Witness to Collapse: William Daniels in Central African Republic

Bangui.French troops are chasing christians looting muslims houses
William Daniels—Panos for TIME
Feb. 3, 2014: French troops chase Christians looting Muslim houses in Bangui.

Two months after hundreds of people were killed during street fighting between mainly Muslim rebels and Christian vigilantes in Central African Republic, a violent assault on the country’s Muslims appears to be underway.

Factions of Séléka rebels spent much of last year rampaging and pillaging through the majority Christian country, but their disbanding last fall and the departure of their leader, Michel Djotodia, in January turned the tide against them. Catherine Samba-Panza was voted his replacement and asked all fighters to lay down their arms. But Christian militiamen called anti-balaka, or “anti-machete” in the local Sango dialect, have used her promotion as a prompt for retaliatory attacks against the Séléka and Muslim civilians.

French photojournalist William Daniels was recently on assignment for TIME and captured a snapshot of the current state of play. He said the strife in Bangui, where the carnage he photographed in December led to louder calls for humanitarian aid and an influx of French and African peacekeepers, appears a bit more localized. Some neighborhoods look normal and others, entirely empty, have been looted or burned. The main displacement camp at the capital’s M’Poko International Airport houses more than 100,000 people.

In the country’s north and west, where the foreign peacekeepers are trying to fan out with inconsistent or inconsequential success, the situation grows dire.

Chadians living in the country who can’t safely trek to the border are taking flights from Bangui’s airport. Some of Chad’s peacekeepers reportedly participated in the Séléka’s deadly raids. Daniels went to Boyélé, halfway between Bossangoa and Bouar, where he said all the houses were burned but the school was open. In Boali, he met a priest who chose to harbor hundreds of Muslims in his church guarded by African peacekeepers. Anti-balaka, who have threatened the priest, are looking for revenge.

Their weaponry is makeshift compared to that of the foreign forces, whose absence in certain areas has afforded the Christian militias a freedom similar to what Séléka earlier enjoyed. “We don’t want to attack the Muslim civilians, we just want to attack the Séléka,” one fighter told Daniels, adding that he thought all Muslims were Séléka.

Daniels went back to Central African Republic to bear witness to a conflict long-ignored, and plans to return after this trip. He understands the risk but recognizes the importance that the public and decision-makers see what he sees, so they can be moved to act—or at least care.


William Daniels is a photographer represented by Panos Pictures. Daniels previously wrote for LightBox about his escape from Syria.

Andrew Katz is a reporter with TIME covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz.


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