3:38pm

Fri April 5, 2013
Africa

In Post-Coup Central African Republic, Instability Remains

Originally published on Fri April 5, 2013 5:04 pm

Tumult defines the Central African Republic. The landlocked nation in the heart of Africa is rich in natural resources such as diamonds, gold and uranium, but it remains one of the world's poorest countries. It has suffered from decades of misrule and coups.

The latest uprising occurred last month, when a rebel alliance seized control of the country and ousted the president. What followed were days of violence and looting, leaving the country in shambles: gas stations without pumps, hospitals without equipment, the university without computers.

During the first commercial flight into the capital, Bangui, since rebels overthrew the president and seized control on March 24, the small, propeller-driven plane dove through the cloud cover. An orange morning sun shone over the brown water of the Ubangi, a gigantic river that meanders through miles of dark green forestland.

Daniel Konamyeran, a pastor, was on the flight Monday, after being stuck in neighboring Chad for a week. He said the coup was no surprise to him.

"We could hear every day in the news that they took town after town. When they finally took the key post Tagbara and then Boali, it was obvious that they would march into Bangui soon," Konamyeran said. "No, it was no surprise to us."

Heavily armed French soldiers protect the airport. Behind their wooden barricades and barbed wire fences begins the empire of the new rulers, the former Seleka rebels: young men wearing red berets and trendy sunglasses; a Kalashnikov rifle always at hand.

A taxi drives into traffic and navigates streets again crowded with people. Still, there are curfews after dusk and before dawn. On the way into the capital, the taxi passes the indoor sports stadium where Central Africa's most prominent tyrant, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, crowned himself emperor in 1977 in a lavish ceremony attended by tens of thousands of impoverished people.

Behind the stadium are several small, dirty, yellow concrete buildings: the University of Bangui. In the violence that followed last month's coup, the university was stripped of computers. Gas stations along the road lost their pumps and oil. Hotels, private homes, the presidential palace, U.N. offices and Bangui's two most important hospitals were pillaged.

Kadidja Mamath, 19, who sells hot porridge made of rice, sugar and milk on the roadside, says she's fed up. "The only thing we want is peace. But there are only problems in Central African Republic," Mamath says. "We don't want coups anymore. We have suffered enough. Coup d'etats, coup d'etats. We want to elect our own president who protects us."

The new leadership, protected by hundreds of rebel fighters, moved to the best hotel in town, the Ledger Plaza Bangui. In front of the grand building, young men sign up for the new army.

Inside the cool lobby, the rebels' spokesman, Col. Ajouma-Christian Narkoyo, has time for an interview. Narkoyo once worked for former President Ange-Felix Patasse. Behind Narkoyo, state officials in fine suits bustle around.

"Our new position in Bangui makes me very happy, Mr. Journalist," Narkoyo says. "I'm telling you this as someone who was part of the presidential security of former President Patasse. We saw what happened back then in March 2003 when Bozize took over this city. After one week, the city was empty. I can guarantee you that no vehicle has left the city after we took over."

Patasse was overthrown 10 years ago by Gen. Francois Bozize. Bozize was himself ousted in last month's coup and fled to neighboring Cameroon.

Rebel leader Michel Djotodia has declared himself CAR's new president and suspended the national assembly and the constitution. On Thursday, he said he would speed the transition to democracy. But it's unclear that this landlocked nation's future is going to be any more stable than its past, says Amy Martin, who is the local representative for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"They're not showing any vision. They're not communicating a plan to invest in the country, to invest in the people, to expand education, to expand social basic services to the countryside," Martin says. "The structure of the government, the ministers, it's the same pool of people they're drawing from."

African heads of state refuse to recognize Djotodia as the country's legitimate leader. And the African Union has suspended the former French colony's membership. The United States condemned the overthrow and warned that the country risks further international isolation if it doesn't move quickly toward free and open presidential elections.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We go now to turmoil in the Central African Republic. It's a landlocked nation in the heart of Africa. Though rich in natural resources, including diamonds, gold and uranium, CAR remains one of the world's poorest countries. It's suffered from decades of misrule and multiple coups. The latest uprising occurred just last month when rebels seized control of the country and ousted the president. Days of violence and looting followed.

Reporter Benno Muchler flew into the capital Bangui after the airport reopened and sent this report.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Republique of Central Afrique.

BENNO MUCHLER, BYLINE: The small propeller-driven plane dives through the cloud cover and orange morning sun shines over the brown water of the Ubangi, the gigantic river that meanders through miles of dark green forestland. This was the first commercial flight into the capital Bangui since rebels overthrew the president and seized control on March 24. Pastor Daniel Konamyeran was on the Monday flight after having been stuck in neighboring Chad for one week. He said the coup was no surprise to him.

DANIEL KONAMYERAN: (Through translator) We could hear every day on the news that they took town after town. When they finally took the key post Tagbara and then Boali, it was obvious that they would march into Bangui soon. No, it was no surprise to us.

MUCHLER: Heavily armed French soldiers protect the airport. Behind their wooden barricades and barbed wire fences begins the empire of the new rulers, the Seleka rebels: young men wearing red berets and trendy sunglasses; a Kalashnikov rifle always at hand.

A taxi drives into traffic and navigates streets again crowded with people. Still, there are curfews after dusk and before dawn. In the violence that followed last month's coup, the university was stripped of computers. Gas stations along the road lost their pumps and oil. Hotels, private homes, the presidential palace, U.N. offices and Bangui's two most important hospitals were pillaged.

Nineteen-year-old Kadidja Mamath sells hot porridge made of rice, sugar and milk on the roadside. She says she's fed up.

KADIDJA MAMATH: (Through translator) The only thing we want is peace. But there are only problems in Central African Republic. We don't want coups anymore. We suffered enough. Coup d'etats, coup d'etats. We want to elect our own president who protects us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

MUCHLER: The new leadership, protected by hundreds of rebel fighters, moved to the best hotel in town, the Ledger Plaza Bangui. In front of the grand building, young men sign up for the new army. Inside the cool lobby, the rebels' spokesman, Colonel Ajouma-Christian Narkoyo, has time for an interview. Narkoyo used to worked for former President Ange-Felix Patasse. Behind Narkoyo, state officials in fine suits bustle around.

AJOUMA-CHRISTIAN NARKOYO: (Through translator) Our new position in Bangui makes me very happy, Mr. Journalist. I'm telling you this as someone who was part of the presidential security of former President Patasse. We saw what happened back then in March 2003 when Bozize took over this city. After one week, the city was empty. I can guarantee you that no vehicle has left the city after we took over.

MUCHLER: President Bozize was himself ousted in last month's coup and fled to neighboring Cameroon. Rebel leader Michel Djotodia has declared himself Central African Republic's new president. He suspended the national assembly and the constitution. On Thursday, he said he would speed the transition to democracy.

But it's unclear that this landlocked nation's future is going to be any more stable than its past. Amy Martin is the local representative for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

AMY MARTIN: They're not showing any vision. They're not communicating a plan to invest in the country, to invest in the people, to expand education, to expand basic social services to the countryside. You know, the structure of the government, the ministers, it's the same pool of people they're drawing from.

MUCHLER: It appears the international community in general is having a hard time trusting the new regime. African heads of state refuse to recognize Djotodia as the country's legitimate leader. And the African Union has suspended the former French colony's membership. The United States condemned the overthrow and warned that the country risks further international isolation if it doesn't move quickly toward free and open presidential elections.

For NPR News, I'm Benno Muchler.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.