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Central African warlord living in opulence in a sea of poverty

BANGUI –  Small and wiry with a Bin Laden-style beard, General Mahamat Al Khatim is absolute master of a vast region in northern Central African Republic, far from the capital Bangui.

Afficher l'image d'origineAl Khatim, whose public appearances are a show of power and wealth in one of Africa’s poorest nations, is one of the warlords who emerged from the Seleka (“Alliance”) of Muslim rebels that toppled president Francois Bozize in 2013.

Known as “the president” across territory south of the border with Chad, the general’s trips through Kabo, his dusty “capital,” are spectacular.

Nobody would dare not to turn out and applaud, despite being regularly robbed by his men.

AL KHATIM’S SHOW OF POWER

Preceded by about 100 motorbikes with at least three riders apiece, the strongman drives past in the back seat of a flashy new 4×4, deigning occasionally to wave to his subjects.

“Sometimes he goes by with no greeting… If you are caught ignoring the motorcade, the ex-Seleka will slap a fine on you. It can vary from $163 to $326),” Kabo resident Jeremie Ndomlane said.

When “the president” salutes the national colours, the citizens of Kabo stand still for more than 600 metres all around.

“Woe to those who pretend to take no notice,” said Gaston Mbainadje, a trucker.

Another resident, Martin Oualata, explains that in front and behind Al Khatim’s vehicle, roll at least 10 pick-up trucks fitted with heavy machine-guns and carrying men in military uniform with new berets and AK-47 assault rifles.

“The drive-by winds up with Muslim women in vehicles, always new ones, waving handkerchiefs and scarves, ululating to end the procession,” he adds.

LAVISH LIFESTYLE

In Summary

  • Al Khatim, whose public appearances are a show of power and wealth in one of Africa’s poorest nations, is one of the warlords who emerged from the Seleka (“Alliance”) of Muslim rebels that toppled president Francois Bozize in 2013.
  • Preceded by about 100 motorbikes with at least three riders apiece, the strongman drives past in the back seat of a flashy new 4×4, deigning occasionally to wave to his subjects.
  • Al Khatim lives in a luxury villa fenced off with barbed wire near the entrance to Sido on the northern border with Chad.

 

Al Khatim lives in a luxury villa fenced off with barbed wire near the entrance to Sido on the northern border with Chad.

The location is ideal to watch over all traffic coming or going from Kabo and the town of Batangafo further south.

Motorists, passengers and merchandise: nothing escapes the attention of the warlord’s men.

His armed followers serve as soldiers, police, gendarmes and customs officers.

A former mercenary from Chad, Mahamat Al Khatim was one of the men who brought Gen Bozize to power in March 2003, in one of the many coups that have swept the country since independence from France in 1960, along with rebellions and army mutinies.

Bozize trusted Al Khatim enough to appoint him military security chief at the presidential palace in  Bangui, close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The devout Christian head of state and his palace governor got along fine until the issue of celebrating the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan arose in 2012.

“Al Khatim tells everyone who will listen how that year… he and his fellow Muslims asked Bozize to help them organise the feast. Bozize gave every one of them 10,000 CFA francs, which annoyed them. After that, they took their weapons and bags to go and join the Seleka rebellion,” a resident says.

By AFP

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