Search This Blog

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bangui: A Bad Case

‘Run, run gunshots’, could have been the appropriate start to this post, but I am blogging tonight from the terrace of ‘Smile’ one of Yaoundé’s popular pubs, watching my countrymen sip away at their drinks in peace, a word we have come to take for granted so I’ll start differently.
 I can’t help but relive the vivid incidents of the last 5 hours in Bangui. I just landed at the NSIA, with about forty relieved ‘refugees’ fleeing the conflict tearing down our doomed neighbours in the Central African Republic. The forty claim to be Cameroonians returning to safety. (The debate over their identity could be discussed in subsequent posts, but tonight I want to share this evening’s experience in Bangui).
The MA 60 of the Cameroon Air Force on the last of its four airlifts of this Thursday December 19 (to rescue the about four thousand Cameroonian residents in CAR) had 6 journalists on board including me. Today Brigadier General Martin Tumenta, took over control of the International Support Mission to Central Africa, an African-led force abbreviated MISCA.
We landed at the Bangui-Mpoko airport at about 5 PM, and were immediately rushed to the Mpoko military base for a quick debrief on the contribution of Cameroon to international efforts to stabilize CAR.
Bam, bam, bam!
A spate of gunshots stopped our already fifteen minute discussion. To our greatest surprise they sounded really close. ‘We are just a few streets from the airport’ I said to myself, and we are in a military base, nearest the two most guarded places in Bangui after the Presidency I

 Moments later, two jeeps of the Chadian army sped into the base, with bloodied soldiers strewn at the back, trousers, skin and probably bones ripped by enemy bullets.

The Arab Schwa they spoke suggested Anti-Balaka’s (the pro-Christian militia group) had attacked them. The angry skinny, young looking and blood-thirsty Chadians wanted immediate retaliation. Their commanding officer had trouble calming them down.
The injured kept arriving and the number quickly swelled to eight, as more gunshots rang a few blocks away.
Occasionally the curious journalists, unaccustomed to war that we were had to scramble to safety, as the gunshots drew nearer and the fighting seemed to be taking place at the entrance to the base. French troops also headquartered in the same base ducked as they ran towards the hotspot.
We had been in Bangui less than an hour, but had had a graphic sense of how bad the security situation had become.
A Chadian Colonel told a Cameroonian soldier “this attack is certainly the outcome of hate reports in the local media”. Chadians like Sudanese have been accused of backing the Islamist agenda of the Seleka rebels who seized power this year in the CAR.
Moments later the impatient Chadian soldiers anxious to exact vengeance, shouted accusations at the French for being the cause of the conflicts on the continent.
Our mini-bus driver said “it is too dangerous to go out there” when asked to drive us back to the airport. Finally after feeling trapped in the base for about thirty minutes which felt like thirty hours, a team of Cameroonian soldiers convoyed us back to the runway through a detour.
We crossed French soldiers patrolling cautiously in armoured vehicles, as we had learnt in our quick crash course of ‘Bangui in crisis’, nightfall brings with it the most dangerous hours of the day. And the rebels have dropped their uniforms, to blend into the civilian population in a more elusive guerrilla warfare approach.
Clearly Bangui today is a Wild Wild West, with the rest of the country being even more uncontrollable as neighbouring states, Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, and DR Congo scramble to protect their borders.

 This night promises, almost certainly to be another bloody one, should the Chadians have their way.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a million for sharing Mutta. Hope this sort of crisis does not spread to Camer and glad to see that the Cameroonian government is doing something to protect its own citizens trapped abroad.