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Difficult situation in the Republic of Central Africa

 

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Testimony of a young Marist Brother

03/09/2014: Central African Republic

Br Félix Donald Banam, a young Central African of the community of Berberati, took part in the Provincial Assembly of Central East Africa (PACE), held in Save, Rwanda, from 1 to 3 August 2014. He offers us his testimony on what is happening in his country, the RCA.

The Central African Republic is passing through one of the most difficult periods in its history due to the political-military conflicts of recent years. The social texture is being destroyed and hate is being installed in the hearts of many Central Africans. Already, it is not possible to circulate freely through the country. The Republic is turning into a country without law. The authority of the government is confined to the   capital, Bangui, and surrounding areas, while the provinces are in the hands of the militias of the Seleka coalition or the Anti - Balaka. Illegal control points are everywhere on the roads and the presence of international forces appears to have no influence on the catastrophic situation the country has experienced since the   rise to power of the Seleka coalition.

It must be remembered that, until the Seleka came to power, Christians and Moslems in the Republic of Central Africa always lived in harmony. Now there is much pillaging and massive destruction of properties, fields, granaries in the villages. In the towns, many families have been forced out of their homes while others have had their vehicles confiscated. In the times of disturbances, the Moslems were always   protected and kept a culpable silence, and did not unite with the non-Moslems to denounce the conduct of the Seleka.  For this reason, the defeat of the Seleka has obliged the Moslems to go into exile.

As for the Marist community of Berberati, although it was saved from sacking thanks to the valiant intervention of the bishop of the diocese, Monsignor Dennis Koffi Agbenyadzi, it has had to face many challenges rising from the conflict. The brothers are obliged at times to close the school for various days if the town is under tension. The feastday of Saint Marcellin Champagnat (6 June) was not celebrated in   the school in 2013 and 2014 because it was rumoured it was going to be attacked with grenade launchers. On various occasions, the threats to the security of the children, especially the girls, have caused grave concern to the brothers, teachers and parents. In addition, the brothers are at times forced to give up collecting fees for enrollment of the students when the state does not pay the salaries of its employees, obliging the community to seek help from the Province. At times, the money is deposited in a bank in Bangui, but it is not at all easy for a Brother to travel to Bangui to secure the money that would ease the situation for the school and the community.

Last June, the office of the director of the primary school was attacked. Two computers, a portable telephone and a certain amount of money were taken. The police are still trying to identify the thieves.

One day, a Brother of the community was violently detained by a group of young men who identified themselves as Anti – Balaka. They accused the Brother of being in connivance with the Seleka because the Moslems who had fled the town were lodged in the bishop’s palace which is only a few metres from the Brothers’ house. This was a consequence of an encounter between the Anti-Balaka and the Forces of the African Union based in Berberati. The encounter resulted in the deaths of two Anti-Balaka.

Another very dangerous circumstance is the movement of the Brothers from Berberati. It is becoming more difficult because the white Brothers already cannot travel to Bangui on the highway since the malefactors think they have a lot of money and that by kidnapping them they can demand a lot of money for their release. Only the black Brothers can travel on the highway but this is not without risk. In any case, Berberati being some 100 kms from the frontier with the Cameroons, the only way out for everyone is precisely this highway. It has to be noted also that while the Moslems controlled the diamond trade in Central Africa they had aircraft which assured communication between Bangui – Berberati. With the departure of the Moslems, only the aircraft belonging to the NGOs can do this flight. These aircraft will accept no passengers for any reason in the world. Because of this, only one Brother could attend the Provincial Assembly in Save, Rwanda.

Our community in Berberati is called to overcome these difficult times with tenacity and abnegation. The simple presence of the brothers in the town despite the menace is a witness of solidarity towards the suffering people of Central Africa. As many teachers in our schools are not paid by the government, their survival depends on the salary we pay them.

Let us note that the Marist schools of Central Africa contribute an enormous service to the Republic as being the best schools in the region. In fact, they are the establishments which have continued functioning with regularity despite the chaotic situation of the country.

The Marist community of Berberati is called to supervise the quality of the administration of the establishments so as to dispel any suspicion of corruption in the heart of the administrators and participate in the Church’s mission for the salvation of the world. Based on an integral formation of the young people, Marist education must not be limited to teaching them theory but to love all equally, boys and girls, rich and poor. They are called to support one another in giving witness to the Gospel through the education of youth.

The life of the Brothers of Berberati is not directly threatened. Without a doubt they must be careful since armed check points are widely spread throughout the town. Two parishes of the town (Sacré Cœur and Saint Basile) have been visited at night by malefactors looking for wealth, especially since the forces of the African Union do not do night patrols

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Photo: Br Félix, with Roger Passi (also Central African), at the Provincial Assembly in Save.

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