Facing the horrific in the Central African Republic

Gilles Clairoux, deputy field coordinator of the Eureca emergency team in the Central African Republic.

19 Jan 22

On the night of December 27, 2021, when it felt like the only topic of conversation around the world was Omicron and its health “restrictions”, a tragedy changed the lives of two children forever. The children live in a small village in the Ouham Pende prefecture in the northwest of the Central African Republic (CAR), a country that has experienced more than two decades of conflict. 

Access to healthcare and population movements in the northwestern Central African Republic. (June, 2018).

Entering the family home by force, men slaughtered their father and older brother. Horrified, the children and their mother cried out to sound the alarm in the village. 

The attackers struck the mother fatally with machetes and seriously injured the two children. 

Struck with machetes

An MSF emergency team, deployed in the region since October 2021 to provide medical support to victims of violence, immediately took care of the children following their evacuation to hospital.  

Médecins Sans Frontières has started providing support to health centres in CAR. (June, 2018).

Despite our rapid intervention, the two children both needed to have their arms amputated.

They have been left severely injured, deprived of their parent, and mutilated in their childhood. 

Desperation and incomprehension

What they will keep forever from that night, however, is the memory of that horrific scene.

In their slightly lost expressions, there is no look of accusation, they are still too young. 

Central African Republic: As conflict hits the countryside, people suffer from displacement and lack of access to healthcare (June, 2021).

But there is desperation and incomprehension, as they try to understand the inexplicable.  

"Why did they attack us?" The youngest of them asks me.  

Horrific acts of violence

In silence, I repeat his question mechanically - why? Why? As I leave the room to hide my emotions... I look for an answer, in vain.  

The MSF hospital in Kabo, a town in northern Central African Republic. (June, 2021).

Why do humans end up committing horrific acts of violence against innocent people, and in such gratuitous ways against young children?  

At all times, at all ages, this question keeps resurfacing... only to disappear, like a wave, over time.

Hunger for power

Countless political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, criminologists, philosophers, legal experts and other illustrious thinkers have studied how to eliminate, control or reduce violence in societies past and present.  

Cows graze in a farmland in Kabo, a town in northern Central African Republic. (June, 2021).

However, in humans, it seems that the insatiable hunger for power obtained by violence defies all advanced solutions.

When violence is repeated over and over again, we run the risk of seeing the victims as statistics. In fact, violence touches people with histories, families and futures.

Renewed tensions triggering displacement of populations in Central African Republic. (June, 2021).

People who are just like everyone else.

In a country where it is estimated that about three quarters of the population live below the international poverty line and almost a third are far from home because of the conflict, life is already very difficult.

Repeated violence

These situations of repeated violence add to an already open wound, denying it any chance to heal.  

MSF’s intervention saved the lives of these children.

Following recent tensions and numerous incidents between the armed forces in Central African Republic. (June, 2021).

But knowing that they will be living with upper limb amputations, the challenges they will face are unimaginable… 

Mental health support may help ease their loss in a minimal way, but I fear that the rest of their childhoods will be a long ordeal. 

Writing these lines, I feel useless in the face of this.