TIME Behind the Photos

Back and Forth in Central African Republic’s Unholy War

One photographer's year-long look at the unending cycle of death and uncertainty in a country mostly neglected by the international community

That Central African Republic even managed to squeeze into last year’s news cycle is a grim feat. After all, it was stacked against heavyweights like the July downing of a Malaysian jet over eastern Ukraine, protests across the U.S. over several police killings of unarmed black men, an unprecedented Ebola outbreak, as well as a summer war in Israel and Gaza.

Each of those stories, and many others of similar intensity, commanded audiences around the world for their mystery or shock or tragedy or absurdity. And, notably, for their visuals.

The same could be said for the conflict in Central African Republic, which saw some of the darkest days of its independence last year as it struggled to rebound from a coup a year earlier. Among those who committed to documenting the spiral is French photographer William Daniels, who has made some half a dozen trips there over 14 months.

Daniels was initially drawn to Central African Republic because of its unknown complexities and absence in most mainstream media. Landlocked with 4.6 million people, it lies at the center of a bad neighborhood. Democratic Republic of Congo and the Congo are at its south; Cameroon is to the west; Chad and Sudan are to the north; and to the east is a long border with South Sudan, where, away from most front pages of global news outlets, a raging civil war has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

It was March 2013 when the predominantly Muslim rebel coalition Séléka swept into the riverside capital, Bangui, from the northeast. President François Bozizé fled as a vicious campaign of looting, torture and murder got underway. Séléka leader Michel Djotodia soon proclaimed himself the successor; he would later lose control of his ranks and an attempt that fall to disband them would do little to stop the atrocities.

At the same time, groups of militias called anti-balaka had begun to form and train and retaliate against Séléka. Their name in the local Sango language means “anti-machete”; their fighters are comprised of ex-soldiers, Christians and animists, who think magic will protect them. They’re adorned with amulets to ward off attacks and fight with hunting rifles, poison-tipped arrows and machetes.

Months of tit-for-tat attacks led to two days of street warfare that December, leaving hundreds dead in the capital and an international community scrambling to react. France swiftly approved a contingent of troops to restore order in its former colony; the soldiers were named “Sangaris,” after a butterfly in the region with a short life-span. Some 5,600 peacekeepers from the African Union deployed around that same time.

MORE: Bloodshed in Bangui: A Day That Will Define Central African Republic

But the intervention would do little at first to quell the violence. Some critics called the French operation too narrow for its focus on Séléka when anti-balaka shared blame. At the start of 2014, with the retreat of Séléka into the east and resignation of Djotodia, who would be succeeded by popular Bangui Mayor Catherine Samba-Panza, anti-balaka began to fill the void. Their retaliation in some cases would eclipse the brutality of what prompted them to assemble.

Reports of atrocities would soon build up, as experts and journalists warned of whole Muslim villages being looted and torched, with their residents being forced to seek refuge in churches, schools and medical clinics. Hundreds of thousands would flee into neighbors like Chad and Cameroon.

A recent United Nations report found that anti-balaka had carried out the ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim minority. As many as 6,000 people had died in the conflict so far, but “such estimates fail to capture the full magnitude of the killings that occurred.” The commission couldn’t conclude that there was a genocide but made clear that both Séléka and anti-balaka were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

All year, Daniels aimed to unravel the tale of how a people who historically hadn’t seen violence along sectarian lines devolved into just that: Muslims and Christians, neighbors, turning on each other because they shared the holy beliefs of those who attacked them, looted and burned down their home, or killed members of their family.

The implosion of the conflict allowed him to dig deeper each time he returned. After covering the more newsworthy unrest in late 2013, he flew back several times last year to bear witness to the grim aftermath.

In February, he recorded the violent assault by anti-balaka on Muslim communities. In April, he documented the exodus out of the country and violence in Grimari, a small town near Bambari that lies at the entrance to Ouaka region. While on assignment then for Al Jazeera America, he captured the plight of refugees trapped in a Muslim enclave, and in September he got a peek inside Séléka.

Daniels admits that the balance of keeping to the news while going below the surface to probe the conflict’s tangled roots has been a challenge.

