Elisabeth Blanche: journalist and mother

Bangui, Central African Republic
September 2016

Assignment for Free Press Unlimited

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been unstable since its independence from France in 1960. Muslim rebels from Seleka seized power in 2013 and plunged the country with a Christian majority, into a deep crisis. Under international pressure a transitional government was formed in 2014, but despite the presence of a UN peacekeeping force and a French mission, the violence continued.

Elisabeth Blanche Olofio worked as a journalist for Be Oko Radio in the city of Bambari. When Seleka rebels advance the city in January 2013, she is forced to flee the violence with her children.

In a neighbouring village she finds shelter in the house of her uncle. But she gets sick and devoid of information and medical care she decides to go back to Bambari. She finds a city in chaos. Government buildings are looted and little is left from Be Oko Radio and her house. Her neighbours warn her Seleka rebels are looking for her because of her critical reporting. Or as others said, because she had a sharp tongue.

Her return quickly reaches the rebels. Six of them go to her house and beat her incessantly with AK-47s. Bleeding and unconscious, she is left for dead. Neighbours rush her to the hospital, but there they are unable to provide her with the proper care. With the help of UNICEF, she is eventually taken to a hospital in Bangui for further treatment. At that time the rumours in the country are in full swing. Several media reported about her death. Her condition is worrisome, but she is alive.

Jean-Ignace Manengou, director of the Association of Central African Community Radio Stations (ARC) draws the attention of Free Press Unlimited to her case. They decide to support Elisabeth via their Reporters Respond emergency fund. She receives two thousand euro to cover her most pressing needs.

In the months following the assault both her physical and mental health rapidly decline. In June 2014, Elisabeth dies at the age of 34, leaving her daughters Bertille (14) and Divine (10) orphaned.

Since then, Elisabeth's cousin Pierrette Blanche Lingapo takes care of the two girls. She describes her cousin as a fearless and determined journalist, but foremost as a loving and caring mother. Daughter Divine: "Mom always wished us a happy birthday on the radio. Then the whole village knew it was our birthday!" Now the only tangible memory they have of their mother is her passport.

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