The project was carried out in 2014 and was conceived as an audiovisual work consisting in photographic documenting of the daily lives of eight people, all of them residents in Neighborhoods in Bangui that underwent the worst violence and destruction, and the recording of spoken testimonies in order to allow each person to relate their experiences and their views about the country’s situation. This project was thought out as an audiovisual project in order to allow various options for its exhibition in either a photo exhibit with captions, an exhibition accompanied by the audio testimonies or a video documentary that is currently being produced.
When I first told people about my trip to Central Africa their first response would be a blank look and a follow up question inquiring which country in central Africa I was travelling to… This turned out to be symbolic of people’s knowledge of the country’s situation and the reach of its people’s voices. I was sent there by a medical international NGO to work as a logistician in their project in Bangui to bring medical care to the population affected by the last armed conflict and the 5th coup d’état the country has suffered since its independence in 1960.
During my stay in CAR I came to understand with greater insight the crisis in which the country had been thrown into with the Seleka coup d’état. The central African society has been torn apart since the rise of the Seleka rebellion, an event the international community labeled as a religious conflict. Bangui the capital has suffered wide spread pillaging on two occasions, during the entrance of the Seleka rebels on the 24th of March 2013 and later during the entrance of the resistance group Antiballaka on the 5th of December of the same year. The draining of national resources has delayed the country several decades, a structure that took years to build was wiped out in a few months. The Seleka, commanded by mercenaries from Chad and Sudan pillaged and killed sometimes indiscriminately planting chaos and hatred into the heart of a society that had always seen a peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians.
I wanted to steer away from the usual graphic images of violence and brutality we associate to such contexts and to Africa and allow the people to tell their own story through audio testimonies. I felt it was important to show the plight of the people living the aftermath of these events, common people that were not directly involved in the armed struggle and suffered all the consequences of living in a country torn apart by war. I have always felt that not enough attention is given to the precarious situation of a population that endures and suffers the brunt of a war and too much given to the atrocities committed therein, to me the worst calamity of a war is the collapse of a society. For a better understanding of the consequences of war it’s important to know its effect on the everyday lives of the population. The abrupt interruption of supply chains that raises the cost of life, the exodus caused by the destruction of residences and the violence, and the constant fear caused by the insecurity were all permanent factors in the lives of the inhabitants of Bangui that strove to press on with their lives despite the chaos. To document their struggle I captured the everyday lives of eight people, all of them residents in neighborhoods that suffered the lion’s share of the violence and the destruction during and following the events in March and December 2013. Marcel, Evelyne, Claudere, Edmond, Achille, Charles, George and Christian. Four of these men suffered great family loses during the massacres and all had their personal property stolen during the pillaging, nearly all of them along with their families were former IDPs in the various camps spread around Bangui.
Now that the conflict is ending with the massive presence of international peacekeeping forces in the country’s capital, comes the difficult task for the people of reconstructing their lives and their country. There are many obstacles standing in their way; the insecurity and the violence left by the collapse of their police force and the spread of firearms during the conflict, the collapse of the national economy due to the pillaging and the expulsion of a large part of the Muslim population, whose entrepreneurial efforts aided the economy and the reestablishment of a supply chain that will bring a now high cost of life down to normal standards. There is one last factor, perhaps the hardest hurdle Central Africans face on their road to rebuilding their country, religious conflict and resentment. The effects of the hatred brought about by this conflict may be present for years to come.
Muslims and Christians alike have been driven into IDP camps all around Bangui where the clashes have left entire neighborhoods desolated and pillaged. After having the corrugated iron sheets taken from the roof many houses are crumbling from the constant onslaught of the season rains making it impossible for the return of their former inhabitants. Central Africans are paralyzed before the difficult task of reconstructing an imploded country and they now blame France for their plight. It is their desire for peace and brotherhood as well as this resentment that are uniting Central Africans. A people torn apart by ethnic and religious conflict, is now starting to come together and unite once again. Attempts at reconciliation are being fomented through community building activities and awareness campaigns. It’s hard to foresee the end of this strife, some fear it will take years to amend what has been broken. The only thing most people seem to come to a consensus about is that reconciliation and reconstruction should be carried out by Central Africans.
© Daniel Botelho