Given the dramatic situation known to Central-Africa for more than a year now, and by way of solidarity with its populace, we are continuing today with a series of articles which will enable you to accompany the people of this country, currently at the heart of an unspeakable conflict: a war which recalls the extreme violence of a certain Rwandan genocide, one which we underscore this year with the sad 20th anniversary of the tragedy. How can this tragedy be forgotten? And nonetheless…
If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.
“Christians and Muslims: One blood, one language, one country.”
by José Carlos Rodríguez Soto / María Lozano
Dieudonné is a young priest from the diocese of Alindao. When the Séléka rebels came to his parish in March last year, they launched an attack which left a trail of destruction. His own life was threatened and he had to flee in a canoe together with many members of the parish. They managed to cross the Mbomou River and land on the other bank, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are among more than 80 000 Central Africans who have had to flee to neighbouring countries. A further 600 000 inhabitants are internal refugees – a monstrous figure in view of the fact that the total population of the Central African Republic numbers just under four and a half million.
Father Dieudonné was able to return to his parish a few months later. At the beginning of December he stayed in Bangui to recuperate at his parents’ home in the urban district of Lakuanga. On December 5, the attacks on the capital started and they claimed more than 500 lives in only three days. The increasing violence soon took a religious turn: there were numerous clashes between Christians and Muslims.
On Monday, December 9, Father Dieudonné was at his parents’ home in the evening when he heard worrying noises outside. He went out onto the street and found a large group of agitated young men who had come together to attack Muslim-owned businesses. Without hesitation he called the district headman. Together they tried to calm the young men down and to stop them from attacking Muslims. A number of young Christian men even placed themselves in front of the Muslims’ houses and shops to protect them. For weeks, Father Dieudonné has been preaching at the 6:15 a.m. mass in an attempt to pour oil on troubled waters and to remind the Christians that hatred and violence are completely contrary to the Gospel. He and his brothers in the parish organized two days of reconciliation for Christians and Muslims. He points to a poster on the notice-board in the parish bearing the slogan “Christians and Muslims: One blood, one language, one country.”
Father Dieudonné is not acting alone. Kobine Layama is a Muslim Imam and chairman of the Islamic community in the Central Africa Republic. Together with Kobine Layama, the Catholic Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and the Protestant Minister Nicolas Guerekoyame established an interdenominational peace group at the beginning of January. During the time when half the country was occupied by the Séléka rebels, the three men conducted peace missions. They mediated between the parties in the country’s interior in order to prevent the clashes from becoming open warfare.
When the Séléka rebels occupied Bangui and seized power there, Imam Layama found himself in a difficult personal situation: many Central African Muslims saw this as a sign that the time had come for them to take power.
In many places Séléka rebels and Muslims openly collaborated. Kobine Layama is a religious person, a pious Muslim who is convinced that Muslims and Christians should live in peace and mutual respect. He became an awkward figure for the Séléka rebels because he preached: “What you are doing – stealing, killing, raping women and terrorizing people – is contrary to what God commands us to do in the Koran.”
In August the Sélékas’ feared Number 2, General Nouroudine Adam, called him in his office: “Stop taking the side of the Christians and criticizing us. Otherwise, you will bear the consequences.” Asviolence raged through Bangui on December 5, and caused 500 deaths in three days, Kobine sought shelter with his friend, the Archbishop Schutz. He knew that his life was under threat from the extremists on both sides. Since then he has indefatigably called for calm and reconciliation. Kobine has called on those of his Muslim brothers who have weapons to give them up. Many could not understand his attitude.
The nature of the Central African conflict is not religious, but social and political. Violence and revenge is being fomented by those who want to see an outbreak of hostilities between Christians and Muslims; time and again this puts the country’s citizens in borderline situations. The archbishop, the minister and the imam are three courageous voices tirelessly calling for peace; they are therefore running considerable risks. The number of people who have lost their lives in Bangui in the last few days is estimated to be about 500; it would have been more if it weren’t for people like them and Father Dieudonné.
Coming up on Monday:
For the final word in this series of five articles on Central Africa, we give you the words of Father Federico who will speak to us about an extraordinary man: Father Anastasio Roggero.
Father Anastasio: the Soul of Carmel de Bangui