People in the Central African Republic’s (CAR) capital of Bangui do not get too attached to things. A church might be demolished to make space for a new school. The city is constantly changing. Another constant factor is the resilience of the people - those trying to restore the city to a place of peaceful coexistence.
Bangui lays at the shore of the Obangui River. It is located at the crossroads between two regions and two peoples: in the north, the Sahel with its majority Muslim, and in the south with its now predominantly Christian. The once historic heart of Africa, Bangui has in recent times seen more houses and shops destroyed and rebuilt than ever before.
In December 2013, clashes erupted between armed groups. Almost four years later, the situation throughout CAR remains volatile.
The Soul of Bangui
Bruno Yabongo is a 27-year-old husband and father of three. He brings a pink folder with his name handwritten on it and a phone number with him most places he goes. The folder holds 10 copies of his resume. Bruno is eager to work.
When asked what kind for work he would like to do, Bruno answers:
When the conflict escalated in 2013, he was living in a house close to the centre of the capital.
Bruno fled with his family to Congo (Brazzaville) and found shelter and safety there for one year and three months.
When he is not job-hunting, Bruno spends a lot of his time volunteering with his own association "Ta Mo Londo". Ta Mo Londo is Sango, the country’s official language, for ‘get up my brother’. With “Ta Mo Londo”, Bruno travels to rural villages to talk with young people to convince them that joining an armed group is not the solution to their problems. He instead encourages them to participate in their community by helping others.
A lot of young people in CAR become involved with drugs, which often leads to violence.
Bangui is divided into eight districts. District Three in the west has been the worst affected by the conflict. District Three is made up of 29 zones, where the mosque and PK5 are the most well-known. The district accommodates internally displaced persons from different ethnicity and religious groups.
Houssna Ibrahimais 20 years old and lives in behind the town hall, a more affluent part of District Three. To enter the town hall you have to pass by a tank. Houssna tells me that she got used to it. She passes in front of the town hall almost every day. But she wouldn’t be able to tell me how long the tank has been there for.
In March 2016, she participated in a Cash for Work programme with IOM.
Houssna has four sisters and three brothers. They all live together with their parents and their two aunts from her mothers’ side of the family. They are one of the few families that stayed in their home when conflict escalated.
Houssna’s shop sits in front of her house. It comprises of a small wooden cabin that at first sight might remind you of a phone booth without windows.
Once she opens her shop, you can see all the colourful clothes, bags and jewellery it contains for young girls. Houssna’s younger sister runs the shop open when she is busy. Houssna is proud of her shop and her mom is proud of her - a little sparkle of joy under the Bangui sun.
A Unique Community
To live in Bangui means you either accept your new reality or you try to improve your situation. People work for their own future, regardless what stage they are at in life.
Alphonsine is 63 years old and is a representative of the Organisation des Femmes Centreafricaines (OFCA) in District Three. OFCA is a nationwide organization that partners up with other civil society groups to organize social cohesion activities.
In District Three, Alfonsine gathers 30 women together every week to discuss ideas on how they can improve their lives and that of their community. The ideas they discuss vary from a collective purchase of a sewing machine or starting a chicken farm.
An Infinite Hope
The streets of Bangui all lead to Point Kilomètre Zéro (PK0), the central point in the heart of the town. If you get lost in the streets you can always go back to that point and start over again.
When you walk around in the streets you will find a mix of little shops, compounds and old buildings - bullet marks visible in the walls.
Dave is 33 years old and works closely with IOM to organize reconciliation activities in five zones in the 3rd District. CPCA helps strengthen communities by facilitating safe and free movement. The aim is to help small businesses gain customers and to encourage people to commit to sustainable peace building.
“We are trying to organize reconciliation activities, such as a soccer match. It will be one of the first since the last uprising of the crisis. Besides those activities,we are also identifying displaced people, assisting vulnerable persons (like abused women) and trying to identify victims.”
“Unfortunately, there are still armed groups out there. You don’t come here at night but there are shootings almost every night. The disarming of those armed groups must be priority number one. It must be dealt with really soon.”
“Ayeke na pikango tene use si wa aza.”
By putting two stones together you can create stability.
Communities in Bangui are striving to rid themselves of the siege brought by insecurity. They are working towards reconciliation and to be able to walk safely around their own streets.