The Central African Republic is the topic of an article in the May 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine. The CAR has been the focus of church planting and missionary efforts by the Grace Brethren for more than 100 years. A portion of the story appears below. Click here for the complete article.
Rich in Resources, This Nation Is Failing Anyway. Here’s Why.
To reach the butterfly artist’s house, you have to navigate a maze of mud-brick homes near the wide, brown Oubangui River. Four years ago Muslim rebels and Christian militias rampaged through, fighting for control of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. Today the neighborhood is filled with squealing children playing soccer and chattering vendors hawking peanuts and eggs, avocados and mangoes, wild honey and peppercorns. But violence still plagues the city, and the people here remain keenly alert to the sounds of gunshots and military helicopters.
Philippe Andé is oblivious to all of that. A slight, balding man, he hunches over a worktable covered in butterfly wings—a constellation of electric colors, flamboyant shapes, and exotic patterns. The Central African Republic is home to 597 identified species, and it’s common to suddenly find yourself amid a cloud of the silent, fluttering creatures, as though you’d wandered into a flurry of confetti. Andé, a farmer, catches them in his fields and sends boys to collect them in the hills and along the river.
With tweezers, a razor blade, and rubber cement, he painstakingly arranges the tissue-thin wings into radiant scenes of Central African life, each a miniature stained glass window. A man catches a speckled green fish in a swirling turquoise river. Women in orange dresses with sleeping babies tied to their backs pound cassavas into flour. A boy climbs a tree to harvest coconuts. There are fields filled with cotton; portraits of elephants, gorillas, parrots, antelope; even a faceted diamond, the country’s most famous export.
This is the Central African Republic that Andé chooses to see when he closes his eyes: the time before 2013, the year the Seleka—an alliance of predominantly Muslim rebel groups—looted, raped, killed, and burned its way across the country; toppled the corrupt Christian-dominated government; and ignited a brutal, still smoldering civil war that has killed thousands, displaced nearly a million others, and created food shortages.
To be honest, Andé’s enchanting pictures represent some of my own idealized impressions of the Central African Republic. The country caught my attention when I saw it highlighted on a conservation map, an island of green roughly the size of France containing some of Africa’s last pristine wilderness. I learned that vast stretches of its forests remain uninhabited and teem with wildlife. Beneath this bounty lies a wealth of resources, including diamonds, gold, uranium, and possibly oil. It seemed reasonable that such a sparsely populated country—only five million people, compared with France’s 65 million—would thrive. But it was failing. Why? That question has plagued me over the past three years as I’ve reported on what Central Africans refer to as the Crisis, their term for the war and the chaos that has followed.
Click here for the complete article.