This is the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. A constant message we hear from the nations is one of apology for not intervening and stopping the horrors there before they turned into genocide. A similar horror is taking place in the Central African Republic that demands the world’s attention before an apology will be necessary there as well. The whole world knows about the missing Malaysian airplane with 239 passengers and crew. Forty-four million dollars have already been spent on the search. There are thousands missing in CAR, and it barely makes the news.
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, wrote the following article last week in in Time Magazine. He recently traveled to the CAR on behalf of the U.S. State Department, along with a Roman Catholic Cardinal and the President of the Islamic Society of North America. The trio was chosen because the religious make-up of CAR is 52 percent evangelicals, 29 percent Catholics and 15 percent Muslims. The following are his comments:
It’s not easy to explain what’s been happening. And, not everyone agrees to any explanation. The best chronology begins with a corrupt and failed central government that has been accused of injustice and incompetence. A rebel group called Seleka swept across the country with brutality and established a new government with a new president. The new president didn’t last long. An anti-balaka militia organized [itself] for protection and retaliation against the Seleka and have been accused of further brutality. A transitional government has been established, but it is poor, weak and often overwhelmed.
We heard stories that break your heart. Thousands killed, often with machetes; widespread rape, destruction of homes, shops and villages. There were 36 mosques in Bangui; now there are seven. One man told us that 13 of his brothers were burned to death the same day. Another told about a hand grenade thrown into a group of people while they prayed. The National Highway was closed by all the unrest, so trucks and supplies can’t access the country. Villagers have fled into the bush out of fear; their villages are empty, and no crops are being planted. One million people have fled the country or are internally displaced. There is a refugee camp at the little airport that swelled to 100,000.
Seeds for planting are not available; some will be imported from Cameroon, but they are also in short supply and giving priority to their own farmers saying that any surplus will be sold to CAR. There is threat of wide-scale famine. Before all this CAR was one of the poorest nations in the world with people living on less that $2 per day. Current shortages are inflating food prices. In Bangui, the capital of CAR, chickens are selling for $12 each. (To make a comparison: If you earn $50,000 a year in the United States, it would cost you over $800 to buy one chicken for your family.)
Some say that this is a religious battle between Christians and Muslims. It is a common assertion in our western press. I can see why they say this, since there are similar lines politically, demographically and religiously. However, the leaders we talked to in CAR insist this is not a religious war. To the contrary, the religious leaders are the loudest most courageous voices against the violence and the strongest promoters of peace.
As we sat in the ambassador’s residence, one of the militia representatives said that the people of CAR have not made God the priority. He said that most important in the Central African Republic is for the people of the nation to turn their hearts and actions to God. His prayer was that human tragedy would turn into spiritual renewal.
I am deeply disturbed by the hypocrisy of our own culture to racism. We can take such swift action against the offensive comments of an NBA team owner made in private, while we show little to no concern for Africans starving, suffering, and being slaughtered in CAR. Wouldn’t it be amazing if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took that 2.5 million he is fining Donald Sterling, added several million more from any other owner or player in the NBA who ever made a racist comment in private, and then sent it to help our brothers and sisters in CAR? That would be an incredible statement! Back to reality- let us pray for CAR, financially help the aid organizations working there, enlighten our elected representatives, and do whatever we can to keep this tragedy on the world stage.