Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Montreal, Wednesday June 25, 2014 – The current crisis threatens to turn the Central African Republic into a “hub for terrorism and fundamentalism.” This was the warning given by the Italian Carmelite Father Aurelio Gazzera last Friday (June 20) while speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “Boko Haram and Al Qaida are getting closer and closer,” the missionary said in his address, having worked in the country for 22 years. The role of the international community was “fundamental” he continued. But to date the international community had “not managed to really change anything.”
Concrete action at the grass roots
Gazzera demanded a speedier and more effective intervention: “Over the past few months I have been present as the vicious circle of ethnic and intercommunity strife has developed. This spiral of violence is causing the population to flee and is sowing the seeds of terror, and it has developed at such a rate that the international community comes too late, even when it acts quickly; too late to help the defenceless people and to stop the armed men.” The international community “often only steps in to stabilize a situation which has been imposed by the various rebel groupings.”
On the other hand, various local peace-mediating initiatives had been successful. In the town of Bozoum in the north west of the country, where Father Aurelio Gazzera works, for example: The state was absent, he said. “In Bozoum there is practically no gendarmerie or police force and in general the authority of the officials and forces of law and order is almost at zero level. At any rumours of attacks they regularly take immediate flight.” In December Father Gazzera had therefore established a mediation committee in collaboration with two imams, a protestant pastor and volunteers from the local population. Through negotiations with all the groups involved it had been possible “to lessen the violence of the Séléka”. This work had resulted in January this year in the withdrawal of the Séléka from the town.
The members of the mediation committee had “exposed themselves to risks” in order to work for peace. Gazzera himself had been slapped around the face, had stones thrown at him and been shot at with Kalashnikovs by the rebels. Even so, it had been possible “with a handful of men and women to prevent a thousand rebels from completely destroying the town of Bozoum.” In view of these facts the Italian Carmelite stressed the need to conduct talks not only at governmental level, but also “to listen to those who are taking concrete action at the grass roots.”
Good intentions are not always enough
The committee, which continues to operate, had installed a toll-free telephone number to enable people to report violent assaults. Furthermore a “Committee of Wise Men” has been established which “is intended to solve problems because, in the absence of the court and relevant personnel, there was a danger that the administration of justice would be in the hands of armed groups.” Gazzera emphasized the role of the media, and especially the internet: “They are a unique instrument for providing information and transmitting news. By means of emails, blogs and social networks we have created links which are valuable and can bring about changes.” Finally he said: “The most important thing seems to me to be the reconstruction of the heart: by means of schools, education and information. We also need expertise. There are so many people of good will! But good intentions are not always enough. We must understand what has brought the country to such an abyss in order to identify and acknowledge the mistakes of the past, and also to analyse the situation in such a way that we will be able to create a peaceful future.”
In view of his experience in peace mediation, Gazzera also took part last week in the “Oslo Forum,” one of the highest ranking meetings of peace mediators, which was held on 18 and 19 June near the Norwegian capital. At a panel discussion with the President of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza, he also reported on his experience with mediation.
At the invitation of the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need,” the missionary had already informed EU politicians in Brussels and diplomats accredited at the Holy See in Rome in April and May of this year about the situation in the Central African Republic.