Updated Jun 25, 2023, 8:31am EDT

How to report on the Central African Republic

UNHCR/Sam Phelps

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The Scene

A routine drive from Bouar, a town in western Central African Republic, to the northern city of Bohong became a masterclass in reporting from the frontlines of war.

Bouar was a former French military garrison, but the French soldiers had long left, and soldiers of the Central African government had occupied the military base. Mirek—the local abbot of Bouar—and I traversed a rocky moonscape in his white pickup. Cell phone networks didn’t reach this place and Mirek was in a hurry.

The village was silent when we arrived, until Mirek honked loudly. I saw movement at the edge of my vision: a man ran at us. I rolled down my window and the man thrust a sheet of paper at my face.

“A rebel?” I asked Mirek.

“Probably, by now,” he said. “All the villagers are joining the rebels to fight against the government.”


The rebel’s sheet lay in my lap. On it, columns had been drawn and in the first column was a list of names. The second column described what had happened to them: who had been killed, whose property had been stolen, and who was now ill with dysentery or fever.

The abbot stuffed each village’s war report into his glove compartment. In the twenty-first century, people here had been so isolated that facts needed to be relayed by hand.

Mirek used his position as the local abbot, a respected figure, known to the soldiers, to serve as an information relay. In a world inundated with information, this was how news had to be collected in the Central African Republic’s war—by hand, and the courage of an abbot.

*This an excerpt from Breakup: A Marriage in Wartime, by Anjan Sundaram.

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Anjan’s view

Central Africans have been casualties of inattention; their lives deemed dispensable, less important, less worthy of international news coverage. While hundreds of international reporters rotate in and out of Ukraine, providing round the clock coverage, the Central African Republic is shrouded in darkness, many of its killings passing unreported.


Reporting on the world’s most isolated major war, in the Central African Republic, is made difficult by the relative obscurity of the country, outside its region. International magazine editors are largely unaware that the country exists, or that a war is underway there.

News from CAR still travels to New York and Paris before it reaches an audience in Nigeria or Kenya. When I traveled through the CAR, I didn’t meet a single African reporter. A colonial international news structure, heavily dependent on funding and reporting from Western capitals, is not good enough.

The Global South needs to step up. African middle-income economies should take a greater interest in their neighbors, investing in deploying journalists who report on events affecting millions of Central Africans.

Instead of continually criticizing the West for its blind spots, it’s time for the Global South to provide a new, post-colonial perspective on the world, showing us how to view events with intelligence and compassion, outside Western frames of reference.

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Know More

The ongoing conflict in CAR is the third civil war the country has seen in just over three decades. In March 2013, rebel groups formed in the north to oppose the government, which rebels claimed was not abiding by peace agreements after the preceding CAR Bush War. Rebels formed a coalition called the Séléka and seized the capital.

Looting and atrocities soon led to deadly reprisals by self-defense committees made up of villagers and former soldiers called the Anti-balaka militias. Much of the tension between coalitions is over religious identity between Muslim Séléka fighters and Christian Anti-balaka.

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The View From Nairobi

“The news famine in CAR is symptomatic of the larger questions of African news production - on what logic does it operate? Who dictates its consumption? News from the continent is still largely financed, organized and directed from the colonial metropolis, said Parselelo Kantai, Politics and Society Editor at African Arguments. “The infrastructure for pan-African news production remains in a kind of suspended infancy, still dominated by a handful of commercial outfits. The vast opportunities to establish pan-African media outfits circulating news within and for Africa, is testimony to the poverty of continental news media.

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