Saturday, May 30, 2009

Central African Republic: “Today we are here, tomorrow we could be somewhere else”

Caroline Ngoena has been displaced by clashes between rebels and government forces in northern Central African Republic on three occasions over recent years

Cycles of political violence in the Central African Republic over the past decade have prompted tens of thousands of civilians to flee their villages or towns. Many still live in the bush, too scared to return home. Others, like Caroline Ngoena, who heads a pig-husbandry collective in the northwestern town of Paoua, are trying to rebuild their lives.

Three separate battles - known as “events” in the local euphemistic idiom - forced her and her family to abandon their home and run for their lives. She told IRIN her story:

“The first time we had to flee our village it was because of rebels led by [Francois] Bozizé [a former chief of army staff, whose uprising overthrew president Ange-Félix Patassé in 2003 and who is now himself head of state].

“The army was shooting from one direction, the rebels were also shooting. People fled in all directions. We realized that death was at hand. Everyone had to fend for themselves to escape death. We tried to take only the bare necessities. Men and women, everyone fled with their children. We didn’t have time to think about the animals because they were sleeping outside.

“When shooting starts, you run into the house and pick up what you can: a bowl, a plate, some flour. You put everything on your head, a child on your back, and run, looking right and left, scared of seeing someone with a gun.

“When you get into the bush you look for tall grass or a large tree where you can rest, take the child off your back to feed him, because you’ve run a long way. After a while you go to find firewood.

“Everything has to be done with great vigilance because someone could sneak up on you.

“Once the food’s ready, you put out the fire and stay put, keeping quiet, always looking around, heart beating fast. All kinds of thoughts came into your head. You ask yourself whether what you left in the village has been destroyed.

“During the first events I lost a son. We were sleeping on leaves. Because they were dry they caught fire and the child was badly burnt. Since we were in the bush, we had no access to medicine. Flies were attracted to the wounds, which got infected and that’s how the child died.

“After three months, we moved back to the village. We had fewer animals because some had been killed, others stolen.

“We started breeding the animals again. But then the second events happened – a fight between Patassé’s rebels and Bozizé’s soldiers. That was in March 2006.

“In January 2007 there was another battle between Patassé’s rebels and the army. We fled again and this time all our animals were stolen.

“If I could meet Bozizé and the head of the rebels I would tell them that I am suffering a lot. It’s difficult for a woman who flees with her children and belongings. Today we are here, tomorrow we could be somewhere else. Every now and again we are displaced again.

“I want peace and if there is peace the country can develop. There is no development because there is no security or peace. In Central Africa, people are fighting for nothing. That’s why we are not rich. We are just going backwards.”

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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