ment due to the fail­ure to ful­fill the prom­ises made to mil­lions of Cen­tral Africans who con­tinue to suf­fer from hunger and vi­o­lence,” said Fer­ran Puig, Ox­fam’s coun­try di­rec­tor for the Cen­tral African Republic.

De­spite all the chal­lenges, Mr. Cola be­lieves the coun­try is headed in the right di­rec­tion.

“There’s a huge dif­fer­ence be­tween now and three years ago,” he said. “Three years ago there were sounds of bul­lets, but now you will hear the sounds of ham­mers and nails ev­ery­where you go.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A SEC­OND CHANCE: Vi­o­lence be­tween Chris­tians and Mus­lims in the Cen­tral African Republic be­tween 2013 and 2015 led to at least 6,000 deaths and an eco­nomic col­lapse. How­ever, the econ­omy is resurg­ing, and U.N. refugee camps for 415,000 peo­ple are clos­ing.

BY TONNY ONYULO/SPE­CIAL TO THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

An­dre Cola, 50, is re­build­ing his gro­cery store in Bangui, Cen­tral African Republic, three years after it was de­stroyed dur­ing his coun­try’s bru­tal civil war. “Ev­ery­thing is re­turn­ing to nor­mal,” he said.

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