Hatred festers as Muslims and Christians suffer in Central African Republic

Hungry and damaged factions are the agents of each other’s misery

Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 01:00

An anti-balaka called Victor Kifo steps forward. I ask why he wants to starve the Muslims. “The Muslims started firing on the Central Africans,” Kifo says. “When the Seleka were here, the Muslims showed their fangs and claws. Now we want all of them to leave, as soon as possible. If we catch them we will kill them.” The crowd nod in agreement.

‘They burned everything’
Pretty Thurise Dambale (13) has the same large, almond eyes as the widowed child bride I just interviewed on the “other side”. “I can’t forget. I can’t live with them,” she says. “They burned everything my father and mother and the local population owned. That’s why we want to be rid of them.”

A commotion breaks out a few metres away, between Rodrigue and the anti-balaka. At issue: the bags of food our driver has purchased to take back to the Muslim quarter.

“We counted how much manioc and avocados you bought, and when you leave town, we’ll check if you still have them,” Kifo shouts as I climb into the vehicle. “If there’s any missing, you’ll have a big problem.”

“It’s too risky. We’ll have to take the food to Bangui,” Rodrigue says during the brief journey back to the Muslim side.

But the men who gave us money for food refuse to take back their banknotes.

“Give me my merchandise!” one shouts imperiously, eyeing the bags in the back of the vehicle. “Do you want them to get killed?” a younger man from the Muslim quarter pleads. The stubborn merchant eventually relents. They apologise and wave goodbye, invoking God’s blessing for our journey.

We begin the 4½-hour trek back to Bangui, down a rutted dirt track. The anti-balaka checkpoint is wreathed in marijuana smoke, and we’re waved through, our cargo of forbidden food unchecked. We’ve escaped unscathed from our brief involvement in Boda’s conflict, but it still feels ugly.

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