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The data on the Central African Republic can be daunting. The country ranks dead last on the U.N.’s most recent Human Development Index, which assesses well-being by compiling data on health, income and education levels. Fourteen different militia groups have carved up the countryside and periodically plunder each other’s territory for access to diamonds, gold and other resources. 

via Wikimedia Commons

To make matters worse, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and rebel groups from neighboring like Chad have made a home in C.A.R. Meanwhile religious tensions remain high after a bloody 2012-2014 civil war pitted the mainly Muslim Seleka coalition against an alliance of Christian groups known as the anti-Balaka alliance. The central government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra exerts little authority outside the capital Bangui. About 700,000 of the country’s 4.5 million people have been internally displaced and another 570,000 have fled to other countries. 

Despite the challenges, Erick Ngaba, 29, remains optimistic about his country’s future. Once a reporter for the Bangui newspaper Le Confident and and for C.A.R.’s Radio Ndeke Luka, Ngaba now runs his own news site, Ndjoni Sango, which translates to “good news.”

Erick Ngaba (courtesy)

He spoke with Global Journalist’s Kris Croonen just days after clashes between two militias killed nine people in a camp for internal refugees in the eastern town of Bria.

Below, an edited translation of their interview in French:

Global Journalist: How would you describe the current situation in your country?

Ngaba: In the eastern part of the country, nine civilians were killed [Sept. 7] in a refugee camp. But generally speaking, the situation is rather calm for the moment in our country. A panel from the African Union is trying hard to establish a political dialogue between the government and the rebel groups. At the same time, Russian mediators are also holding talks with members of parliament and civil society, which must lead to a final peace process. 

GJ: How would you describe the state of mind of ordinary people in C.A.R. after years of conflict?

Ngaba: People are trying to forget what happened in the past. They are really striving for peace and justice, so that they can go on with their lives. The mindset of the people is changing though. They are increasingly aware of the negative [long-term] impact this whole conflict has created. Our country needs four things: peace, safety, justice and of course an economic boost. 

GJ: The conflict is often portrayed as a clash between religions, because the former Seleka militas are mainly Muslim and the anti-Balaka are Christian. Is this a war of religions?

Ngaba: No, certainly not. It is a military and a political conflict. Religious people reject he idea that it has a religious basis. The real roots of this conflict are bad governance, poverty and social injustice. Some people are trying to give it a religious connotation…they try to set one community against the other. But in fact it is not. Christians and Muslims [in C.A.R.] have always lived together in harmony.

A makeshift camp outside Bria, Central African Republic, pictured in May 2017. Fighting between armed groups forced much of the population from their homes. (AP Photo/Cassandra Vinograd)

GJ: What do you see as a solution for the conflict?

Ngaba: A solution lies in the combination of disarmament of the 14 armed rebel groups, justice and good government. The national army should be deployed all over the country, and especially at the borders. We had elections [in 2016], a president has been elected and a government has been installed. The population has given them a mandate. Now it’s up to them to create a fair political system.

GJ: Recently, four regions of the country have been allowed to again legally sell diamonds on the international market through the Kimberley Process. What does this mean for C.A.R.?

Ngaba: Re-integration in the Kimberly Process is really a boon for the population. The exploitation of these precious stones gives our economy an enormous boost. In many regions of our country, the diamond industry is the No. 1 employer. In the past two years,  when we were allowed to again begin trading diamonds legally, our economy has grown rapidly.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera, in St. Petersburg, Russia, May 23, 2018. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, via AP)

GJ: What is Russia’s role in the C.A.R.?

Ngaba: An agreement has been signed between the defense ministers of both the Central African Republic and Russia. Russia will provide weapons to our army, because it has almost no military equipment. Russia will fight alongside the Central African Armed Forces. The signing of this agreement marks the return of Russia to a bilateral relationship that existed back in the 1960s. Just recently, Russia gave arms and military supplies to the army to help it guarantee the safety of President Touadéra.

GJ: Are you optimistic about the future?

Ngaba: To be honest, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel. There is still so much to do. But we live on hope. Our country will bounce back. But it will be only  by small steps. 

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