The Road to Boda
We gathered early, before 7am, outside the ICC office, in Bangui, CAR. This is the beginning of a three weeks long journey towards Boda, Berberati, Carnot and Yaloke, some of the locations where crimes have been allegedly committed from late 2013, throughout 2014. The alleged crimes are part of the charges brought in the case of Alfred Yekatom and Patrice Ngaïssona. The plan was to meet with people affected by crimes, to share information about the Court’s work and participation of victims in the proceedings.
There is a lot of excitement amongst the team members, we chat and laugh, waiting for the security briefing to start. We listen carefully, we learn, as this information might save lives. We were well prepared but a feeling of uncertainty was present. Would the roads stay in good condition? And what about the security situation? We were all wondering.
At 7.30, the drivers engaged first gear. We were on our way: destination Boda.
The first part of our journey was smooth: mostly paved surface, a bump here and there, but past Mbaiki, it was a different story; narrow muddy roads, heavy traffic and on top of it, a damaged bridge. Trying to move through pools of water, fixing the cars on the spot, ten hours and two hundred kilometres later, we are in Boda, in Lobaye region.
Entering the town, we noticed huts made of wood or palm trees, some destroyed. There is a lot of green around, cattle and goats cross the road. Women are next to the fire, preparing gozo – a local dish made of starchy flour. Families are eating together, talking; children are playing. On our way to the mayor’s office, for a courtesy visit, we experience lively atmosphere in the centre of the town. We would freshen up, have dinner and get a good night’s sleep before holding meetings for the next two days.
While still in Bangui, we decided to split the two days in Boda into separate sessions: day one with opinion leaders - religious leaders, women and youth groups, chef de quartiers - and day two with representatives of local and administrative authorities. The topic was the same. We talked about the Court’s mandate, the legal process, the rights of victims and the next steps in the case of Messrs. Yekatom and Ngaïssona, both allegedly responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in this region.
Splitting the sessions proved to be a good strategy. Smaller groups meant lively and interactive discussions. Yet, the most fascinating moment of each meeting was the screening of the initial appearance of Messrs. Yekatom and Ngaïssona. The interest it sparked confirmed how crucial it is to reach out to the people the most affected by crimes. ICC proceedings are better understood when seen, actually seen, on screen.
Meanwhile, a mechanic was sent from Bangui to change a loose part on one of the cars. Good as new and right on time! We left Boda for our next destination, Berberati, 280 kilometers to the west. According to the calculations, it would take us five hours to get there. It turned out the road took a bit longer…
To be continued…