A group of young men sift through the day's raw material in an antibalaka controlled diamond mine in Carnot, Central African Republic. All photos by Frederick Paxton.
Nearly three years ago, when Seleka rebels marched on Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), to oust President François Bozizé, they brought to its knees a nation already ravaged by a history of exploitation, neglect, and violence. The Seleka, a predominantly Muslim coalition of armed groups from the northeast of the country, seized power for a brief moment, but the abuses it committed on the population ultimately led to its demise when Christian militias, known as the "Antibalaka," retaliated.
A United Nations helicopter takes off during a regular resupply mission.
The ensuing civil war that pitted Muslim and Christian armed forces against each other across the country spiraled out of control, reaching breaking point when neutral observers warned of an impending genocide. A French military operation and two successive UN peacekeeping missions have been able to stem the fighting, but the transitional government has not yet regained control of the country, which is still fractured along ethno-religious lines and marred by regular spates of sectarian violence.
An injured man waits for treatment in Bangui General Hospital after a grenade attack in the capital earlier that night. Attacks like these are indicative of the high level of tension and the ever-present threat of violence.
Outside Bangui, CAR is but a collection of fiefdoms controlled by factions who pay lip service to the peace process. They hold sway over local government authorities who, with no army or police force to speak of, lack the means to get a grip on the situation, and remain at the mercy of strongmen for protection. According to theInternational Crisis Group, CAR is "worse than a failed state."
When we travelled to CAR in September, we visited three cities across the country, in Antibalaka and Seleka-held territory, and found the same patterns repeated. Neither Muslims nor Christians talked about religion. Instead, people vented their frustration with inequalities, poverty, and a feeling that they do not have control over their own destiny.
A destroyed car sits in early-morning fog.
"The writing was on the wall," a Muslim diamond trader told us in the Christian southwest. "Our leaders took everything from us. They kept the political and economic power for themselves. They debilitated us, and then they told us that the other is our enemy. When you have nothing, you are willing to believe this sort of promise."
Casualties in Bangui general hospital, after a grenade attack in the capital earlier that night.
A UN soldier rides on top of an armored vehicle during a night patrol of Bangui.
Today, CAR is arguably the poorest country in the world, destitute and fully dependent on the foreign aid sparingly dispensed by an international community more concerned with finding a quick exit strategy than laying solid foundations for growth and improvement. More than half the population is in need of humanitarian assistance,and over 500,000 people are still displaced or living in refugee camps in neighboring countries.
Yet, general elections will be held in December amid a climate of fear, in towns controlled by armed groups, to elect the same people standing behind the conflict's perpetrators. CAR was never given a chance.
A young worker in an Antibalaka-controlled diamond mine. Many workers in the mine had noticeably damaged eyes, potentially due to extended exposure to sunlight and hazardous working conditions.
For more on CAR's ongoing civil unrest and its struggles with its mineral watch the Vice News documentary United in Hate: