Dear Editor:

The Central African Republic (CAR) habitually resides at a great distance from Western consciousness (and conscience). Not since the alleged cannibalism and certain despotism of the infamous Emperor Bokassa I in the late 70's have the Western media deemed this landlocked nation at the heart of the African continent newsworthy. However, recent events in the Central African Republic have once again thrust this little-recognized nation into the headlines of the New York Times, Washington Post and countless other newspapers across the US. An army mutiny in later May has been widely reported in the West as a "total breakdown of law and order" underscored by such disheartening images as "bodies rotting in the equatorial sun on trash-strewn pavements" (NYT, May 24 & 25). Such depictions, however, are not only largely inaccurate, but also unfair and potentially pose an even greater threat to the nation's future than any three days of looting, gunfire and demonstrations.

There is little doubt that the violence and looting have seriously damaged the Central African capital of Bangui but it is equally certain that the CAR is undergoing a crisis more akin to the riots in Los Angeles than to the civil wars of Rwanda or Liberia -- its most frequent comparisons. There are in fact many positive developments in the CAR which have escaped media attention. Among the more striking general omissions is the CAR's remarkably peaceful transition from a long-standing single-party regime to a multiparty democracy. Elections in 1993 were viewed by international observers (including Americans) as a good example for other African nations. Generally, Central African citizens truly live up to the "Zo Kwe Zo" principle of their constitution, a phrase in the national language, Sango, which is translated as and closely modeled after the American constitution notion of "all men being equal". There has never been a civil war in the country and its population is proud of the nation's ethnic diversity, considered as one of its strongest points. The recent unrest in Bangui should be viewed in the context of these and other positive achievements and not simply as another troubled blot on our media-drawn map of Africa.

In short, this is a critical moment in defining Central African affairs and we would be remiss to turn our backs rhetorically or financially to this hard-living nation's ongoing struggle for democratic reform. There are plenty of tragic stories coming out of Africa. Please let's not blindly add the Central African Republic to the list.

Date created: 7/24/96
Last modified: 7/24/96
Maintained by: Alan Saul
Originally by Michael Shereikis