Last week, Invisible Children posted a blog highlighting the urgent crisis unfolding in Central African Republic (CAR). With the help of our brave staff on the ground in CAR, we’ve been monitoring the situation closely, and have been working with partners in Washington to identify how we can best support the pursuit of peace and security in the country.
It has been a struggle to wrap our minds around the overwhelming statistics and stories of indiscriminate violence against civilians – including woman and children – emerging from CAR. But just a few days ago, our Invisible Children family received heartbreaking news that brought the crisis home, and put a name and face to the statistics that seemed impossible to comprehend.
On the night of December 9, ex-Seleka rebels took the life of Seth Abel Songomalet, the youngest brother of Invisible Children’s National Media Coordinator in CAR, Johnny Bissakonou. According to reports we have received, ex-Seleka rebels broke into the home of Johnny’s family in the capital city of Bangui and targeted Seth, along with other young males and boys in the same neighborhood.
At 20 years old, Seth was the youngest child in his family. According to Johnny, he was a quiet young man who opened up to very few people apart from his brother. Seth was born just months after their father died, and over the years the brothers developed an especially strong and trusting bond. Seth loved to repair motorcycles, and, according to Johnny, while he tried to project a tough exterior, he was actually a very thoughtful and sensitive young man.
Our entire Invisible Children family grieves with Johnny and his family, and all of those who have known and loved Seth. His death is very personal to our community, but we know that there are hundreds of thousands of people in CAR who are grieving the death, torture, rape, and displacement of the people they deeply love – whether it be at the hands of ex-Seleka rebels, anti-balaka militias, or the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Long after the the crisis in CAR falls out of the international headlines, and long after LRA violence is finally brought to an end, Johnny, his family, and their fellow Central Africans will continue to carry the pain of the violence, injustice, and loss they have experienced. As the world moves on to new conversations and distractions, communities in CAR will continue the long and difficult struggle of cultivating peace, reconciliation, and healing for their country.
In the wake of Seth’s death, Johnny hasn’t halted his efforts for peace and justice in CAR. If anything, he is more determined than ever before to use his skills as a journalist to promote human rights in his country and around the world. On his own volition, Johnny has continued his work training radio operators in southeastern CAR on how to create and broadcast “come home” messages to encourage LRA fighters to peacefully surrender. And just days after his brother was killed, Johnny single-handedly worked to ensure that a message of peace and non-violence from President Barack Obama was broadcast on CAR’s largest independent radio station.
Ultimately, peace and prosperity in CAR will result from the resilience, courage, and creative vision of the Central African people – people like Johnny. But there is still an important role that each of us can and should play to help ensure that the systems that govern our world treat all human life as equal and work to protect all people from mass violence and injustice. We at Invisible Children stand on the belief that, as fellow humans beings, we are responsible to each other. Our liberty is bound together. We stand with Johnny and his family, we grieve with them, and we will continue to work alongside them for peace and healing in CAR.
Johnny has the following message to the Central African community and Invisible Children supporters worldwide:
To the people of Central African Republic, I want to share a message of healing and hope. I lost a brother. I do not want to lose others in senseless fighting. We have all lost loved ones and we want those that remain to live lives of happiness. This is only possible if there is peace. We must overcome our anger and sacrifices. We rise as one, and aspire together toward peace and development.
To the Invisible Children community, I have this message: On behalf of the people of CAR and all other populations who suffer abuses by the LRA, I testify my gratitude to the young people around the world who have invested themselves to help end LRA violence and the suffering caused by this rebellion. On behalf of the people of the CAR, I thank the members of the human family who did not remain insensitive to the plight of our people in these very difficult times. Thank you for your solidarity with us. Thank you to the African and European countries who are here, working to help resolve this crisis. And thank you to the United States, and to your President, who sent a message of peace directly to the Central African people.