The persisting insecurity, the inefficiency of UN peace missions and the Church’s commitment to fixing the relations with the Islamic community. We talked with Card. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Archbishop of Bangui.
In your letter of 15 January, you, the bishops of the Central African Republic, denounce the passiveness of MINUSCA (the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic ). What is really happening?
The UN peace-keeping forces currently operative in Central Africa (MINUSCA) are composed of contingents from different countries. We, in our letter, underlined that they should be more active in preventing violence and attacks.
The contingents from Bangladesh, Morocco and Mauritania are not willing to risk their life to save the Central Africans! In fact, they intervene in the scene of a massacre only after it has been perpetrated, just to extinguish a fire or to transport the wounded to the hospital, while they tell the international press that they intervened and were able to restore calm. This is false! They did not intervene at all. We, the bishops of the Central African Republic, would like to remind that the peace-keeping contingents’ primary mission consists in protecting civilians.
What is the nature of the Central African crisis ?
We, the African bishops, think that Islam itself is not a threat. The word ‘religion’ itself means bond. Violence is not a religion. After all, we also, the Christians, committed violence in the past. We must help people to understand that the other is not a threat, but a gift. Basically, people fight for political or economic interests, for the conquest of a territory, not for a church or a mosque.
Muslims, Seleka and Christian Anti-Balaka forces …
We are aware that the crisis was the result of several interests which are connected to each other: oil, diamonds, riches. Politicians were those who incited tensions between communities. Furthermore, misunderstandings increased because the Seleka forces included numerous Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries who did not speak French or Sango, the vernacular language of the country, and since they spoke Arabic, people immediately referred to them as Muslims. Eighty percent of the Seleka soldiers were and are Muslims. But the reality of the Muslim Seleka is more complex than it may seem.
The Anti-Balaka forces are the result of a popular uprising. Just one month after the Seleka militias took power, the Anti-Balaka group incited to insurrection. The young people especially could not stand money extortion by the new masters anymore, who did not meet people expectations. Young people rose up against the new rulers and decided to avenge the injustices, money extortions and murders perpetrated against their parents or relatives by the Seleka militias. I do not consider the Anti-Balaka militias as Christian forces, since they wear amulets and perform animist practices; they do not behave as Christians. They are just young people.
What is the current situation with regard to security?
The situation is rather calm in Bangui, but the rest of the country is still in chaos. Half of the country is out of the national security forces’ control. The fighters of LRA leader, Joseph Kony, are present in the eastern part of the country where there are also American bases. We do not understand why the Americans are there.
How did the Christian community react to this crisis?
The crisis has given vitality to our Church. I consider what has happened since December 2012 both an opportunity and a grace, when Seleka rebels broke out of their north eastern strongholds to take half of the country. Christians started to realise that they can be killed because of their faith.
Martyrdom is part of our lives as disciples of Jesus. Of course, the Seleka people can destroy, steal, plunder – but nobody can take away faith, which is essential for the believer. That is why our response to violence has been the strength that comes from Christ’s love. We, therefore, chose to respond to violence with non-violence. Pope Francis himself confirmed that ours has been the right choice during his visit to Bangui which was a great moment for our Church and our country.
What role does the Central African woman play in society and in the Church ?
Some time ago, a Catholic woman, was elected interim President of CAR. Prior to becoming head of state, Catherine Samba-Panza was Mayor of Bangui. She played an important role and carried out her task of leading the country to national elections successfully. Women make up the majority of the people of our Church. We do rely on their wisdom and on their ability to live the Gospel in everyday life. They are deeply committed to the search for reconciliation and they are able to transmit their values to the new generations.
And what about the young people?
It was not possible for many young people, who make up the majority of the population, to attend school. And without education there is no future. We, as a Church, are promoting the building of 50 new primary schools in the villages of the country. We are also planning to establish the Higher Institute of Agronomy, an old project of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of the Central African Region (ACERAC). The Church intends to give its support mainly by continuing to focus on the two traditional fields of its commitment: school and health. Even the Pope is helping us to build a children’s hospital in Bangui. Nevertheless we still need a lot of support. (E.B.)