“It’s difficult to shoot daily life in the street in this country,” he says during a call from Bangui in December. “It was difficult before and it’s much worse now because as soon as you show your camera, someone will get upset and someone will ask ‘what are you doing?’ and someone will ask for money. It’s a nightmare and very, very uncomfortable.”

BanguiA Christian man is destroying burn out cars in rage, next to a looted mosque that was set on fire earlier, in the capital Bangui.
William Daniels—Panos A Christian man destroys burnt out cars in rage, next to a looted mosque that had been set ablaze. Bangui, Central African Republic. Dec. 10, 2013.

Returning to Central African Republic as much as he did last year allowed him to gauge any progress.

The overall security situation in Bangui was less tense in December than early fall, with more shops and markets open for business and more people back at work, he says. “Each time I come back, it’s a bit more.” In the capital, for example, where in late 2013 he photographed a man filled with rage destroying a burnt out car next to a looted mosque, a basketball court now stands in its place.

“It’s becoming better in places like Bangui but that doesn’t mean it’s better everywhere,” he says. “And there’s still a potential in many places for a big explosion of violence.” A U.N. mission took over from the African Union force in September and France plans to withdraw 1,200 troops—”we allowed this country—one of the poorest in the world—to begin healing,” President François Hollande said—but bouts of inter-communal violence still flare up often.

Thirty percent of the country’s population is considered as being in “a moderate to severe food security situation,” the U.N. said on Jan. 13, and 440,000 people are still internally displaced. More jobs are needed, too, especially for youths. A recent report by Save the Children estimates that some 6,000 to 10,000 boys and girls were part of armed groups, well above the 2,500 thought to be involved at the start of the conflict. And elections, originally scheduled for February, have now been delayed to at least summer.

It’s that grim assurance of uncertainty and global neglect, in part, that will keep him going back. Support from grants and hefty stipends helps. In September, Daniels received the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography. (Disclosure: This reporter helped shape his entry essay.) And in December, he was named the 2014 recipient of the Tim Hetherington Grant by World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch.

Daniels continues to see the challenge of documenting the personal impact of the country’s strife. It’s easy to get aggravated at the scenes witnessed, but it’s his recognition that it’ll take time, and patience, and a lot more aid, to turn things around that keeps him grounded and motivated. He may return as early as next month.

“It would be pretentious to say that my pictures could completely change the situation,” he says. “But I think it’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening here. I think it’s important to keep testifying.”

William Daniels is a Paris-based photographer represented by Panos Pictures.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.

Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

TIME central african republic

One of Joseph Kony’s Top Commanders Just Surrendered to U.S./African Union

The leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels Joseph Kony (seated C), surrounded by his officers, addresses his first news conference in 20 years of rebellion in Nabanga, Sudan, on Aug. 1, 2006.
Adam Pletts—Reuters The leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels Joseph Kony (seated C), surrounded by his officers, addresses his first news conference in 20 years of rebellion in Nabanga, Sudan, on Aug. 1, 2006.

Dominic Ongwen could have information about the movements of Joseph Kony

At 10 he was forced to become a child soldier and he rose to become a commander of child soldiers. Now Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army [LRA], a cult-like rebel group that started in Uganda, has surrendered to members of a joint military task force run by the United States and the African Union.

According to U. S. State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, U.S. officials have yet to confirm that Ongwen, who declared his defection from the group in the Central African Republic on Tuesday, is who he says he is, but Ugandan army spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda trumpeted a rare success in the region-wide hunt for the group best known for amputating the limbs of detractors and turning young children into soldiers and sex slaves. “This is great news,” says Kasper Agger, the Uganda-based field researcher for the Enough Project, a Washington D.C.- based human rights advocacy organization that has been tracking the Lords Resistance Army across Uganda, South Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic. But whether or not Ongwen’s defection will lead to the eventual capture of Kony “is the million dollar question,” says Agger. “We can hope that he has vital information to share, but nailing down Kony at a specific time and place is still very difficult.”

According to Psaki, the defection of Ongwen, 35, would “represent a historic blow to the LRA’s command structure.” Ongwen, who was abducted by the LRA on his way to school according to Agger of the Enough Project, quickly made his way up the ranks to become a brigade commander, collecting multiple charges of grievous human rights abuses along the way. In 2005 the International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted Ongwen for seven counts of crimes against humanity including murder, pillaging and enslavement.

