Magazine article New Internationalist

Our Trespasses

Magazine article New Internationalist

Our Trespasses

Article excerpt

A hold-up at the airport sets Ruby Diamonde to thinking about the state of siege under which Central Africans have to live.

Travelling around the Central

African Republic (CAR) is a risky business. And so is travelling the few kilometres from Bangui city centre to the diminutive M'Poko international airport, just north of the capital.

The districts around M'Poko airport - such as Combattants, Galabadja and Fou - have seen some of the worst violence in Bangui these last months, with militias targeting either Christian or Muslim communities, and deliberately shattering trust between the two. Businesses and homes have been looted, sometimes burnt to the ground; families have endured lynchings and mob violence. As fear between Christians and Muslims has spread like a virus, churches and mosques have been attacked and desecrated.

Some 6,000 international troops, who arrived back in December from France and the African Union countries, have not been able to stem the erupting street violence. Up to another 12,000 United Nations 'Blue Helmet' peacekeepers are scheduled to arrive, but not until September. Hundreds of thousands of traumatized and terrified Central Africans have fled their Bangui homes this year to local monasteries, community centres, and to the fields surrounding M'Poko airport, where vast numbers of them have spent months existing in ragged camps alongside the main runway. A (very) rough recent estimate of the airport camp residents was between 80,000 and 100,000 people.

A few weeks ago, exhausted by my work and the daily bloodshed, and needing a respite from CAR, I booked a flight back to England. Getting to M'Poko airport that morning was, thankfully, relatively easy. At the airport checkpoint, young-looking French troops said 'Bonjour', briefly searched the taxi, then waved us through.

Forty-five minutes later I sat in the tiny airport departure lounge drinking a cool beer. Craning my neck I could see the camps backed up to the edge of the runway where my Air France plane was refuelling. I felt weird - gross in fact - to be drinking a beer here, especially knowing that I could leave, but most Central Africans cannot.

I drained the bottle, then joined the queue slowly walking across the tarmac towards our plane. Some people took photos of the camp as we were boarding, we passed that close to it.

Several weeks later, when my flight touched back down at M'Poko airport, the sprawl of camp residents was exactly where I had last seen them. …

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