Request from an African Prison’s Worst Inmates

By Peter Gwin, Senior Editor, NG [1]

“Ssssssss, monsieur. Ssssssss, monsieur.” The hissing sound comes from the padlocked door of the cell holding the “stubborn ones,” says the prison warden in Berberati, a Central African Republic town near the border with Cameroon.


The inmates poke their fingers through the cracks, trying to motion me to come near, possibly to whisper an alibi or maybe to slip them some cash or the ballpoint pen I’m nervously clicking. The warden ignores them and continues his tour of the rest of the prison, organized around an open concrete yard.

In the corner of the yard two naked men bathe themselves, splashing water from a bucket and vigorously rubbing their skin. A fire smolders in another corner. The sweet, pungent smell of cassava flour and human sweat hangs in the air. The eyes of all the prisoners follow us as we move around the yard. I ask the warden about the men in the padlocked cell.

“Some are bandits,” he ways with a dismissive wave. “Two are anti-Balaka,” members of a movement of Christians and animists who joined forces to fight a Muslim-led rebellion. Just that morning the town’s prosecutor had told me that the prison’s worst inmates had participated in the burning, looting, and lynching that left the Muslim quarter of the town an empty ruin.

The warden leads us out of the yard, and we pass the cell once more. The fingers poke through the cracks beseechingly, Ssssssss, monsieur! Ssssssss, monsieur!” they hiss. “Some soap, please. Some soap.”
National Geographic, Jan 2016

This entry was posted in Africa, Social Justice and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Request from an African Prison’s Worst Inmates

  1. mukul chand says:

    Great write up. Ethnic warfare is creating havoc in Africa.

  2. Mani says:

    The political boundaries that we see in Africa today were created by the white imperialists viz:- Britain, France, Italy and—- the worst of them—-Belgium who carved up the continent for themselves totally disregarding tribal loyalties of the African people. Though these imperialists have packed their bags and returned home, what we see today, are the ramifications of this mindless, opportunistic dividing of Africa by the superior white race!

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