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VOA Exclusive: Diamonds and the Death of the Central African Republic

A man who gave his name as Sylvain said he was in charge of the anti-balaka militia in the region around Boda. Armed mainly with machetes, the militia groups now control the rich diamond mining areas in the southwest part of CAR. Sept. 18, 2004 (VOA/Bagassi Koura)

How do diamonds fuel a cycle of poverty and violence? A riveting multimedia report by VOA tells how the diamond trade did just that in the Central African Republic.

The report opens with a video shot of a boy sifting through muddy water for diamonds. CAR is one of the poorest countries in the world, but its diamonds are among the most valuable in the world. If the boy finds one “the size of a pencil tip” it could feed a family for a month or more.

But CAR’s precious diamonds are also sought by armed militias, representing different religious, military, political and ethnic factions, who are battling for control of the country’s diamond trade. The VOA report, In Central African Republic, Diamonds Fuel A Cycle of Violence and Poverty, tells how the militias, eager to control trade in CAR’s diamonds and other resources, have caused its collapse.

“Today,” write VOA journalists Bagassi Koura and Mike Eckel, who collaborated on the story, “CAR is less a country than a collection of fiefdoms, ruled by gang-like armed groups, where religious, military, political and ethnic factions struggle for anything that might yield revenue.”

Koura, an Africa-born broadcast reporter with VOA’s French-to-Africa Service, has reported from Central African Republic twice over the past year. Eckel, also a veteran reporter familiar with war zones, is on the staff of VOA’s English webdesk. Working together, the two created a story about a country and its people that are little known in the West.

CAR did make headlines around the world about a year ago, when machete-wielding gangs in Bangui, the country’s capital, and elsewhere began killing sprees that killed thousands. What Koura and Eckel have done is go far beyond bloody headlines. They explain, blending video, pictures, and text, the turmoil that has caused CAR to all but cease to exist as a country.

VOA Director David Ensor says, “This is how more stories will be told in the future – with a blend of well-written analysis and compelling videos and photos that take you there.”

Since December of 2013, when the fighting in CAR intensified, VOA has customized its programming to Bangui, adding news and features in Sango, the predominant language in the country. VOA’s French-to-Africa Service also provides daily SMS messages with news headlines to over 4,000 subscribers.