Ongwen’s defection, says Agger, may be a sign of weakening leadership within the organization, but it is also possible that the commander may have had a falling out with Kony and was in fact fleeing for his life. “We do know that he had been increasingly marginalized over the past few years,” says Agger, but Kony also has a tendency to pull commanders back into the fold as younger, less experienced soldiers die off. “So he could still have some useful information.” Ongwen’s defection may be a “victory along the road” says Agger, but it is no reason to rest in the hunt for Kony. “If anything, it’s an encouragement to keep up the pressure, to make sure that we see this through to the end, and that the Lords Resistance Army is truly finished.”

TIME Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Jan. 6, 2015

A compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Marcus Bleasdale‘s work from Central African Republic for an in-depth account of the country’s spiral into bloodshed by Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, with whom the photographer has covered the country since November 2013. The most recent conflict erupted after the now-disbanded Séléka coalition of Muslim rebels ousted the Christian president in early 2013 and began a vicious campaign of looting, torture and murder, mostly against non-Muslims. Two days of street violence in December 2013 left hundreds dead and shocked the global community into action, with French and African peacekeepers sent in to restore security. But the retaliation by armed militia groups known as anti-balaka bred even more death and, in many cases, targetted the Muslim minority, prompting an exodus into the eastern region and neighboring countries. Bleasdale’s images provide an important and harrowing documentation of turmoil that has, in recent months, largely been ignored.

Marcus Bleasdale: The Unravelling – Journey Through The Central African Republic Crisis (Human Rights Watch)

Lucas Jackson: U.S. Military’s Last Days of Combat in Afghanistan (TIME.com) The Reuters photographer documented the final days of the U.S.’s official combat campaign in the country

The Influencers: Lynsey Addario (American Photo) The magazine features Addario as one of the five most influential photographers of the last 25 years

2014 The Year in Pictures (The New York Times) See also the Lens blog article, Choosing the Pictures of the Year, in which photo editors Meagham Looram and Jeffrey Scales explain the thinking behind the selection

Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back – but his Decisive Moment has passed (The Guardian) Sean O’Hagan writes somewhat critically about the re-printing of Cartier-Bresson’s seminal book, six decades on

TIME central african republic

Hundreds of Muslims Are Trapped in Enclaves in the Central African Republic

Those trapped "face a grim choice: leave and face possible attack from anti-balaka fighters, or stay and die from hunger and disease," reports HRW

Hundreds of Muslims are trapped in enclaves in atrocious conditions in the Central African Republic, fearing attacks if they leave and blocked from fleeing abroad by the interim government, reports Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Those trapped in some of the enclaves face a grim choice: leave and face possible attack from anti-balaka fighters, or stay and die from hunger and disease,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at HRW. “The government’s policy of no evacuations is absolutely indefensible.”

HRW also deplore U.N. peacekeepers for alleged complicity in hindering Muslims to seek safety. Camp leaders in the western Muslim enclaves of Yaloké, Carnot and Boda told researchers earlier this month that an estimated 1,750 people, many of them ethnic Peuhl herders, are desperate to flee.

Most of the Muslims in the west of the country escaped brutal attacks by Christian and animist anti-balaka militants between late 2013 and early 2014. More than 5,000 people were killed between December 2013 and September this year, the Associated Press reports.

TIME On Our Radar

William Daniels Wins 2014 Tim Hetherington Grant

The photographer has spent the last year documenting the impact of strife in Central African Republic

French photographer William Daniels, a frequent contributor to TIME, was named the 2014 recipient of the Tim Hetherington Grant by World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch on Thursday for his ongoing work in Central African Republic.

His project, titled “Roots of Africa’s Unholy War,” was chosen from 198 applicants. The annual honor, established after Hetherington, a British photojournalist and filmmaker died in April 2011 while covering the conflict in Libya, comes with a €20,000 prize that allows the recipient to continue a project focused on human rights issues.

