Here is a letter from Bishop Nestor Desiré Nogo Aziagbia of the Diocese of Bossangoa, Central African Republic
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December 16, 2014
Dec.10, 2012-Dec.10, 2013 … The Central African Republic just celebrated the first anniversary of the rebellion started by the Seleka coalition—seleka meaning alliance or pact in Sango, the national language.
What a strange and sad anniversary, you say! Certainly, the change promised by these hawkers of illusion has been nothing but trials and tribulations for the suffering people of the Central African Republic. They have suffered the worst: rape, assassination and murder, kidnapping and ransom demands, destruction of property, the theft of cows, destruction of farmland, the burning of houses and villages, vandalism of government buildings, the annihilation of historical memory through the destruction of communal records, the pillaging and ransacking of practically all Church structures, the desecration of churches, extortion of all kinds. It is a sinister picture. Desolation is everywhere. This banditry has gotten even worse now that these scoundrels operate openly. The rebels have adopted military ranks which they display with arrogance and great pride.
That is the context of our present life in the Diocese of Bossangoa. Numerous extortions and human rights violations have pushed some of our people to revolt; the violence has led them to organize themselves in order to fight back and to demand justice in the face of Seleka abuses. This has led to the creation of self-defense units called anti-balaka (anti-machetes.) Such militia first appeared in the late 90s in the north-west of the country. They fought against bandits terrorizing the highways, known as zaraguina. These militia were also active in the battle against the Houda and Mbara tribes. These guardians of Tchadian cattle armed with kalashnikovs did not respect any humanitarian corridors, and let their cattle graze on the land of farmers. They did not hesitate to use their weapons to kill, set houses on fire and destroy entire villages at the slightest resistance of farmers. The weakness of our failing state added to the tension and violence throughout the region.
Military clashes between the seleka and anti-balaka always end up in suffering for the civilian population. It is part of the criminal logic of both parties. The Christian and Muslim communities also got caught up and became de facto victims of these angels of death. We have to absolutely get away from the unhappy tendency to lump the anti-balaka together with Christian movements and to identify the seleka with the Muslims. In fact, not all anti-balaka are Christians and not all Christians are anti-balaka. The same is true for the seleka and the muslims.
This logic of reprisal and counter reprisals has sent many people hiding in the bush, hurt and killed a great many, led to the destruction of possessions (fields, cattle, homes, harvests…), and caused enormous displacement. The image of 35,000 displaced people in the Diocese of Bossangoa has made headlines around the world. This number has gone up in the wake of the renewed outbreak of violence on Dec. 5, 2013. The city has been reduced to two centers: the chancellery where some 50,000 people are holed up and the Liberty School that currently houses 8,000 displaced Muslims. It is not mentioned enough, but the situation is more or less the same in Bouca where 3500 people have sought shelter in a mission station.
The origin of this humanitarian crisis in de Prefecture of Ouham is particularly political. Under the pretext of battling (ousted President) François Bozize, the regime in Bangui wants to strangle an entire population, crushing any kind of grand plan for the country. How else can we explain the equivocation and the slow response by the government to the crisis in Bossangoa and Bouca? Without being polemical, I simply note that the response was a lot faster in the case of Bangassou, Bouar and Mongoumba. Despite numerous appeals I have made, government leaders have not stopped deceiving us and making false promises, while coming up with all manner of excuses for their lethargic response. It is very clear that the people of Ouham are condemned to the catacombs. Their one sin is to belong to the region where Bozize came from.
With their destruction the goal, the local people have been subject to real psychological torture. That has been the experience of the displaced people at the chancellery and at the Bouca mission station. These people who escaped death are mocked throughout the day by these Tchadian warlords. They are constantly threatening to attack with heavy weaponry the chancellery and those seeking shelter inside. The latest threats came in the wake of the anti-balaka attack on the capital city of Bangui on Dec. 5, 2013. Thanks be to God for the bravery of the Congolese troops of the Multinational Central African Force (FOMAC) and their professionalism in protecting the civilian population, regardless of people’s political, philosophical and religious convictions. The criminal burning down of 500 homes in the neighborhoods surrounding the Bangui’s archdiocesan chancellery … triggered the deployment of French troops in the city. On Monday Dec. 9, 2013, they began with the disarmament and billeting of seleka forces. Some anti-balaka militants who had slipped in among the displaced staying at the chancellery … gave up their arms to FOMAC and French troops, before retreating into the bush. It took a lot of persuasion for these men to overcome their fear and comply with this security measure. We are now entering a period of reasoning and the voluntary surrender of weapons.
The coup of March 24, 2013 was too much. It has plunged this suffering country into the depths of an abyss. The country is in shambles, its administration paralyzed, its economic fabric destroyed. The Central African Republic has become a shadow of its former self. The country now faces one of its worst demons. It is a failed state that has subjected its citizens to lawless hordes of mercenaries. How can we rebuild this country that has been razed to the ground? Hospitals are non-existent and the schools are not functioning. The future of the republic is up for grabs, at the mercy of adventurers and dubious politicians. The prospects for the future are dark and uncertain. Reconstruction will be difficult. As regards the diocese, things are terrible. Moreover, its pastoral institutions—the pastoral center of Bossangoa, the catechetical center of Gofo, presbyteries, convents, churches and chapels—as well as those providing healthcare and education have been pillaged and vandalized. … Nonetheless, we need to do something urgently for those staying at the chancellery. Hence, in partnership with UNICEF, we have repaired the dispensary at Bossangoa.
The military and political crisis that has affected the bulk of the diocese since March 2013 has kept us from being able to properly execute our pastoral programs in the areas of health, education and professional formation. Nevertheless, we have become adept at managing an emergency situation. We thank all those who have supported us financially in our efforts to help victims of the unrest. We thank the friends of the schools of Bossangoa for their precious contributions to the pursuit of activities in the realm of healthcare, agriculture, education and professional formation. … Already I can say that the re-launch of initiatives will largely depend on careful thought, the repair of infrastructure and the production of educational and medical supplies.
The socio-political situation appears to be desperate. Nonetheless, Advent prepares for the celebration of the happy event in human history: God made Himself one of us in His smallness, his humility and his fragility. He lifts us up from our degradation to fill us with His glory. I am confident that this hope for the people of the Central African Republic will not be in vain. The God who stoops down to the poor, the orphan and the widow, will certainly dry the tears in His children’s eyes and bring them His joy.
This letter was made available to Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org