4 Dec 2013

‘We need the world to act’ – a cry for help from the Central African Republic

The map certainly says there is an airport at Bouar.

But this is the Central African Republic (CAR), and it is only as our small plane noses down to the steamy equatorial mist to the dirt airstrip, we see the airport. It is a small tin shack, there is a man outside in a high-vis vest, standing next to a fire extinguisher; the airport fire brigade.

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad

As soon as we land, a distant roar and puffs of black exhaust fumes, announce the arrival of Fomac – the puny African peace-keeping force. Jovial soldiers from Chad and Gabon fan out taking defensive positions, staring out into the dense bush surrounding the lonely airstrip.

One tells me: “It is every day. Every day, sir. Every day we are seeing engagements with the Seleka gunmen (below).”


So I’m glad they’ve turned up to meet us. So too, the Red Cross plane, which arrives shortly with a pathetic payload of women and children injured in recent fighting.

Patched up in the capital Bangui, they’re flown back to what passes for a hospital way out in the bush, here in Bouar.

Casualties of war

Three-year-old Petennu Kombo clings, unsmiling, to his father, Maturia. He’s been shot, the bullet enters his buttock, exited through his tiny thigh. Maturia carefully explains how his wife and three other children, were shot, beaten or hacked to death, by the Seleka militia.

In the bed next door, Lesley Cesir, who’s six-year-old, is hungry – a good sign – but there are no smiles either as she wolfs down her small plate of red bean stew.  No smiles, because she too is traumatised and having difficulty eating at the moment, because her right arm has been shot off.

There is one doctor here, for 50,000 patients. Doctor Wilifred Komoyo is forced to treat everyone, including the Seleka rebels who have so terribly injured little Petennu and Lesley.

The last time he patched up Seleka gunmen, they left the hospital discharging themselves, but only after looting the few precious mattresses this place has.

‘We need the world to do something’

Dr Komoyo pleads: “We need the world to act. We need the world to do something. These people need security or this will just continue and get worse.”

Ten miles out of town we bounced along the dirt road, passing ghost village after ghost village.

At Vakap, the village chief Babenga Fidele described how the Seleka came in, looted, burned houses, shot and sexually abused his villagers. The gaunt, burnt out mudbrick huts are becoming the latter day symbol of CAR. There will be more.

Just yesterday, 15 civilians were killed on the road to Bouar to the capital. It seems prudent today, to fly here.

British charities such as Save the Children endorse what Doctor Komoyo says; this country desperately needs security. The very men – the Seleka – who trashed, raped, shot and chopped their own people are strutting around the streets of Bouka, large as life, close to where I’m writing this. Which is why aid groups say we have a chance to stop this lush and potentially rich country becoming another African disaster.

The UN speaks of impending genocide here – only rapid intervention and a proper, robust, international peacekeeping force, seems to be the way to prevent that.

Read more from Alex in the Central African Republic: Into the heart of Africa

Read more – Central African Republic: ‘suffering beyond imagination’

Follow @alextomo on Twitter

Tweets by @alextomo