Daniels has made several trips over more than a year to Central African Republic to document the effects of unprecedented violence after the Séléka coalition of mainly Muslim rebels seized power in March 2013. The move bred political chaos and ignited a vicious revenge from armed groups of predominantly Christian and animist fighters called anti-balaka. Last December, two days of street violence left hundreds dead around the capital, Bangui, and forced the global community to respond.

MORE: Bloodshed in Bangui: A Day That Will Define Central African Republic

Throughout the next year, deadly tension pushed much of the country’s Muslim minority into the eastern region or beyond the borders. Rights groups warned of ethnic cleansing as French and African peacekeepers have struggled to contain the violence.

Daniels has balanced keeping up with the news while also investigating the roots of the conflict. The commitment he and other photographers have made to bearing witness — amid huge news draws like the war in eastern Ukraine, ISIS and wrath of Ebola in West Africa — was a main factor in keeping Central African Republic on the radar.

In September, Daniels received the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography for the same work. Based in Paris, he has devoted his career to documenting humanitarian and social issues, from disease in Africa and Asia, to the unrest in Libya, to the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

TIME Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Dec. 5, 2014

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Andrew Quilty‘s work on Pakistani refugees in Afghanistan. Some 100,000 civilians fled the Pakistani military’s offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan this past summer by seeking shelter across the border in Afghanistan. More than 3,000 families ended up at the Gulan Refugee Camp in Gurbuz District in Khost, only to find out another danger was lurking underneath their feet. It turned out the camp is located above a decades old minefield from the time muhajideen were fighting the Russians. Quilty’s compelling photographs capture these unfortunate refugees haunted by weapons of an old war.

Andrew Quilty: Finding Refuge on a Mine Field (Foreign Policy)

William Daniels: Fighting Over the Spoils of War in Central African Republic (Al Jazeera America) These photographs show how natural riches play a part in the conflict often seen purely in ethnic terms | Part of a series of posts on Central African Republic.

Best Photos of the Year 2014 (Reuters)

War’s effect on peace is examined in new Tate show (Phaidon) Tate Modern curator Shoair Mavlian talks about the new exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography.

Elena Chernyshova (Verve Photo) The World Press Photo award-winning Russian photographer writes about one of her photographs from Norilsk.

Photojournalism Links is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen, Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Bill Gates has some notes for Thomas Piketty: Tackle income inequality by taxing consumption, not capital.

By Bill Gates in Gates Notes

2. Thousands have died as Central African Republic slides toward civil war, but media coverage is scant. Is there an empathy gap?

By Jared Malsin in the Columbia Journalism Review

3. Europe’s apprentice model isn’t a perfect fit for U.S. manufacturing, but it could change the way we train a new generation of blue-collar workers.

By Tamar Jacoby in the New America Foundation Weekly Wonk

4. Ebola may be gruesome but it’s not the biggest threat to Africa.

By Fraser Nelson in the Guardian

5. In dry California, regulators are using an innovative pricing scheme to push conservation.

By Sarah Gardner at Marketplace

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME the backstory

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 17, 2014

Photojournalism Links is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Jehad Nga’s gloomy work from the conflict-ravaged Central African Republic, shot on assignment for The New Yorker. The photographs of the warring parties and the plight of civilians capture a bleak portrait of a country at its worst hour.

Jehad Nga: Central African Republic (The New Yorker Photo Booth)

Nadav Kander: Dust (Wired Raw File) The work on the ruins of the Soviet era’s secret cities is worth viewing again.

Aaron Huey: Sherpa Pride and Sacrifice (National Geographic) Series on Nepal’s brave Sherpa.

Joseph Sywenkyj Wins W. Eugene Smith Grant (TIME LightBox) The American photographer won the prestigious grant for his work documenting the lives of families affected by the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Davide Monteleone (British Journal of Photography) The photographer talks about his Chechnya work.

Diana Markosian (Open Society Foundations) Markosian speaks about documenting Chechen women.

Photojournalism Links is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen, Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

TIME awards

Top Photographers Win $130,000 Worth of Grants

Announced at Visa pour l’Image, a widely-attended yearly photojournalism festival held in Perpignan, France, the grants—first established in 2004—aim to help photographers undertake "projects of personal and journalistic significance."

