On Saturday morning, 5 April, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon left Prague for an unannounced visit to Bangui in the Central African Republic.
Prior to arriving in Bangui, the Secretary-General and his delegation made a technical stopover in Jerba, Tunisia. While on the ground, he was met at the airport by the United Nations Resident Coordinator and an adviser to the Tunisian President.
On arrival in Bangui at midday, the Secretary-General was greeted by the Head of the Transitional State, Catherine Samba-Panza, and members of the Government.
Before travelling into the capital, the Secretary-General met with representatives of the thousands of displaced people who have been living on the grounds of the airport. Three representatives told him of the horrendous conditions they are living in at the M’poko camp, as the site is known. They said they feared for their safety and that of their families. Their main aim was to go home, but they could not as the security situation in the city does not allow it. One participant highlighted the specific risks that women and girls face at M’Poko and worried about a generation of children who were losing precious schooling time. Also present were the mayors of a number Bangui districts that are represented in the camp.
The Secretary-General told them that he was in the Central African Republic to shine a light on what was happening in the country. He thanked them for sharing their stories and pledged to bring their message out. Mr. Ban promised to do his utmost to garner political will so that a United Nations peacekeeping mission could be approved as soon as possible and that adequate resources be granted to help the country return to a more stable path.
Mr. Ban then travelled to the headquarters compound of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic, known as BINUCA, where he was briefed by his Special Representative in the country, Babacar Gaye, and senior BINUCA staff, on the security, political, humanitarian and socio-economic situation in the country. He had a separate briefing by Bernard Muna, Chairperson of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic.
From there, he visited the compound of Bangui’s main mosque, in the PK5 area. More than 1,500 men, women and children, mostly Muslims, have sought refuge in the mosque’s grounds. The Secretary-General was greeted by Imam Tidjano Moussa Naibi, the community leader of the camp. In an emotional session held on the veranda of one the buildings, the Secretary-General heard harrowing tales of violence that Muslim community members had been subjected to. In speaking to the crowd, the Secretary-General said he was very saddened by what he had heard and acknowledged the dangers they had to face. He reiterated that the human rights of all Central Africans must be protected, regardless of their religion.
From there, the Secretary-General returned to the BINUCA compound for a brief meeting with representatives of civil society.
The next event was a meeting with the Head of State of the Transition, Catherine Samba-Panza, and key Ministers of the Transition. During the meeting, Ms. Samba-Panza laid out the multiple challenges facing the country: most notably on issues of security, poverty and economic development. She stressed the need for her country to receive assistance both in terms of financial resources but also technical help.
On the issue of security and political development, she underscored the need for an inclusive political dialogue but not one that allowed for impunity.
At a brief press encounter with Mme. Samba-Panza, the Secretary-General was asked about the impact of the withdrawal of the Chadian troops which, he said, would create a gap in the military force on the ground. Mr. Ban said he had advised President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad to consult with the African Union and the United Nations so as not to create too many security issues during the withdrawal operation.
The Secretary-General was then taken to the National Transitional Council where he was received by its President, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet.
In a solemn address to the Assembly, the Secretary-General stated that, while some say that the crisis in the Central African Republic is a forgotten crisis, “I am here [today] to help make sure the world does not forget.”
He saluted the efforts of religious leaders to promote tolerance and coexistence in a country that was witnessing interfaith killings. He warned the Assembly members that, as it was the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, they needed to heed the lessons of the past. “The fate your country is in your hands,” he told them. “The people of the CAR should not be killing the people of the CAR.”
Despite the violence and the dire situation, Mr. Ban told them that there was reason to hope and that other countries on the African continent had come back from the depth of wartime horrors. “Let us commit to build a tomorrow of hope for the people of CAR,” he told the gathered politicians. (See Press Release SG/SM/15751.)
The Secretary-General then returned to the BINUCA compound where he was briefed by leaders of the MISCA Force [African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic], the Sangaris operation [French Forces] and the commanders of the Eurofor brigade [European Union]. The Secretary-General commended them for their work to help restore some stability in Bangui and outlying areas.
Mr. Ban also had a town hall meeting with the United Nations staff. He told he had come to the Central African Republic to focus the world’s attention on this crisis, but also to thank them personally for their courageous work under trying circumstances.
Prior to leaving Bangui, the Secretary-General spoke to the press at the BINUCA compound. In summing up his visit he said he had been encouraged by the resolve of the Head of the Transitional State, as well as her team. He said the he had come to the CAR with three key messages.
He wanted to ensure that the people of the Central African Republic knew that they were not alone. “The United Nations is honoured to be at your side,” he said. He would carry with him the stories of suffering he had been told by the many people he had met that day.
His second message, he added, was to the world at large. “Do not look away,” Mr. Ban said. “Do not ignore what is happening here.” He stressed that the Central African Republic was in urgent need of peacekeepers and police officers who could help increase security for people.
Finally, he concluded, “there is hope”. With the commitment of the international community and the people of the Central African Republic the country could have a brighter future, Mr. Ban told the media.
Asked about the impact of external military actors on the situation, the Secretary-General said that it is not acceptable that any foreign or external actors or forces try to destabilize the country.
In closing, he said the three priorities for the Central African Republic are peace and stability, sustainable development, and providing human rights.
He departed Bangui for Kigali, Rwanda on Saturday evening.