Aid worker diary: Social cohesion ruptures in Boda
When aid workers arrived in Boda, a remote town in the Central African Republic’s (CAR) Lobaye Province, they found a community both literally and figuratively divided. OCHA’s Laura Fultang writes about the work of her colleagues to provide aid to people who have been displaced by the violence committed by ex-Seleka and Anti-Balaka militias.
She also writes about efforts to rebuild the trust that had existed between these communities for years before it was shattered by violence and persistent fear.
‘Boda la Belle’ – beautiful Boda. This is the sign that greeted us as we arrived in Boda, a small town in south-west CAR. The sign was surrounded by destroyed buildings. The sight was even worse when we reached the main market in the centre of the town. All that was left was the charred remains of stalls.
There is a lot of anger in Boda. The town has been literally split in two. The Muslim and Christian communities live as far apart as possible, separated by a small bridge. The security situation remains volatile with sporadic killings and lootings. The entire population lives in constant fear for their lives.
“Get us out of here. We want to leave”
On 13 March, we met with members of the Muslim community. The meeting was chaired by the Mayor of Boda, Awal Adamou. He explained that the lives of his community are at risk.
Mayor Adamou explained that in the past Boda’s Muslims and Christians lived peacefully alongside each other. Inter-religious marriages were common. But today, more than 14,500 people are confined to a space the size of three football pitches. Fear of attacks prevents them from leaving the enclave, meaning that they cannot farm, and that no one was there to prevent anti-Balaka from killing their livestock.
Not everyone is resigned to the division that now exists between the two communities. Fifty-three year old Ousman Abdourahamane told us that he believes reconciliation is possible, but only through dialogue. “We need to create a mixed committee composed of Muslims and Christians to promote peace and social cohesion,” he said.
“We want them to leave so we can rebuild our lives”
There are also about 40,000 Christians in Boda who have been displaced by the violence. Most live in the bush that surrounds the town or at one of five displacement sites.
We met with some of them who are now living in the grounds of the town’s Catholic Mission. We met with the Priest and with one of the community leaders. ”The majority is still very angry about the attacks they experienced when the ex-Seleka were in charge,” the leader told us.
One of the nuns at the mission put it bluntly. “The women told me that they cannot forgive those who burnt their homes,” she said. “Immediate reconciliation will be very difficult.”
However, some of the people at the Mission told us privately that they want their Muslim neighbours to stay. They pointed out that the two communities had lived in peace for many years, and that Christian families and business owners depended on Muslim farmers and herders.
A dire humanitarian situation
We saw deep divisions in Boda, and we saw some seeds of reconciliation. But we also saw a dire humanitarian situation. We found severe needs in terms of health and education, water, sanitation and hygiene, food and, quite obviously, protection. The Boda hospital has been looted and has no staff. Both communities are beset by malaria, anemia, and skin diseases, not to mention frequent bullet and machete wounds.
Latrines are insufficient and in urgent need of repair. At the Catholic Mission there are only four latrines serving more than 9,000 people. No schools are open. The French troops told us that without the daily distraction and stimulation of school, the town’s adolescents are easy recruitment targets for the armed groups.
Leaving Boda, it was clear that it will take some time before the communities can begin to reconcile. But they can be brought together again. The challenge for us is to support them to do this.