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Journalists in the Central African Republic

Philipp Sandner / Delphine Schiltz / soMay 15, 2014

The Central African Republic is no safe place for journalists. The shooting of the French photographer Camille Lepage highlights the plight of both local and foreign reporters in the CAR.

Bildergalerie Camille Lepage
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo

"Its nice to see that life [in Bangui] is slowly coming back to the way it was before," Camille Lepage wrote on April 18, on the social-media platform Instagram. Just four weeks before she died, a victim of a civil war she wanted to report on. According to a press statement by French President Francois Hollande, French soldiers discovered the body of the 26-year-old photojournalist during a vehicle inspection near the market town of Bouar, about 450 kilometers (280 miles) west of the capital, Bangui.

Studio Ndele Luka Radiostation
Radio journalists in the capital Bangui.Image: DW/Simone Schlindwein

On Wednesday, May 14, French authorities opened an investigation into her murder. Before she died, Lepage had been accompanying a group of Christian Anti-Balaka rebels. They were travelling through the conflict ridden north-west of the country when they were apparently ambushed by rival groups.

Local journalists also at risk

The threat to the media also affects Central African journalists. "Simply expressing a critical point of view already puts your life at risk," said a local journalist who wanted to remain anonymous. "There is no functioning state, which can put the criminals to trial. We are simply left to face our own sad fate," the journalist said.

In April, two Central African journalists, Desire Sayenga and Rene Padou, were killed in their homes in Bangui. The French magazine "Jeune Afrique" quoted police sources, which claimed that the attacks were not specifically targeted at the journalists. Instead they were reportedly carried out by Muslim residents who were avenging the death of a fellow Muslim.

Central African journalists often lack the necessary equipment to carry out their work. Their offices, rampaged by lootings, are often in disrepair. "When the Seleka militia came, our offices were plundered and destroyed," recalls Maturin Momet, the publisher of "Le Confident", a daily newspaper."We tried to replace the most important equipment from our own pockets, because absolutely everything was destroyed." Now the whole building needs to be rebuilt and the offices refurbished. "In the current economic climate, this is of course very difficult," she explained. "But we do what we can."

Camille Lepage
A TV station in Bangui stopped working for several months due to disrepair.Image: SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images

Tough working conditions

Local media outlets often broadcast reports by the international media. Due to financial constraints and security concerns, their own reporters are often not able to cover the entire conflict. Their foreign colleagues often have an easier time when travelling around the country. "Most of the foreign journalists who work have a fair amount of security," says Agoalo Lassy, a photographer for local media agency, Agence Centrafrique Presse. "They have the means to move around and carry out their work." The photographer believes if they had the same means, they could also work the areas where the fighting is happening. "We would have more confidence in our own work," the journalist added.

There a only handful of non-governmental organizations who support the local media. They therefore rely heavily on support from the community. In some cases this includes the armed militia, explains Narcisse Jobert of Radio Baragbake, stationed in Bria, around 500 kilometers (310 miles) north-east of Bangui. His station relies on whatever the local community can offer. "We for instance receive fuel from the Seleka group and from the residents. This is the only way that we can go on air." The Seleka fighters also provide the radio station with security, Jobert said.

The influence of the powerful

If you work in a large media house, you sometimes receive an envelope with money from influential people, says another journalist who did not want to be named. "The people in power want us to sing their praises," explains Maturin Momet from "Le Confident". This also happened in the past. They support newspapers – but in an unfair fashion. "Small newspapers who write positive things about the people in power, receive their support. Newspapers who do their homework and report objectively are pushed aside," Momet said.

The conflict in the Central African Republic escalated in March 2013, when the predominantly Muslim Seleka alliance took control of the capital Bangui and overthrew President Francois Bozize. Seleka's violent rule provoked the formation of the Christian Anti-Balaka militia. Fighting between the two groups has displaced more than 2 million people who currently depend on humanitarian aid.

The transitional government founded in 2014 has had little success in restoring peace and order.