, 25 February, 2020 / 2:46 AM
A year after the signing of a peace agreement between the Central African Republic (CAR) government and 14 non-state armed groups, a Cardinal who has been instrumental in the peace process in the landlocked nation says the truce has been largely kept and the violence has significantly dropped.
“The violence has dropped dramatically, and the peace agreement was instrumental in this,” the Archbishop of Bangui Dieudonné Cardinal Nzapalainga has said in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International.
In the February 20 interview, the Cardinal noted, “Before the agreement, violence and attacks were laying waste to the country, but since it was signed, it seems as though the people have internalized that peace is their mutual goal. Troubled areas still exist, of course, but not as many as before. We now have to increase our efforts to end the violence completely.”
The 21-page agreement dubbed “Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic” was signed on February 6, 2019 in CAR’s capital, Bangui following 10 days (January 24 – February 5) of peace talks in Khartoum, Sudan under the auspices of the African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in CAR, led by the African Union (AU).
The accord brokered with the support of the United Nations aimed “to promote dialogue between the Government and armed groups, with a view to reaching a comprehensive consensual agreement to put a definitive end to the crisis.”
In the interview conducted by ACN International’s Amélie de la Hougue, the 52-year-old Cardinal confirmed that his efforts to transverse the Central African country preaching peace to people of various denominations have borne fruit, as he has seen change in people’s behaviour, who are now embracing peace in the place of conflict.
“I have just returned from a trip that took me through the north-western parts of the country,” Cardinal Nzapalainga told ACN International and continued, “During this trip young people said to me, ‘We understand now and are ready for peace.’ I believe that this by itself can be considered a victory and I am very pleased to hear young people saying this.”
The Prelate added, “It is our duty to ensure that tensions are lessened, to act as an intermediary between people and to work on disarming hearts and minds so that the people can live together in fellowship.”
On what is needed to foster peace in the few troubled areas that exist, the member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) is of the opinion that Central Africans remain tireless in their efforts because “the breeding grounds of violence are still there, as are the enemies of peace.”
“The enemies of peace, they are the ones who illegally occupy the homes of those who have left; they are the ones who believe that others should stay away and that they are the new occupants,” the Spiritan Prelate said and appealed, “In the name of justice, we are asking these people to return the houses to their true owners, because it is their rightful property.”
On the upcoming December 2020 presidential elections, the Archbishop of Bangui said, “You can feel the tensions and see the verbal battles … In this context, our role is primarily to emphasize that politics is not a platform for killing, but for development.”
Cardinal Nzapalainga added, “On the other hand, I see that the general public is waiting for reconciliation and justice, in the hope that it won’t be said afterwards that the most powerful had won again. To ensure that people are not left alone with their desire for revenge, reparation must be made and the laws must apply to all and be enforced for all.”
On how the Church in CAR is doing after marking her 125th anniversary, the Cardinal said in reference to Christians,” I saw how they kept their faith even as the crisis reached its peak and continued to go to Church. That shows an immense stability and firmness of faith.”
“I visited Bilao last year. They haven’t seen a priest for more than ten years, but despite everything, the Christians are still there and have remained loyal to their faith,” Cardinal Nzapalainga told ACN International.
“But when you see the corruption and the cronyism practiced by intellectuals and prominent persons, one does at times ask oneself what happened to the Gospel,” the Church leader shared and probed, “Has it been transformed into something purely cosmetic, even though it should be our foundation?”
The 4.7 million populated country has been in a political crisis since March 2013 when Muslim Seleka rebels seized the country’s capital and staged a coup, a move that was countered by Christian anti-balaka militias.
The back and forth revenge attacks between the two religion-aligned groups backed by other militias introduced a religious angle that was previously absent in the crisis.
In April 2014, the UN Security Council established a peacekeeping force dubbed United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Its tenure to protect civilians and disarm militia groups is expected to end on November 15, 2020.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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