Looking For Diamonds In War-Torn Central Africa
Amid civil unrest, the Central African Republic's diamond trade is failing to help the national economy or its people
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.
The ensuing civil war that pitted Muslim and Christian armed forces against each other across the country spiralled 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.
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 norChristians talked about religion. Instead, people vented their frustration with inequalities, poverty and a feeling that they do not have control over their own destiny.
"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."
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 neighbouring 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.
For more on CAR's ongoing civil unrest and its struggles with its mineral watch the Vice News documentary United in Hate