9 Jan 2014

CAR: religious violence makes housemates of the archbishop and the imam

Heard the one about the Catholic archbishop and the imam who decided to move in together?

Well, where to start? Anywhere else on our planet it really would be the beginning of a (bad) joke. Here in the Central African Republic you just get the bad bit, but it’s no joke.

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Unlikely housemates, Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and Imam Oumar Layama, respectively leaders of the Catholic and Muslim faiths in a country where Christians are an 80 per cent majority, Muslims 20 per cent.

The archbishop large, big smiles in his long black robes, all big gestures, expansive and warm.

The imam, small, going-on wiry, collar and tie but topping off with the white embroidered skullcap of differing cut, style and tradition.

And why are they living together? Because the imam (like several thousand Christians camp out in the grounds) is a refugee. Moving in with the archbishop is the best option.

Living, breathing, practical religious reconciliation in action? Or just a sign of how desperate things have become here?

I really do not know.

“This country, the Central African Republic, well it used to be like Switzerland,” beams the archbishop in gently flowing French. This, one does not hear every day.

“I went to a school with Muslim boys. We played football together. Now we live together, we shop together, we eat roast lamb at Christmas together!”

Well, they used to. He clings perhaps to an image and reality indeed, rather bygone in today’s Central African Republic of ghost-villages, pillaged bazaars and refugee camps up to and including his own compound.

These men refer to each other as brothers and plead for a reconciliation that does not exist. Will it fall on unhearing ears in a city tearing itself apart in latent religious hatred?

Up the hill from the wide and lazily flowing Ubongi River, a tributary or the vast Congo River, you look south across the water to the Congolese rainforest.

On this northern bank stands the imposing fortified compound that is the presidential residence. Sans president.

He waved at the steps of the plane yesterday, leaving the country for the first time since the attempted coup of 5 Dec let slip the current bloodshed.

Is he coming back? Everyone wonders and fully expects a resignation soon. Should that take place, the imam and archbishop currently shacked up together will be, say many, the only barrier to this place descending into Rwandan levels of slaughter.

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