Central African Republic: Hate Speech on Social Media Inflaming Divisions

The Imam Ishmail Nafi at the displaced persons camp in the Ecole Liberte in Bossangoa praying for those killed the previous day during the anti-balaka attack on the town. Eleven people were killed outside his house while seeking safety from the attackers.

A senior official from the International Committee of the Red Cross warns hate speech promoted on social media in war-torn Central African Republic is inflaming divisions between the Muslim and Christian communities.

Jessica Barry is just back from a six month stint as ICRC Coordinator in Central African Republic. She says the humanitarian situation there is at a critical low and the international community must pay attention to the desperation of the people caught in the never-ending cycle of poverty and violence.

She says no place in the country is secure. She says outbreaks of fighting in urban areas, such as the capital, Bangui, and in Bambari, CAR’s commercial center, has forced whole communities to flee and has triggered unrest in other areas.

“Despite the huge efforts to keep communities together, the efforts of all the religious leaders to talk among themselves, to try and talk with the different communities — when I see that this is not working and when I see that there is hate speech arriving and being promoted on social media… the whole country is fragile, and we have to ring the alarm bells,” she said.

Barry tells VOA Muslim and Christian communities in Bambari want to live together, but are being driven apart by violence and revenge attacks that trigger other assaults. She says it is much harder to persuade people to live side-by-side again, then to keep them separated.

“There are so many different factors that just then make people frustrated and people join together. And then, yes, the provocations on social media are certainly, I would say a factor. Of course, the network is not so extensive in Central African Republic. It is in main towns. In Bangui. But, then rumors spread, and people talk,” she said.

The Red Cross official says efforts to achieve peace in the Central African Republic are made more difficult by the extreme poverty, poor health conditions and low education levels in the country.

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