A city of simmering tensions

The fabric of the community is torn in parts of Bangui, with Muslims and Christians divided by the conflict in CAR.

Bangui is a city of simmering tensions.

There are some signs of normality. The main road to the airport is often busy with market stalls open and people on the street, but the next day make-shift roadblocks of burning cars and bent-over street lights make it impassible.

A man with a bow and arrow points his primitive weapon at us when we try to film and we’re told it’s too dangerous to go to the Christian camp near the airport as the people are tired of being filmed and not fed. But the next day (almost) everybody at the camp wants to shake your hand or bump fists in welcome.

Bangui feels uneasy and on edge. Between sixty and seventy thousand Christians are still sleeping at the camp but during the day they go back to their homes and about their daily business as much as possible.

Not only are they afraid of further clashes between foreign peacekeepers and the Christian anti-Balaka militia, but in the security void there’s a lot of crime. People are taking advantage of the lawlessness and impunity that pervades the country – it is, quite frankly, a bit of a ‘free for all’.

The French army tells us their mission to disarm people has been very successful and that sometimes, on patrol, they may only confiscate one or two machetes. Yet almost every night we hear gunfire.

While some neighbourhoods have been largely untouched and people mix in the markets (while looking over their shoulders), in others Muslims and Christians are living as prisoners in their own homes.

The United Nations wants to send a further 3,000 peacekeepers here, but it seems to me this is more than a numbers game – the very fabric of many communities has been torn and frayed. Re-weaving them will take time and effort from every side.

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