Ruby Diamonde meets a man who wants change.
© Sarah John
A friend wants to chat online. ‘Sorry,’ I say, ‘I’m going out for dinner.’
‘Ah, what do you have for dinner in Bangui?’ she asks.
‘Chicken and fish or fish and chicken!’ I type.
The Central African Republic is not famous for food. Local food is usually gozo (boiled cassava root) – no taste or goodness, but it stops you feeling hungry. They usually serve it with sauces and fish or chicken. But now in Bangui there are more choices: pizza, pasta, Indian and Chinese food – if you have enough money. The city-centre restaurants for ex-pats are too expensive for most Central Africans.
This evening I am meeting one of my best Central African friends in one of my favourite places in Bangui. 'L’escale' is a restaurant by the river that is not very clean. But the beer is cold, the food is tasty and cheap, and they serve my favourite local dish, maboke: fish with coriander, tomatoes and onions in banana leaves.
My friend, Quentin, likes maboke too. He’s late, as always, and is talking on his mobile in the Central African language, Sango. ‘Barao!’ he says, kissing me. Then,‘Ça va?’
Quentin does many different things at the same time: he’s a storyteller, a musician, an advocacy trainer and an entrepreneur. He runs a national NGO to get communities to talk together through the arts. He speaks for Central African civil society organizations, and is a member of the National Transitional Council, the Central African Parliament. He has a lot of connections. He is proud, nationalistic and restless.
We order maboke and drinks, then sit back and smile.
‘We Central Africans are losing our way!’ he says. ‘The government is not responsible, people are disappointed, and no-one protects their rights. We need a revolution!’
‘What kind of revolution?’ I ask.
‘We need to decide our own future. Internationals need to treat us as equals and respect what the people want. Central Africans are ready to protest until something really changes!’
He is angry at the UN mission here. MINUSCA (the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic) came here in September 2014. They are not finding it easy to control violence and protect civilians. The first head of the mission was fired because he said he didn’t know about a scandal about sexual abuse of children by French troops. Quentin, like many other Central Africans, says MINUSCA must do what they came to do, or leave. Most people do not have the courage to say this in public.
Quentin has started a group to challenge the Transitional Government, the UN and the French. These all have a lot of power in CAR, but do not help the Central African people. Not everyone agrees with him: some activists do not support him, the government does not like what he’s doing, and some people have threatened him. This gives him more motivation. Quentin says what he thinks. Some people don’t like this.
Quentin is one of Central Africa’s best-known performers and political people. He has enough money to live in a rich area in Bangui and eat in expensive restaurants. But he stays in the local community, with bad roads, power cuts every day and more street crime. He could leave CAR, and move to another country that speaks French, but he chooses to stay here in Bangui. Because, he says, ‘I want to wake up my people so they start deciding their own future.’
I remember the maboke spices and look to the kitchen. I don’t agree with everything Quentin says and does, but I really respect his hunger for change.
Ruby Diamonde is not the author’s real name.
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/columns/letters-from/2015/12/01/letter-from-bangui/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).