Closing conference: After soldiering: young people’s reintegration in Bangui, Central African Republic

A young man on the streets of Bangui. Photo: Sjoerd Sijsma

On 17 May 2018 the ASCL’s research project Being young in times of duress in the Central African Republic, a project in collaboration with UNICEF, was closed with an end conference in Bangui. During the conference the main findings of the research were discussed with all stakeholders. The conference participants were made up of the research team from the Anthropology Department at the University of Bangui, UNICEF CAR, their partner organizations (Caritas, Don Bosco), UNICEF Netherlands, a group of youth and  some of their parents with whom research had been conducted, a blogger/ writer and the ASCL research team. The design of the conference was meant to allow actors that often do not have the time to sit down and talk together, to discuss matters that concerned them all. Our research findings provided the points for discussion.

Film screening
To facilitate the discussion a film, In conflict, made by the research team and independent filmmaker Sjoerd Sijsma, was shown. The film helped to show UNICEF how three young people reflect on their trajectories in and out of armed groups in the Central African Republic and the way they perceived the programmes developed to help them reintegrate into society. The perspective of the film, from the everyday life and reflections of these young people, was naturally different from that of the people working in the projects. The fact that the three youngsters were followed after they finished vocational training and psycho-social counselling was meant to give more insight into the impact of UNICEF programmes. With some very interesting results. We saw young people finding dignity in their newly learned professions. At the same time 2 out of the 3 youngsters portrayed did not exclude the idea of participating in an armed group again in the near future. One of the reasons being that the command structures from during the rebellion are often still very much in place, despite the relative calm in Bangui in the last few years.

Time for reflection
The discussion was enriching in that everyone was able to explain their position which generated more understanding for one another. All young participants had their say, although a few needed some extra encouragement. UNICEF team-members shared that they appreciated the moment of reflection on their practices that the conference offered them. Often they are acting upon emergencies with very limited funding. Time for fundamental reflection then becomes scarce.
The conference was closed with allowing young talented people from CAR to share their work and inspire all of us. Blogger and writer Max Landy Kassai passionately read a part of the manuscript of his first book on what it means to grow up in the Central African Republic. Max was supported by the project to finish his manuscript and we hope he will soon be able to publish it. We also listened to the very engaged lyrics of a young and talented artist from the Central African Republic, Estasis le Bon (Arnold Ngbagalet). From exile in Kinshasha Estasis produces thought provoking texts about the situation in his home country.

In individual follow-up meetings with young people after the conference, we learned how they had fared between December 2017 (the time of our last visit) and May 2018. Just before our arrival in Bangui there had been some severe tensions in following several armed confrontations and with the threat of armed groups in the north-east moving to the capital again to take over power. We wrote a blog about their latest experiences.

The project is now about to finish and we are processing the latest data, experiences and discussions from our stay in May for the final report. The film and report will be publicly presented in the Netherlands later this year, so for those who are interested: keep an eye on the ASCL website or contact one of the researchers:

Team ASCL: Prof. Mirjam de Bruijn, Jonna Both, Catherina Wilson
Independent: Sjoerd Sijsma, Lucia Ragazzi
Team in Bangui: Dr. Jean Bruno Ngouflo, Crépin Marius Mouguia, Marie Louise Tchissikombre, Wilfried Poukoule

This research project was generously funded by the Nationale Postcode Loterij (NPL)

Jonna Both

Photo left: Blogger Max Landry Kassai. Photo: Catherina Wilson
Photo right: Crépin Marius Mouguia interviewing one of the young people we have been following about his latest experiences. Photo: Jonna Both