Inside the brutal fight that’s left the Central African Republic in chaos

"They say we have to win the fighting and kill a lot of enemies," said one rebel fighter recruited as a 10-year-old. "Whoever refuses to fight is killed."
June 11, 2018, 3:45pm
New recruits carry out basic training in Bangui, CAR, in Feb. 2018. Central African Armed Forces (FACA) are being funded and trained by a European Union mission. Only three battalions are currently operational, nowhere near enough to secure the country. (Jackson Fager for VICE News)

About 2.5 million people, or over half the population, in the Central African Republic depend on humanitarian aid to survive. The widespread need stems from a long-standing conflicted often described as sectarian, but is actually a brutal power struggle for the country’s many natural resources.

Right now, three-fourths of CAR is in the hands of at least 14 armed groups. They support themselves through indiscriminate stealing and killing, especially within the country’s crucial cattle industry.

“It’s unbearable,” said Garba Abakar Djobia, a cattle herder in Bangui, CAR’s capital and largest city, which the government barely controls. “They kill to take the cows. Children, women, and men are all killed.”

Oxfam and other aid groups do what they can. But in one camp in Bria with more than 40,000 displaced persons, for example, they only manage to deliver two-thirds of the resources deemed essential.

This week on VICE on HBO, Ben Anderson visited the camp as well as rebel-controlled areas of the Central African Republic to report on the unfolding disaster. Watch the full episode on HBO Now.

(Jackson Fager for VICE News)

A U.N. peacekeeper watches from his base overlooking a congested displaced persons camp that houses 40,000 people in Bria, CAR, in Feb. 2018. Many of the residents’ homes are just three kilometers away, but they’re too afraid to return. “Some men disappeared when they went to buy things there,” one woman said. “They are are still missing today.” (Jackson Fager for VICE News)

(Jackson Fager for VICE News)

Some of the 40,000 displaced persons gather in the camp in Bria, CAR, to collect water distributed by Oxfam and other aid groups in Feb. 2018.

(Jackson Fager for VICE News)

Beef used to account for 15% of the Central African Republic’s GDP. Today, taxing cattle herders, or stealing their herds altogether, has become one of the major resources that the various rebel groups fight over. Some even describe the conflict as “The Cattle War.” “We lost around 5,000 cows in 2017,” said Djobia, the cattle herder in Bangui. “All the sellers here went bankrupt.”

(Jackson Fager for VICE News)

Fighters from the Popular Front for the Rebirth of the Central African Republic (FPRC) head out on a three-week-long patrol in Bria, CAR, in Feb. 2018. Mostly made up from the country’s Muslim minority, the group is one of the most powerful rebel factions in the country.

(Jackson Fager for VICE News)

Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army captured Didier Kire, above, when he was just 10 years old. Then, the FPRC captured him after clashes with Kony’s army last year. But rather than release him, the FPRC made Kire fight for them. Since 2012, over 13,000 children have been recruited to fight in the Central African Republic. “They say we have to win the fighting and kill a lot of enemies,” Kire said in Bria, CAR, in Feb. 2018. “Whoever refuses to fight is killed.”

(Jackson Fager for VICE News)

Teenagers search for diamonds in Feb. 2018 in an area in Bria, CAR, recently captured by rebels from the another rebel faction, the FPRC. In a mine roughly 25 feet deep and wide, they said they’ll be lucky to find three small diamonds to hand over to their boss. Asked why they aren’t in school, they said that there are no schools in the area, which rebels have occupied for more than half a decade.

(Jackson Fager for VICE News)

A rebel from the anti-Balaka forces, a largely Christian faction, poses for a picture during a meeting with a rival rebel group who had just beaten them in battle in Bria, CAR, in Feb. 2018.

(Jackson Fager for VICE News)

VICE’s Ben Anderson looks on during a routine and limited United Nations’ patrol through Bria, CAR, in Feb. 2018. The peacekeepers have been criticized for not doing enough when violence regularly flares up there.

(Jackson Fager for VICE News)

More anti-Balaka forces stand by as their general meets with a general from rival group, the FPRC, who just conquered the area in Bria, CAR, in Feb. 2018.

Cover image: New recruits carry out basic training in Bangui, CAR, in Feb. 2018. Central African Armed Forces (FACA) are being funded and trained by a European Union mission. Only three battalions are currently operational, nowhere near enough to secure the country. (Jackson Fager for VICE News)