In April this year I found myself listening to the breaking news of a coup in Central African Republic. The heavy duty Landcruiser I was in made its way through the Chadian desert, and my talkative colleagues were unusually silent. Tense faces listened to the news, no-one concealed their nervousness as we listened to the radio newscaster. We pulled over on the dusty road as trucks packed with Chadian soldiers passed us on their way south, following instructions to secure the border in case rebel violence was to spill over into their territory.
Refugees began to spill over the border to the south, overwhelming local villages as families fled the violence in the aftermath of the coup. International staff members were ordered to evacuate, many organisations closed their offices as chaos broke out in the city of Bangui. Over the border in Chad, roads and the airport in the capital N’djamena were closed as heads of state from surrounding countries met to discuss the political implications for the region.
Months went by, I left Chad, and the media fell silent. Meanwhile terrible suffering and violence tore apart communities in CAR, divided irreparably by religious rifts that turned neighbour against neighbour.
Empty homes are left as over 600,000 people have fled their communities, fearing for their lives. Two aid workers were killed in September. Tensions flared again in the capital recently and since 5th December 189,000 people have been displaced (UN OCHA).
Some have asked ‘is this another Rwanda?‘. The mass atrocities taking place in CAR are fuelled by religious divisions, but this time the international community are responding. France has sent 1,000 troops into the capital, where MSF, UNICEF and other UN agencies are working to meet the basic needs of those who have fled the violence.
A crisis that has been overshadowed by more pressing news, this will not go away. Hundreds and thousands of people are fleeing their homes and communities as mobs turn on one another, enacting revenge and their own version of vigilante justice in a chaotic military-ruled state.
This is not the time to wait for more media coverage. This is not the time to be distracted. A country at the heart of Africa is being pulled apart by its own people, with even children taking up arms against one another.
Now is the time to act. Before it is too late.