In the Central African Republic, fear in the form of a machete


A boy injured by machete strikes, in the children's hospital in Bangui. December 18, 2013. (AFP Photo / Fred Dufour)

A boy injured by machete strikes, in the children's hospital in Bangui. December 18, 2013. (AFP Photo / Fred Dufour)




By Fred Dufour


I always think twice before photographing children. I don't want to oversimplify or overdramatise things by displaying the emotions of these young subjects. But after a week in the Central African Republic, I felt like I needed to understand the full extent of what's been happening in this country gripped by awful violence between Christians and Muslims. Children had not been spared the bloodshed. So, I walked into the children's hospital in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.

I walk discretely through the corridors and end up in a room filled with several young patients. Some have parents at their bedside. I go up to them and say hello, they respond with a nod or a smile. People treat photographers differently here compared to Europe. Everyone lets me work, no one is looking at me or hiding from me. There seems to be a spontaneous willingness to be photographed.

I notice a little boy, sitting calmly with a bandaged hand. He seems sad. He looks at me without saying anything, without smiling. I understand he's still in pain. Hospital conditions are precarious and there's probably not enough medication to soothe his pain.

A mother cares for her child, who is sick with malaria, at the children's hospital in Bangui. (AFP Photo / Fred Dufour)

A mother cares for her child, who is sick with malaria, at the children's hospital in Bangui. (AFP Photo / Fred Dufour)

I approach, camera in hand, settings ready. I don't want to spoil this moment. I don't want the boy to pose for me. I crouch down and aim.

It's only then that I notice the deep scars on his skull. I release the shutter once, twice. The child looks at me, looks away, then looks back at me without changing his demeanour. It's as though I'm not interesting to him. He says nothing. I'm not annoying to him, but I'm not amusing either. I take more shots and try to avoid a little girl getting in the frame. The whole scene lasts only about 20 seconds.

I get up and go to see the boy's dad, a Muslim. I ask him about the scars.

"Machete, machete," he says.

The machete in a number of African countries is a weapon of genocide. Machetes were used in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda in 1994. It's regularly used in bloody inter-ethnic killings in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Communal violence exploded in Bangui after silently terrorising more remote parts of the country since a March coup made enemies out of Muslims and Christians who had long lived together in harmony.

Amnesty International this week said the Central African Republic's mostly Muslim ex-rebels killed nearly 1,000 people in the capital Bangui two weeks ago in a rampage avenging deadly Christian militia attacks. The intervention of the French army has stopped some of the violence, but tensions remain high.

"Machete". It's the only word the boy's dad said to me. He doesn't speak French. He can't give me a detailed account of what happened. He doesn't even tell me his son's name. But this brief exchange affects me profoundly. I leave shaken, but glad I'll be able to show the world what is happening to kids here.

This little boy who I don't know just gave me a moment of his life. A life already so fragile and sad. His situation seems to encapsulate the plight of a whole people.

Photo / Fred Dufour)</em></span></p> Looting in Bangui, December 10, 2013. (AFP Photo / Fred Dufour)

Looting in Bangui, December 10, 2013. (AFP Photo / Fred Dufour)