One of my colleagues just shared with me the New Republic article written by investigative reporter Graeme Wood: “Hell is an Understatement: A Report from the Bloody, Crumbling Central African Republic” along with the raw and powerful images taken by photojournalist Michael Christopher Brown.
The article caught our attention because we have been engaged in supporting one of our client’s interests in the Central African Republic (CAR) and helping ensure the safety of critical personnel who need to get into a country ravaged by violence and back out again. If you’re not following the events in CAR, take a moment to read this stark, stunningly powerful piece. It will move you.
The Central African Republic: Danger and Death
I am not acquainted with Graeme Wood or Michael Christopher Brown. But I acknowledge their extraordinary courage. They’re not soldiers or missionaries. They’re not doctors or NGO leaders. They’re journalists. Both put their lives on the line for this story. As you will read, they found a driver to take them to Boy Rabe, “a neighborhood known as a stronghold of the Anti-Balaka, the Christian militia that is currently the most feared group in Bangui…well-armed adolescents, often drunk, with delusions of invulnerability.” The taxi slowed. Motorbikes gave way to pedestrians and pedestrians gave way to emptiness. None of us know what it is to live in these conditions. And only a handful is willing to go in unarmed just to give the rest of us a window on a world most of us would rather not acknowledge.
Risking All for a News Story
Today, the country is shattered. U.S. embassy operations in the Central African Republic have been halted due to the violence. Asking anyone to travel into the country is difficult. Do you risk 100 lives to save 10? Do you put three at risk to bring one to safety? That’s not just a professional calculation. It’s a personal one – especially for those who volunteer to push their family obligations aside and step into a desperate world with no rules and death everywhere. I’m referring to Mr. Wood and Mr. Brown, who risked becoming “the palest stack of limbs on Avenue de France.” For a news story.
Brave Hearts: “They Will Come Tonight”
One snippet in this article stands out, among many. It’s at the end of the article, so if you are speed-reading you could miss it. “At the central mosque in the Third Arrondissement,” the article reads, ”I found a large courtyard of men, women, and children lying on mats, looking idle and abandoned. One man in glasses introduced himself as president of the Federation of Parents of Muslim Students and said the people around me were all displaced, and all desperate to leave Bangui as soon as possible. “[The Anti-Balaka] are shooting, trying to get here all the time,” he said. “They will try to come tonight.” He adjusted his glasses bookishly and grew even more serious. “But our hearts are brave,” he said, “and we have machetes.”
Bravery takes so many forms. Just living one day in Bangui is a challenge. Wood and Brown put almost all on the line. What about the rest of us? What’s the least we can do? Open our eyes and observe. Stand up. Stand as a witness.