Between Semesters in Africa

Richard negotiating with the village chiefs
In negotiations with the village chief (oragne t-shirt) in Hang Zoung (NW Central African Republic) discussing operations

The current blog finds me between distance learning semesters on the MA International Policy and Diplomacy. I recently completed the Global Policy Analysis module and will move on to my fourth and final guided module, Foreign Policy Analysis, which starts in the first week of February.

Richard negotiating with the village chiefs
In negotiations with the village chief (orange t-shirt) in Hang Zoung (NW Central African Republic) discussing operations

Distance learning students, or certainly in my case, are at a bit of a loose end between semesters in terms of academic activity. I usually fill my time by reading books which are in some way connected to my course. In the case of a course which revolves around international politics I usually find myself reading political memoirs. I’m fairly certain it becomes obvious to my tutors what I’ve been reading between semesters. My work last semester was littered with references to the Clinton administration after I’d read his autobiography.

Distance learning students have a great deal of contact with the university, this can be quite informal and can continue throughout semester breaks. Recently my course lead sent me a link to one of those ebook libraries (I think she realised that I was dislocated from normal life and needed a stimulus – either that or she pitied my existence). This led to me launching an assualt on the novels and essays of George Orwell. I now bore people by explaining the difference between socialism and communism.

Central African Republic elections posters
Central African Republic is finally holding presidential and legislative elections after several delays. It has been a painful process for the country to get this far, enduring horrific violence and increased international military deployments.

The big news in Central African Republic is that we have finally made it to presidential and legislative elections after several delays. The country has had a fairly inactive transition administration for about a year, but there are genuine hopes here that the electoral process will go smoothly. The elections had been due in October but an explosion of violence in the capital at the end of September spread throughout the entire country and forced a postponement. In fact, at that time I had to evacuate from my normal work location, following an ugly turn of events during a municipal meeting in Bocaranga at which I was present, and take refuge in a town (Paoua) with a large UN military presence. I can only imagine the surprise of my tutor when I emailed him with that little piece of news, informing him that I might not be posting in that week’s virtual seminar (I managed it though).

Richard hiking in Central African Republic
This is the approach to Mt. Gonon the best known sumit in this prefecture. Hiking in central african republic is a lonley business.

Life here isn’t all about work and studies though. On Sundays I usually try to take a full day off. We have a spectacular range of hills on the border with Cameroon and I like to go walking there if the day is free. It’s currently the dry season here so the vegatation has died off and the paths are very clear. The paths are actually used by families moving to or from Cameroon. Cameroon is currently sheltering about 200,000 Central African refugees and I often meet families making the journey. One of the things I didn’t understand about refugees before I started this job is that they move between their home area and a neighbouring country quite regularly. Sometimes they come to see if they can return home, at other times they visit relatives before going back to the refugee camp in Cameroon where food is guaranteed. It’s a harsh existence.

By the next blog I’ll have started studying again and my set texts will have made the arduous journey to northwest Central African Republic. The logistics of this is staggering – but I’m happy to say that the distance learning staff at Staffs Uni never bat an eyelid when I ask them to send books out here. Not long to go!



About Richard Bretherick 13 Articles
Final year MA International Policy and Diplomacy student. After twenty years in the military I eventually landed a job in the humanitarian industry, and I'm currently in the far north of Central African Republic managing a program in the fight against malaria. I love my job and I'm very lucky that I can say that.