Getty has awarded a total of $130,000 in grants to photographers and non-profit organizations, with five of the winners picking up $10,000 grants to help them expand their already-existing editorial work. The five editorial winners include William Daniels, who shot powerful images for Central African Republic for TIME and other publications this year and Giulio Di Sturco, whose inside look at Madagascar’s cocoa war featured on LightBox in May.

Photographer William Daniels won a grant for his often disturbing work from Central African Republic, where groups of vigilantes called anti-balaka — comprised of Christians, animists and former troops loyal to the toppled government — have battled with the country’s Muslims. The conflict, Daniels says, is vastly underrepresented in most media and he plans to use the grant to help him probe more deeply into “the background of what’s going on.” He hopes the grant will help him answer questions like “what makes a boy into an anti-balaka?” he adds. “Photography has a key role to play in places where people are suffering on a big scale,” Daniels says.

Giulio Di Sturco‘s look at the the Ganges river earned him his grant. The work, which is oddly beautiful and sometimes unnerving, looks at the evolution of the river along which about 8 percent of the world’s population live. The river faces “new environmental challenges,” Di Sturco tells TIME, with the Ganges basin the river being one of the most polluted in the world. The grant, he says, will allow him to “finish the last chapter of the project” and to put out both a book and an exhibition.

Krisanne Johnson‘s win came on the back of her frenetic, moving project, documenting the lives of what she calls the “post-apartheid generation” in South Africa. “They are grappling with many issues,” she says, “struggling with access to education, gang violence and HIV to name just a few.” In South Africa, more than half of the nation’s 18-25 year olds are unemployed.

Juan Arredondo‘s powerful work looking at the experience of current and former child combatants in Colombia caught judges eyes. Human Right Watch estimates that approximately 11,000 children have been used as combatants in the country, and about 3,500 former child combatants have been reunited with their families by the government. By the time they are thirteen, HRW adds, most child recruits have been trained in the use of automatic weapons, grenades, mortars and explosives. “This story needs visibility,” Arredondo says, “to bring forth a public discussion of a crisis long ignored in Colombia.”

Quiet, striking work documenting of the lives of Mennonite communities in Bolivia saw Jordi Busqué win a grant. Mennonites are Christians who follow a way of life that has not changed since the 16th century. Living in rural isolation, they are fiercely protective of their privacy.

Laura Boushnak wins a grant called the Getty Images and Lean In Editorial Grant, which focuses on those documenting important but under-told stories about women. Her project, I Read I Write, is a broad, continuing project about education and women in the Arab world.

Announced at Visa pour l’Image, a widely-attended yearly photojournalism festival held in Perpignan, France, the grants—first established in 2004—aim to help photographers undertake “projects of personal and journalistic significance.” This year’s judges included The New York Times International Picture Editor David Furst, National Geographic Magazine Director of Photography Sarah Leen and Francois Leroy, Director General of Visa pour l’Image, among others.

Getty also awarded a $10,000 portrait photography grant and three creative grants of $20,000, one of which went to Robin Hammond. The creative awards aim to help non profits work with photographers.

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox

TIME In Progress

Meet the Photographers Covering Africa's Forgotten Conflict

Meet three photographers covering the often overlooked Central African Republic, a region that seems to make headlines only when violence and poverty strike.

Photographers William Daniels, Pierre Terdjman and Michaël Zumstein share the same ambition: to go back to Central African Republic (CAR) to continue the work they started in late 2013 and early 2014 when the country’s ethnic, religious and political divisions led to the massacre of 2,600 people.

But they face a major obstacle: a lack of international interest in a region that only makes headlines when the most extreme violence erupts.

“Fewer journalists are going to CAR today since it’s become more difficult to get support from media organizations,” says Daniels, a French photographer who, earlier this year, covered the fighting for TIME and a handful of other international publications. “For many people, CAR is just another poor and undeveloped country in Africa where everyone’s fighting everyone. We don’t understand why, and we don’t even want to understand.”

Zumstein, on assignment for the French newspaper Le Monde, was one of the first journalists to fly to CAR in September 2013 to document the increasingly volatile situation there. Terdjman, who had received backing from Paris Match in the early days of the conflict, soon joined Zumstein, with both men sharing hotel rooms, cars and drivers, often working alongside other photographers and journalists.

