Central African Republic

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This is the story of a country with a strange name that nobody can identify on a map, and which has always existed on the edge of the abyss.

This time it began on a Sunday – 24 March 2013. The Séléka, a predominantly Muslim rebel coalition from the north of the country, took power during a coup d’état. Crimes were committed. In response, Christian anti-balaka militiamen also committed atrocities. Tens of thousands of Muslims fled the capital, Bangui, and the west of the country. The Central African Republic was swallowed up by civil war.

Between 2013 and 2016 I travelled there ten times. I photographed a contemporary war that is a mirror image of other outbursts of violence and humanitarian crises.

The country is not yet sixty years old but it has already experienced five coups. Among the presidents that have been overthrown is Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a megalomaniac tyrant, who, wearing a crown and an ermine-lined cloak, proclaimed himself Emperor in 1977 in a ceremony that burned 20% of the country’s annual budget.

Before it achieved independence, the Central African Republic, then called Ubangi-Shari, represented the scrapheap for France’s colonial administrators. It was a place where some companies used forced labour to exploit the country’s natural resources.

For the CAR is rich: with its fertile soil, minerals and forests, it should provide its population with a decent quality of life. But that is not the case. Poor management by a phantom administration, corruption, an endless series of crises, and pillage have condemned this black hole on the map to be the world’s poorest nation but one.

Armed militia sustain a permanent atmosphere of insecurity, justice is totally absent, and the country’s youth – without employment – provide an inexhaustible reserve of cannon fodder.

This is the story of a country living on borrowed time.