Today the Central African Republic is a radiantly beautiful valley of tears, strangely filled with cries of joy and festive drumming. The omnipresence of death, constantly followed by a cycle of yet more violence, does not deprive people here of their serenity or hope. The secret of these people's resilience may lie in the childlike spirit that characterises the Bantu. I am convinced that the soul of the Central African Republic has the same lively and impetuous joie de vivre as the evergreen equatorial forest. She resembles a plagued mother with small children: On her back she carries her baby firmly tied in a scarf and she holds two more children by their hands. Untiringly she moves, without being disturbed by her heavy burden – rather, she is exhilarated by the need to protect and care for her offspring. In the same way, all the heavy, tragic burdens can’t prevent the people of the Central African Republic from celebrating life.
The Central African Republic can be a paradox, as shown by events on 1 May, 2018 in the capital Bangui. The sky was azure blue, the rainy season had created a green cloak of plants and trees, giving the place a happy, sublime appearance once again. But only a few hours later a terrible drama was to take place: Rebels attacked the packed Catholic church of Notre-Dame of Fatima in Bangui. The contrast was terrible: the splendour of nature and the ugliness of events, the harmony of flowers and trees and the belligerence of mankind.
Too many dramas have taken place here, before the eyes of men, women, old people and children. Villages were set on fire, settlements attacked, old people, pregnant women, children, people burned, dismembered and in some cases eaten. Fire, blood, death, death and death again!
Alphonse is ruined. His business, which he had painstakingly built up, had been going increasingly worse since the 1990s, even to the point of complete bankruptcy. The plunderers came with every uprising. Today he lives in poverty. Pierrette was raped, her daughters as well. Little Jean hid under the bed. He escaped with his life, but had to watch his parents and his little sister, who was still an infant, being killed and dismembered with knives. Baani of the Fulben people will never see his big brother and father again. They were out with the grazing zebus when their murderers came: All the people and animals died. Little Amina and her brothers are orphans. On their way back from the market their parents were caught by an angry crowd that sought vengeance for sectarian violence, who tied them to tires and burned them. Djibril knows only the red soil of the Sudanese quarter: He was born here. His parents and grandparents had already lived here. All of a sudden it is said that he is a foreigner and should leave – only where should he go?
The soil of the Central African Republic is soaked with innocent blood, the water of some wells is undrinkable because corpses float in them. How can the traumas of this immense tragedy be overcome in the country that was the dream of Barthélemy Boganda, the first Prime Minister of the Central African Republic? How can we escape the dictates of hatred, violence and retribution? To which saints does one consecrate one's life in order to escape the hopelessness spread by the everyday barbarism? Or does the resilience of people of the Central African Republic actually enable the vicious spiral of violence of fateful events?
In fact, it is amazing how quickly and easily people can free themselves from the suffering and deep grief caused by a painful past. The fateful date of December 5, 2013, when the paramilitary anti-Balaka groups took on the Séléka militias and the killing almost reached the level of a genocide, barely causes a shudder today – pathological forgetting or a healing attitude?
Certainly, one explanation for the people’s curiously detached mentality lies in their cathartic humour. The Central African is someone who, for example when he is homeless and forced to live in a camp, jokingly calls it his "Ledger," referring to Hotel Ledger, the only five-star hotel in the country and is considered a "little paradise." And when the helicopters of the UN troops rise above the heads of the people and announce deadly conflicts, the Central African gives them the mocking name of "mama èna" (mother narrator), which is usually given to people who are particularly prone to spreading tales and gossip. The Central African is someone who spontaneously conceals his cravings for revenge and ridicule amid the lines of folk songs, who reports dramas as if they were minor news headlines, and thus takes the edge off them.
A kind of "sensus religiosus," a sense of religion, is key to the soul of the Central African. The word "religion" here also stands for historical religions. They lend him an indestructible life force; they create a space for peace and hope and such an urgent desire for life that he overcomes all evil. This foundation of unshakable hope gives my people the vitality that the Cameroonian philosopher Fabien Eboussi Boulaga calls "Muntu." The Central African is a celebration of the power of life, overcoming the valley of tears. He is a heart, the heart of Africa, "Bè Africa", which beats inexorably, driven by inexhaustible life.
Translated from French by Andreas Jandl