Central African Republic: a year on from the Bangui massacre
A year ago today I was in Bangui, on a deserted road, listening to gunfire.
On our way to a church that had overnight become home to thousands of terrified civilians, we passed a small public park.
The benches were empty and a lone body lay on the ground.
It was a boy, on his front, blood ebbing from his torso onto the grey concrete, his eyes cold and vacant.
He was one of many dead I saw that day but his is the face I can’t forget. He was young and, unlike the others, all alone.
His legs were sprawled awkwardly and it was obvious that his last moments were horrifically violent.
On a knife-edge
In the space of 48 hours some 1,000 men, women and children were massacred as the militia known as the anti-balaka attacked CAR’s capital and fought with the Seleka, a rebel group who had recently seized power.
Hundreds of thousands more were displaced, sharing cramped makeshift shelters, left vulnerable to disease, hunger and further attacks.
One year on, the country remains on a knife-edge.
Despite the signing of a ceasefire back in July and the deployment of a UN Peacekeeping Mission the violence continues and over 800,000 are still displaced.
More than 10,000 children are estimated to have been recruited by those fighting. Boys and girls as young as eight years old are forced to fight, carry supplies or perform other roles such as acting as scouts or becoming army ‘wives’.
Early last December, before that terrible day, I had met a 16-year-old boy called Namboro*.
He had joined the rebels as they began their long march to Bangui and had been involved in the fighting along the way.
When we met, he was part of a demobilisation programme that was helping ex-child combatants move on with their lives.
I have a vivid memory of him too, but his face, unlike the other boy’s, is a blur. He is sitting on a bench in the midday sun, his head in his hands as he recounts the battle in which he was shot.
Where is he now?
I remember him looking up and explaining how he had been given a second chance, how he was learning to be a mechanic and that while he regretted his past he wouldn’t let it destroy his future.
Quite often I find myself wondering what has happened to Namboro, whether he was able to escape the cycle of violence or whether he is one of thousands of children who have been re-recruited and are fighting right now.
Today though, on this anniversary of sorts, I will remember the two boys who left such an impression on me and hope that Namboro hasn’t met the same fate as that other boy whose face I can never forget.