In Central African Republic, Diamonds Fuel A Cycle of Violence and Poverty

For decades, the riches of the earth have been the boon and the bane of CAR. Now they may also be leading to its disintegration.


By Bagassi Koura and Mike Eckel

BOMANDORO, Central African Republic — For the past two years, Guillaume Benam has spent most of his days doing back-breaking labor, hunting for the riches that so many of his countrymen have fought over for so long. With three partners, he shovels heavy, wet clay soil into wooden sieves and baskets, then hunches in shin-deep water, sloshing the dirt and turning the stream the color of chocolate milk.

“It’s a gamble. Sometimes you get one, sometimes you get nothing,” Benam said. “We have been searching. I have been around for more than two years.” CAR21-MenPanning-5_1100px

Deep in the forests of one of the poorest countries on the planet, Benam’s quest for diamonds is a search for livelihood. It is also a symptom of the country’s woes, where the government’s absence has left a vacuum in the countryside, where sectarian and criminal bloodletting continues.

Central African Republic has become a nation whose borders exist only on maps, where governmental authority is limited mostly to the 25 square miles occupied by the capital, Bangui, if that.



Why He Chose To Leave This Good Land?

Islamic State Beckons and Somali Americans Again Struggle With Radicalization

By Mike Eckel and Harun Maruf 

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota _ When Dayib Ahmed Abdi and his family arrived in the United States in 1996, his son Abdifatah already had an independent streak. The family settled in Minnesota along with thousands of other refugees from Somali’s civil war and Abdifatah, known also as Abdirahman Muhumed, went in his own direction.

He frequented gyms, lifted weights and played basketball. He wasn’t particularly religious. He liked going out to night clubs and was considered handsome, “a heartthrob,” his father said. Abdifatah ended up marrying three times, having eight children in all. His father hoped he would join the military.

Late last year, Abdifatah, 29, abruptly left his families, and traveled to Britain, then Syria, joining the radical militants of the Islamic State as they began sweeping across parts of Syria and Iraq. He posted photographs to Facebook and elsewhere earlier this year, showing him holding the Quran and AK-47s. In August, he was reportedly killed in Syria.

He was the second American to die there.

“I was very sad when I heard it. ‘Why he would go to an Arab land?’ I asked myself,” Abdi told VOA. “They [Arab countries] don’t help us; instead the United States helped us. ‘Why he chose to leave this good land?’ I asked. I was very unhappy.

“What I would say to the crazy youth who went to the Arab countries for harmful things is they are wrong,” he said. “This is like madness.”

The issue of Americans being radicalized, recruited to fight in the cause of radical Islamic terror groups, is capturing national attention, sowing fear that some could return unnoticed to commit attacks at home. With more than 100 Americans having traveled to Syria since 2011, President Barack Obama gave open voice to those fears on September 10: “Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.”


Of those who have traveled to Syria, at least 13 Somalis were from Minnesota, according to a VOA tally, a number that includes at least two girls. Two more Somali girls, and a Sudanese girl, all from the Denver area, were stopped in Germany on October 19, as they headed to Syria.

For Minnesota’s Somali community, the largest in the United States, this isn’t a new phenomenon: between 2007 and 2010 some two dozen men traveled to Somalia to fight “jihad” there. As before, the issue is bringing unwanted scrutiny from the FBI and local police; a federal grand jury is nearing the end of its investigation into the recruiting and who’s responsible.

The Somali community’s experience is a window: into how difficult it is to counter radicalization; into the mistrust and alienation that recruiters thrive on to draw people to radical jihad: in Somalia, Syria or elsewhere.