Comments: 535 • Responses: 22 • Date: 2014-01-31 15:05:07 UTC
BarnabyPhillips1279 karma2014-01-31 15:29:24 UTC
The Central African Republic has been badly governed for decades, with weak and corrupt governments. But things took a dramatic turn for the worse in March 2013 when the Seleka militia ousted President Francis Bozize. Their leaders came from the marginalised north-east, many were Muslims, and they brought mercenaries from Sudan and Chad. Once in 'power' the Seleka proved to be murderous and ill-disciplined, provoking a strong reaction from the majority (perhaps c80 per cent) Christian population. This cycle of violence has continued, and created its own momentum. Sorry- that's a crude summary but you might want to read this which goes in more detail into this issues
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BarnabyPhillips1211 karma2014-01-31 15:40:40 UTC
My colleagues in Egypt are facing absurd charges and they should be released as soon as possible. Here's more on that
In the CAR, for all the violence and chaos, I did not face direct political hostility. Generally, the majority Christian population believed I was on their side, because I am a white journalist (and they often thought I was French). The Muslim population, meanwhile, also believed I was on their side because I work for Al Jazeera, which they see as a Muslim network. In fact, both sides were wrong. I was neither pro-Christian or pro-Muslim, I was only trying to be as fair as possible, and understand what was driving people to violence and hatred.
BarnabyPhillips1201 karma2014-01-31 16:00:14 UTC
Catherine Samba-Panza is respected as a serious person who is trying to do the right thing. But her government has no power at all - it has no army/police force, it can't pay civil servants, it can't even run schools or hospitals. So she'll need outside help. Here's a piece I did on the chaos on Bangui.
I would like to choose a positive metaphor- in the little town of Boali, some 80 kms north-west of Bangui, a very brave clergyman, Father Xavier, is hosting some 800 frightened Muslim refugees in his church. They are sheltering there after their homes were destroyed by the anti-Balaka, and he's risking his life by looking after them. His courage, and sense of common humanity, is shared by many in the CAR, even in these dark days. He's an example of why the outside world should do more to help.
BarnabyPhillips1126 karma2014-01-31 15:14:40 UTC
Hi. What I found very frightening/depressing in the CAR was the level of sectarian hatred between Christians and Muslims. Restoring confidence between communities won't be easy. But the first, and most important stage, is dealing with security. There's a complete break down of law and order, and people are committing terrible crimes with impunity. So more peacekeepers (African and European), who are prepared to be tough, is an essential start.
BarnabyPhillips1126 karma2014-01-31 15:32:53 UTC
Maybe the most important thing is that we should not make generalizations about them, or about Africa, a continent of 55 countries, (and most are peaceful).
Edit: Number of countries. It's not 54.
BarnabyPhillips1119 karma2014-01-31 16:13:44 UTC
That's a huge question! I think it's fair to say that many of the borders left by colonizers have been disastrous- but we will never know what would have happened if the Europeans had not arrived on African shores. There would have been other, different, conflicts, and a map that would look very different today. But we can't turn the clock back now.
BarnabyPhillips190 karma2014-01-31 15:44:28 UTC
We took a security consultant with us to CAR. He had no editorial input but worked as our extra 'eyes and ears'; watching what was happening around us when we were busy reporting and interviewing. eg seeing if somebody was approaching us with a weapon, or that a crowd was getting agitated. He also looked after a lot of the logistics- eg enough fuel in the car, driver happy with the road etc. Having somebody like that there take's some of the load off the journalists' mind.
BarnabyPhillips170 karma2014-01-31 15:11:14 UTC
Hi. I'm always enjoying a good book, and try to read a few pages at the end of the day, to get my mind focused on something completely different than what I might have seen/experienced during the day. And keeping in touch with loved ones is much easier for a reporter than it was even 5 or 10 years ago. In Bangui, CAR, I was able to text and call family.
BarnabyPhillips161 karma2014-01-31 15:18:37 UTC
Well, I've been in journalism for more than 20 years and I don't think of myself as a war reporter or conflict junkie. But I have been in some nasty situations- religious/ethnic conflicts in Nigeria (I lived there 1998-2001) were bad, and so were the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Although, strangely, I did not feel that I was a target of the rival militias. And the same applies to CAR- it was frightening at times but none of the militias seemed to have a particular animosity to journalists. So in that sense, my colleagues who've worked in countries like Syria or Egypt have been less fortunate.
BarnabyPhillips151 karma2014-01-31 15:49:05 UTC
The French are in a difficult position, caught in the middle of a sectarian war. You might want to read my blog here on this subject . There are definitely occasions in recent days when I think the French could have been more proactive to stop looting and murder in Bangui.
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