In order to raise awareness in Sweden of the situation in the Central African Republic, the French Embassy organized for Yasmina Farber, a film-maker, and Johnny Bissakonou, a journalist and blogger from CAR, to come to Sweden.
The Central African Republic is not a region of Africa, but a country, which is currently facing a dramatic situation.” This was often how Johnny Bissakonou, a journalist from CAR currently taking refuge in France, would open discussions with the Swedish people whom he met during his trip to Stockholm and Uppsala on 11-14 February 2014.
People in Sweden are not very familiar with the Central African Republic (CAR). There is no Swedish embassy in Bangui. There is hardly a trace of the CAR diaspora here. The few Swedish journalists who are correspondents in Africa tend to cover the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa.
Giving CAR a face
The first step in raising awareness of the seriousness of the situation in CAR must therefore be to inform people about the reality of life there and the scale of the challenges that the country is facing. Only when Swedish people have a better understanding of CAR will they start actively supporting our work to restore the country’s security.
I have developed a habit of taking a map out of my pocket each time I meet Swedish decision-makers. It is a good way to convey the concrete reality of something that remains very abstract and theoretical for many of the people I speak to. It has become a sort of routine during my meetings – to the extent that now, if I don’t show a map, they are amused and ask to see one.
I also felt it was essential to invite a CAR national, who could add a face, a voice and a glimmer of hope to the messages which I pass on as part of my official duties.
Sweden’s long-standing commitment
I am all the more convinced of the importance of organizing such a visit as Sweden has a long history of supporting the United Nations and major NGOs. It has also participated in many United Nations peace-keeping operations and all European missions. This demonstrates the country’s significant commitment to security and protecting human rights. Even though CAR is not a priority for the Swedish Government, I know that they are thinking about making a contribution to support the work of the international community.
And so it was that the Embassy organized for Yasmina Farber, a film-maker, and Johnny Bissakonou, a journalist and blogger from CAR, to visit Sweden. “Les enfants du Seigneur”, a harrowing film by Yasmina Farber on child soldiers in CAR, was the starting point for our discussions with the Swedish people. We held extremely rich, open exchanges, not only with members of parliament, diplomats, journalists and heads of associations, but also with students and schoolchildren.
This was a glimpse of the real CAR, without the need for a piece of paper showing the country’s borders.