Central African Republic, a soft obsession
The Central African Republic has lingered in my mind for I don’t know how long that my feelings range from deep frustration to a careless maybe-another-time attitude. When I was young (I mean, younger) I used to state the following: Belgium is the nicest place on Earth – of course, at that time I had never gone to Belgium, but I was under the romantic impression that beauty (the kind of beauty a traveller is interested in) can be just anywhere. I wasn’t lying: I was simply confirming something I hadn’t experienced yet. A few years passed by and the only thing I can remember of Belgium is a café near a train station: the worst cup of coffee ever. Anyway, I grew wise and learned not to make any absolute statement, but one thing never abandoned me: the feeling of connection with specific places, and especially with places I totally ignore. The more I travelled to Nigeria or Cameroon, the more I was attracted by this neighbouring, less-known – and quite troublesome – country: the Central African Republic. Just follow the meaning: a republic in the very centre of Africa, an African version of a democratic middle-Earth… do you get the mythical twist of this projection? In 2011 I felt that the right time had come. I had crossed the Nigeria-Cameroon border a few days ahead and I was enjoying the peaceful city of Maroua while planning my next adventure. I had one month of freedom before going back to Nigeria to resume my fieldwork in Bauchi. That month could be my CAR month – oh, I was so excited. But my excitement collapsed under a reality I hadn’t considered: this so appealing republic was, to say the least, out of control. The words of a colleague of mine, a French national resident in Cameroon, froze my hopes: est-ce que tu es fou? Forget about. Skip this one and stay on the safe side. If there’s a country where violence took over, that’s exactly the Central African Republic. Travelling from Bangui to Brazzaville by boat, visiting the Gorges de la Pipi or the Yata-Ngaya region (yes, I let my dreams take off by consulting avidly a map of the Institut Geographique National): I had to put all this on hold. Sadly, since 2011 things in CAR didn’t get any better. This is the current travel advice posted by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office:
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to the Central African Republic (CAR). British nationals should leave now if practical means are available, if it is safe to do so, and if a safe destination is available. Those who remain should take all precautions and maintain sufficient stocks of food and water. Those who remain or visit against our advice should be aware that the FCO is not able to provide consular services nor organise or assist your evacuation from the country. If the situation deteriorates further, leaving the country by commercial means will become increasingly difficult. Only one regional airline, Asky, operates flights out of Bangui to Douala. See Local Travel. [… ] Tensions continue to rise in Bangui and across the country. On 7 October there was a violent demonstration in front of the UN Peacekeeping Operation’s (MINUSCA) Military Headquarters in central Bangui. There were reports of mob violence, numerous injuries, violent killings and looting. Tensions continue to rise in Bangui. There has been an increase in violence following an armed attack on a church and subsequent retaliation attacks. There are armed patrols that have set up several roadblocks across the country. Reports of violence, reprisal killings, looting and human rights abuses continue across the country.
Blood on the streets, and no sign of peace. Another country on the list.