14 Jan 2014

CAR: Colonel Bogey and the interim, interim president

It’s not every day in Bangui that you hear the stirring sound of Colonel Bogey or The Great Escape theme belted out by a military band.

Well, OK, the band wasn’t there and the music relayed by speakers – but it meant a suitably surreal atmosphere to an event only this country could produce. Bear with me.

Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, the head of Central African Republic's transitional assembly, arrives at Bangui airport

Several thousand former former fighters had gathered in the blazing heat to meet the interim, interim president. Bear with me, it’s worth it.

These are men loyal to President Bozizé, the man deposed in a coup which brought to power the president who was deposed last week.

Now, the man they’d come to hear is the interim, interim president, because he is here to fill the vacuum until an interim president is appointed to pave the way to elections, peace, love, and nirvana – or that’s the theory. Oh, and then there will be a permanent president.

Anyhow, today the interim, interim man was not exactly talking peace.

“Why haven’t you come in your uniforms?” he shouted. “When times are difficult, you do not run away – you fight.”

He declared that these men will be on the streets within hours here, a new model army suppressing all the militias, the looters, and the robbers.

We shall therefore be asking for a chance to be on the streets with these men. But I have to say, it is unclear who will organise their transport, their uniforms, their command structure, their absolutely anything you can think of.

It is, though, a start on the day we entered the presidential office as Burundian soldiers broke down the front gates and swept the place for security. On the day the boss of customs and excise was back in his shack on the banks of the river that is the frontier with Congo.

“We are starting slowly,” Serge explained. “You see, we only have one patrol boat. Look at it – it’s been broken for three years. I don’t suppose you could buy us a new one, could you?” he asked.

Perhaps that’s the essential spirit of optimism that this country so badly needs. Yet the killings go on by night, but by day there are these tangible signs of a country at least getting back onto its knees after being pole-axed by sectarian brutality.

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