BANGUI — The rebellion in the Central African Republic last year turned into the worst looting spree the country has ever seen. The Seleka rebels and criminal gangs pillaged businesses, homes, government offices, religious missions, health centers and public utilities.
The CAR's national union of business leaders recently submitted a list of companies that suffered looting and vandalism after March 24 of last year, the day the Seleka rebel alliance seized power in Bangui.
The list of 23 companies includes most of the important businesses in the country.
While the scale of their losses has yet to be calculated, visiting just a few sites around Bangui gives an indication of how damaging the recent upheavals have been.
Road construction firm looted
VOA visited the main depot of the country's biggest road construction firm, the China International Fund. One of the managers, Cyriaque Motoumba, says looters took vast amounts of building materials and equipment.
He says they emptied the containers of cement and also they took the steel reinforcement bars that the Chinese had stocked in eight of the containers, so now there is nothing.
Motoumba says 400 tons of steel bars were loaded onto trucks by the Seleka and driven away - to Chad, he believes, because that is where many Seleka mercenaries came from.
Several vehicles were stolen, he says, and it's clear some of the other vehicles were taken apart. He shows the inside of a tractor engine.
"There’s no battery, and they took out the fuel injector, the starter and even the driver’s seat," he said.
Why didn’t they drive the tractors away?
"Chinese vehicles like these are too noticeable," he said. "People would see them and would see who was driving them."
He estimates the company took losses of about $14 million from the looting.
Health structures also targeted
Some figures have been collected for damage to health structures. The United Nations says that out of 117 health structures assessed to date, fully 50 percent were looted and 42 percent damaged.
The head of a health center in Bangui's Petevo district, Ouba Mossoro, showed VOA around the premises.
"Well, as you see, there’s nothing left - the medicines were stolen, everything was looted including a sum of money," he said.
The medical charity Alima, with help from the U.N. Children’s Fund, has started rejuvenating another health center in Bangui, installing a generator, repairing a water tank, and providing equipment, salaries and training.
Pierre Kojan, a doctor working for Alima at the center, tolds VOA he doesn’t attribute the degradation at this health center to looting.
"It was a progressive decline, owing to lack of maintenance, with the result that the maternity ward had no instruments, no water and in fact nothing of what was needed for babies to be delivered safely," he said.
UNICEF has also helped to restore clean water supplies in a number of CAR cities, including Bangui, where it is installing a new pump in the Oubangui River.
"The company had enormous damage in some of the towns where it provides water - notably at Bambari, where its headquarters was looted and its factory was pillaged, and also at Bossangoa, Bouar and Bozoum," said the national water company’s technical director, Pierre Edouard Lebaramo.
VOA asked a Seleka commander who is still in Bangui, Mahamat Dhaffane, how the looting could have been allowed to happen.
"Seleka was rightly accused of being the devil," he said. "There was looting, there were human rights violations, unacceptable abuses. But, what people have seen with the anti-balaka militias has been even worse."
It is true that Muslims’ houses, businesses and mosques have been systematically destroyed since December.
But how did the Seleka fail to prevent the onset of looting on a massive scale?
Cyriaque Motoumba believes it was because many of the mercenaries they used had overthrown a CAR government once before, in 2003, when they were fighting for ex-President Bozize, and he had failed to reward them as they had hoped.
This time around, Motoumba says, the mercenaries didn't wait to get paid.