Interview and Translation from French by Barthelemy Bazemo, AFJN’s Policy Analyst (download PDF File here)
A year after the coup of March 24, 2013 in Central African Republic (CAR), the situation has become more concerning. Calm is far from being restored in Bangui and other parts of the country. But the leaders of the three major faith traditions in CAR refuse to fall into pessimism. They took their pilgrim’s staff to seek support in the United States of America. Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) met these prominent religious men, the last hope for reconciliation and unity in the CAR to find out their impressions of the crisis and possible ways out of the crisis.
Barthelemy Bazemo : We cannot say that our readers know you. Would you mind introducing yourselves?
All Introduce themselves:
I am Bishop Dieudonné NZAPALAINGA, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Bangui
I am Imam Omar KOBINE LAYAMA, the President of the Islamic community in CAR
I am the Reverend Nicolas GUEREKOYAME-GBANGOU, the President of the Alliance of Protestant Churches in CAR
Barthelemy Bazemo: Why have you come to Washington?
Imam Omar KOBINE : We are in Washington to marshal international support for our country and to present as well the critical situation of our people to all our partners, be they from the government, Congress or the NGOs; we are equally targeting all those who share the sad plight of the CAR people for more than a year now since armed groups invaded the country. Unfortunately, it is believed that this conflict has religious overtones, but we, the leaders of the three major religious traditions in the country, strongly refute this argument. In our opinion, this is a military and political crisis and the international community should pay a close attention to the situation in the CAR.
Barthelemy Bazemo: Please briefly describe the context of the socio-political crisis in the Central African Republic?
Archbishop Dieudonné NZAPALAINGA: If at this hour, we are still stuck in a deadlocked situation, it is because our national dialogue did not fully play its role, the democratic discourse failed to break new grounds, impunity further complicated the equation, and people who orchestrated military coups are still in power, hoping to capitalize on armistice to govern forever. The national army got divided on tribal, ethnic or regional lines and failed to protect national borders, the citizens, and their property. All these reasons account for the Molotov cocktail that exploded March 24, 2013 with the takeover by the Seleka, a coalition of many armed groups that came to bring freedom and democracy; unfortunately there have been atrocities and violations of human rights and also organized looting, a situation we strongly denounce and condemn.
Barthelemy Bazemo : What is your assessment of the current process of reconciliation underway in the CAR? What is the contribution of the international community?
Reverend Nicolas GUEREKOYAME- GBANGOU: The process is indeed underway and we are pleased to announce that from the inception of the crisis triggered by the Seleka and now worsened by the Anti-Balaka, dialogue has never been broken. The channels for engaging in constructive dialogue remained open through the religious leaders. We’ve always made trips to various provinces in the country to initiate talks between various peoples and communities. In Bangui we’ve organized several meetings between communities. Now with the new government in place, there are efforts to bring people together for peace talks but that will not prevent justice from following its due course in the reconciliation process. Despite the difficulties, the wounds, grudges, hatred and resentment in many hearts, we believe that through the power of dialogue, and our words of encouragement, the people of CAR will eventually sit around the same table for reconciliation.
We want to acknowledge the presence of the international community through MISCA (Mission Internationale de Soutien à la Centrafrique sous conduite Africaine) from the African Union; Sangaris a French brigade; a couple of countries in Europe promised to send troops. And very soon a UN peacekeeping mission will be deployed in the country.
It is a real matter of satisfaction and encouragement for us to see the commitment of the international community. And since we are in the U.S., we also want to underscore the contribution and promises of some of our US partners, following the various meetings we had at the highest level with the authorities of this country.
Barthelemy Bazemo : What would you say about the international media coverage of the conflict in the CAR? Does it reflect the factual truth or just a slanted reading of the reality on the ground?
Imam Omar KOBINE: At the onset of the crisis, the media gave a widespread coverage of the conflict to inform the international community but nonetheless we must acknowledge that it unfortunately focused its accounts on the bloodshed incidences forgetting the efforts of many people on the ground, the contribution of religious leaders trying to raise awareness among the people, calling for tolerance and mutual love; the media downplayed such significant voices and only presented the negative side.
The media portrayed the crisis as a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims, an outlook that we totally disagree with. To the best of our knowledge, the militias or armed groups do not have any religious mandate from religious leaders. Rather, it is a crisis instigated by the politicians who exploit the fragility of jobless young people abandoned to their own fate and looking for survival. We do not want the young people, who are the future, to be drawn into destroying their own country. We want to bring all of them to the table of reconciliation.
Barthelemy Bazemo : At the end of your various meetings with U.S. officials, which assessment could you make of their responses to your plea?
Archbishop Dieudonné NZAPALAINGA:The responses have been positive and many doors were open for us, the authorities expressed their desire to support our country. Concrete promises were made and now we hope that they will be transformed into reality; in real terms the U.S. government will contribute to the UN peacekeeping mission, USAID will provide humanitarian assistance, and ultimately we expect financial aid from U.S banks to accompany the political process.
Today we have a woman at the helm of the country; it’s time now to enforce human rights, to reinstate the judiciary and to revive the education system. Health services should be provided to answer the pressing needs of the population; and as for the administration, a lot needs to be done to reform the administration and to redeploy civil servants across the country. In all we were able to make aware the U.S. authorities of our problems. We believe they’ve taken good note and will hopefully respond to our concerns.
Barthelemy Bazemo : Your coming togetheras leaders of the three major faith traditions in the CAR: the Protestants, the Catholics and the Muslims, has given us a vibrant testimony of religious coexistence. Drawing from that experience, which message would like to send to the American public and by extension to the whole world?
Reverend Nicolas GUEREKOYAME – GBANGOU: Our joint-trip to Paris in France, to United States, soon to Rome, Geneva and Berlin in Germany, is in itself a message addressed to all those who take care of the spiritual aspect of the human person, living in this global society in crisis, of fierce competition and despair. In this context, our faith could be a guiding principle of rampart, light and salt.
Our presence here in the U.S is equally an invitation to the religious leaders in this country to seize the opportunity to work together towards breaking religious and denominational barriers among people, to instill a new trust in our society shaken by many crises. We make this call not only to the American people but to the entire world to work together toward creating a new hope for the whole of humanity.