Magazine article New Internationalist

The Long Walk

Magazine article New Internationalist

The Long Walk

Article excerpt

Christina is from Bocaranga, which sounds more like the name of a film than a sprawling hillside market town. It lies in the northwest of the Central African Republic (CAR), amid stunning scenery of forested hills. But Christina doesn't live there any more. She and her three young children are now staying 160 kilometres away, in a different town, called Bouar. It doesn't sound like a huge distance - exactly 100 miles. But Christina and her kids walked, or rather fled, the whole way.

I met Christina in Bouar, at a local centre d'écoute, or listening centre, set up to support Central Africans who've survived violence. She's been in Bouar for almost a year now, but her situation has barely changed.

'I lived in Bocaranga most of my life,' she tells me, her face closed. 'When the Seleka rebels took over our town [in March 2013] everyone fled into the bush, because we were all terrified. We slept out there in the bush for nights, me and my husband, Jean-Pierre, and the kids. When we returned to our house, Seleka came straight to the door.'

Jean-Pierre had a job with the local farmers' council, and the rebels knew he had a salary. 'They demanded money from him,' says Christina, 'and when he told them he didn't have any money they shot him dead. In front of me.'

Seleka, a militant alliance of five rebel groups, took over CAR last spring, unleashing a regime of violence and fear across the country. After murdering Christina's husband, these Seleka rebels stole everything they wanted from her house, and then torched it.

Shocked, traumatized and with her young children in tow, Christina sheltered with neighbours and friends in another district of the town. But noone was safe in Bocaranga - the rebels were lashing out at everyone. After three fearful weeks, Christina decided she and her children had to get out.

'We didn't know where to go,' she shrugs. 'But lots of people were moving, and I thought maybe we'd be safer in Bouar.' Carrying a few possessions salvaged from the fire, she and the children walked day after day along dust tracks and through the bush. During the first months of Seleka's regime, villages across CAR emptied: hundreds of thousands of Central Africans fled to the bush because of the rebels' brutality, including their reputation for raping women and girls. …

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