“I felt there was no competition between us,” Zumstein tells TIME. “We were all motivated by the story. We [sometimes] wondered whether we were doing the same things, but in the end, that wasn’t the case.” The fact that Zumstein worked for a daily newspaper while Terdjman filed his pictures to a weekly magazine also helped create a sense of collaboration between the two photographers. “We weren’t building the same narratives,” says Terdjman. “It’s rare to be able to work like this with another photographer—to go beyond your own photographs and your own narrative. It felt like a sort of workshop.”

Many of these photographers’ conversations come back again and again to the role they were playing in documenting the conflict—especially when they were witnesses to acts of barbarism. “When you witness a guy being cut in pieces and emasculated in front of you, your first reaction as a journalist is to get the photograph, but the second thing is to try to understand what actually happened,” says Zumstein. “A few times, we’ve discussed whether we should publish such images.” While both men sent violent and disturbing photographs to their respective newsrooms, they often argued for them to remain unpublished. “Part of the propaganda campaign in CAR is to scare your adversary,” Zumstein adds. “We can become intermediaries in these situations. At some points, guys would come to us announcing that they had arrested a Muslim man and were going to kill him in front of us. In these situations, you know that if you accept, you’ll witness [acts of torture] that might not have taken place otherwise.”

Still, all three photographers are unwavering in their dedication to cover the country’s deeply rooted struggles. “CAR has an unbelievable past,” says Daniels. “In the last 40 years, only one president was able to finish his term. All of the others were removed in coups.”

Despite this troubling history, recent coverage of the violence in the former French colony has been sparse. “TIME was one of the only international magazines that continued to follow the situation on the ground even after the worst of the fighting,” says Daniels. “Many organizations felt that it was France’s problem, and that was also the case when it came time for the international community to commit military forces to stem the fighting.”

This position still stands today. “I want to go back,” says Terdjman, who has been struggling to find further funding. “I feel that this lack of interest is due in part to the predominance of 24-hour news networks. I think they are responsible for that sense of saturation that so many people feel. It’s like this open faucet that inundates you with updates at all times of the day. At some point, viewers don’t want to hear anything more about this, and that’s particularly true when you’re working for a magazine. When a magazine comes out on a Thursday and discusses an event that took place on the preceding Monday, you have to understand that news networks and the online publications have spent these three days talking about these events non-stop. When your readers buy that issue, they’re already saturated.”

As a result, photographers have been forced to find different angles to these stories or pursue ever-elusive scoops. “It makes it very difficult,” says Terdjman. Daniels believes the lack of coverage has implications for the situation on the ground. “I’m pessimistic about the evolution of this crisis,” the latter tells TIME. “France and the African Union are struggling to stop the fighting and the international community isn’t playing a real part. The problem is that without any media [coverage] of what’s happening there, it’s going to be hard for things to change.”

Zumstein shares that pessimism, even though he believes he’s done his job as a journalist and photojournalist. “The fact that I was there in the early days and that we were able to publish a large essay in Le Monde Geopolitique [one of Le Monde’s spin-off titles] helped bring awareness to the issue,” he explains. “I’m proud of what we did, since, very quickly, a lot of photographers and journalists contacted me to inquire about CAR. I felt that a lot of them became interested in the story after the work we did.”

Now, Zumstein adds, as United Nations deploys its troops in CAR — 636 uniformed personel in position as of July — it will be time for someone else to document that chapter of the country’s history. “That’s another story. I don’t feel I have to play an urgent role in it, but it doesn’t mean I won’t pay attention to what’s going on there. When I go back, I’ll do something else. I’ll look to draw conclusions about what has happened there.”

Daniels, who’s received funding to continue his work, will be back later this September. But he remains pessimistic about the impact of his work. “Right now, all eyes are turned towards the Ebola crisis in Western Africa. I’ve received many offers of assignments to cover Ebola, but none to go back to CAR.”

William Daniels is a photographer represented by Panos Pictures. Daniels previously wrote for LightBox about his escape from Syria. Pierre Terdjman is a freelance photographer and the co-founder of the #Dysturb collective. Michael Zumstein is a French-Swiss photographer represented by Agence VU.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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