Magazine article New Internationalist

The Revolutionary

Magazine article New Internationalist

The Revolutionary

Article excerpt

RuBy DIAMONDE meets up with a man who is restless for change.

A friend sends me a message online, wanting a chat. 'Sorry,' I text her back, 'but am just on my way out for dinner.'

'Ah, what do you have for dinner in Bangui?' she wants to know.

'Chicken and fish or fish and chicken!' I type, reaching for my car keys.

The Central African Republic is not known for its cuisine; local food is based on gozo, boiled cassava root, which is filling, bland and starchy, but has no nutritional value at all. Usually, it's served with sauces and often accompanied by fish or chicken - hence my quip. But these days in Bangui there are more choices, like pizza, pasta, Indian and Chinese food - if you can afford them. The city-centre restaurants mainly catering for ex-pats are too pricey for most Central Africans.

This evening I am meeting one of my favourite Central African friends in one of my favourite Bangui haunts. L'escale is a dimly lit riverside restaurant with dodgy décor and stained tablecloths. But the beer is cold, the food tasty and inexpensive, and they serve my all-time favourite local dish, maboke: fish steamed with coriander, tomatoes and onions and wrapped in banana leaves.

My dinner date, Quentin, likes maboke too. He's late, as always, and turns up with his mobile phone clamped to his ear, as always, talking to someone in the Central African vernacular, Sango. 'Barao!' he greets me in Sango, kissing me on each cheek. Then, 'Ça va?'

Quentin does many different things at the same time: he's a storyteller, a musician, an advocacy trainer and an entrepreneur. He runs his own national NGO promoting intercommunal dialogue through the arts, acts as spokesperson for Central African civil society organizations, and is a member of the National Transitional Council, the Central African Parliament. He's well connected, proud, nationalistic and restless.

We order our maboke and drinks, then sit back and smile at each other. We've been out of touch for more than a week, a long time for us.

'We Central Africans are losing our way!' he exclaims, shaking his head. 'The government is irresponsible, people are disappointed, and there's no-one to protect their rights. We need a revolution!'

'What kind of revolution?' I raise my eyebrows. I'm used to this.

'We need to decide our own future and negotiate on our own terms. …

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