8 Jan 2014

Ominous signs in Central African Republic

Call it good planning or an ominous sign but teams of labourers are sawing and nailing and mixing concrete by hand for the footings of a new 7,000 square metre field hospital at the 100,000 people shack city – aka Bangui International Airport.

It’s another frontline Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) project. Childbirth and emergency tents will come on stream in days they say.

They can’t come soon enough, as this camp is increasing in size every day. It’s on both sides of the runway now. French paras in jeeps and the airport fire engine scare hundreds of people off the runway, even as 1,000m away, a vast Ilyushin transport jet is accelerating towards them.

So what do people here know that keeps them coming to pitch tents and build shacks in the filth, wood smoke-fog, filth and incessant noise of 100,000 people?

Fear. Fear, where the Red Cross says eight were killed in Bangui in the past 24 hours.

Still they come. Vast tracts of bush cleared, flattened and staked out for yet more tents.

More fear. What is it that they know?

Expanding camps

Well there’s the obviousness of seeing the Seleka militia and offshoots coming to their districts and hacking and shooting at people for the crime of being Christian.

But there’s more. Many signs indicate a deteriorating situation – the expanding camps for displaced terrified people is just one of them.

There are 67 such camps across Bangui and 510,000 people too scared to go home, says Unicef.

Also, reliable sources here say that far from being disarmed by the French, the Seleka have re-armed and are keen to use those arms.

As I write, President Michel Djotodia is heading for a meeting. Except he may well be fleeing. He’s on a plane right now where those displaced people are. Packed for more than a political meeting sources say.

He’s failed to control the Muslim Seleka militia; failed to appease Christian fighters either. He’s bailing – or right now that’s how it looks.


Read more: What does the New Year hold for CAR?


So what next? It does not look optimistic with a total power vacuum and 1,000 French paratroopers and legionnaires unable to do much more than protect their camp – also at the overcrowded airport.

Militias loyal to the previous President Francois Bozize are apparently in the vast airport camp armed and waiting, having entered from Cameroon.


There’s a big Seleka base close to the hotel we are in. The French army have not, as far as I’m aware, entered their base, or any such bases, contenting themselves with telling them to keep their arms off the streets.

So 510,000 Banguisois have voted with their feet, crowding 67 sort-of safe areas – those movements say they feel France has not disarmed the machete men (and boys).

That’s half the population of Bangui. Across the nation a million have fled – a quarter of the population.

Waiting too.

My sources here and across the world keep telling me “I could be wrong, but…” and the word “bloodbath” comes. I too, sincerely hope they are wrong.

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