BANGUI, July 6, 2016 — The first thing you see when you land at Bangui’s M’Poko International Airport is miles and miles of makeshift shelters covered in plastic tarp, dangerously lined up along the landing strip. “A disaster waiting to happen if a plane misses the runway and catches fire,” in the words of an airport fire officer. Welcome to Camp M’Poko, home to 30,000 internally displaced people living in the backyard of a dilapidated airport.
In 2014, at the height of the political and sectarian crisis that devastated the Central African Republic and displaced one-quarter of its population, the camp hosted up to 100,000 people. Formerly known as Bangui la Coquette, the capital city of Central African Republic has earned the sad nickname Bangui la Roquette —roughly, a change from “Bangui of Charms” to “Bangui of Bombs.” While recent presidential and legislative elections have brought three years of turmoil and transition to an end, blue helmets are still everywhere and outbursts of violence are frequent.