Central African Republic: Lockdown in Bangui
By Leah Finnegan, Conflict and Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Adviser, Save the Children
A young man – probably not much older than me – slumps on a chair, his head in his hand. He begins to rock soundlessly back and forth. He holds his mobile phone at arm’s length, as if to prevent the news it transmits from reaching his ears.
Then comes the noise: low at first but building to a wail. Clearly, he has had bad news, but the people who come over to comfort him require little explanation: Bangui’s citizens have seen this drama play out far too many times already.
Outside, crowds of people are carrying baskets of fruit to market: for a brief moment, the city seems to be edging closer to normality.
It doesn’t last, though. Within days, Bangui is in lockdown.
Over the past few weeks, Central African Republic (CAR) has seemed to slip even further into turmoil and many people who had already fled their homes are on the move once more. On 28 May, an attack on Notre Dame de Fatima church led to a further escalation of violence, resulting in 20,000 more people being forced to leave their homes.
Life in Bangui
Life in Bangui is soundtracked by grenades and gunshots and there are barricades in place across the city. The airport has been closed, meaning even flights due to move humanitarian staff and deliver desperately-needed aid have been grounded.
At our regular morning meeting, I see the frustration of our staff: this is a country where half the population needs humanitarian assistance. Recently, the President called for three days of national mourning.
We need to do more
My overwhelming feeling is that the international community needs to do more – much more. Children are in desperate need of healthcare, protection and education: aid workers must be able to move around safely to deliver it. The people in this country need more protection than peacekeepers on the ground can provide.
Save the Children is calling for the UK to appoint a Special Envoy to drive international action – this way, we can perhaps prevent a further escalation of the crisis. We want governments around the world to make sure the UN peacekeeping operation is properly resourced, with experts focussing on human rights and child protection.
There is an urgent need for specialist staff from the UK to support government and humanitarian agencies on the ground in preventing and responding to sexual violence. It is also vital that international donors commit to funding the humanitarian response.
This crisis demands to be heard
Authorities recently suspended all text messaging in CAR; they say this is an attempt to stop the recent surge in violence. I think of the young man clutching his phone and wonder if no news can ever be good news.
Mobile phones in CAR may have been silenced but the world cannot afford to stay silent on CAR.