Joy amid the bloodshed

This is part of a year-end photo series spotlighting images of beauty or hope, taken in times of war, crisis and upheaval.

(AFP Photo / Issouf Sanogo)

ABIDJAN, December 26, 2014 – It’s the first day of February in Bangui. For 10 days now the Central African Republic has had a new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza. Her arrival after months of horrific sectarian violence has offered a glimmer of hope to the blighted population.

I'm in the courtyard of a church in the capital, serving as a centre for the displaced, when I witness this amazing scene. Samba-Panza has just wrapped up a visit here, and as her car revs up to leave it lifts up a cloud of dust.

Dozens of women and children start running behind it, jumping with joy, laughing and yelling “Long Live the president!”

Women celebrate the president's visit at a camp for the displaced in Bangui on February 1, 2014Women celebrate the president's visit at a camp for the displaced in Bangui on February 1, 2014 (AFP Photo / Issouf Sanogo)

That brief explosion of joy, captured on camera, is such a relief, so different from the atrocities I have been photographing since arriving 10 days earlier, and that I will continue to witness in the days to come.

The joy is short-lived. The same day security concerns force Samba-Panza to cancel a visit to Bangui’s largest refugee camp. And five days later I witness a horrific mob lynching, inside the National Magistrate’s School in Bangui – just after an official ceremony attended by the president.

I have been back once since then to the Central African Republic, in March and April. By now the mass killings have stopped and many of the displaced have been able to return to their neighbourhoods. But there are still frequent outbursts of violence, the country is in ruins and Samba-Panza’s record in office is increasingly challenged as crime soars.

President Catherine Samba-Panza visits a camp for the displaced in Bangui on February 1, 2014President Catherine Samba-Panza visits a camp for the displaced in Bangui on February 1, 2014 (AFP Photo / Issouf Sanogo)

Against the odds, the Central Africans by and large have a generous dose of joie de vivre. Even at the height of unrest, you would always find a makeshift drinks stall on a street corner, and people ready to party.

This scene, when dozens of people newly driven from their homes – and probably bereaved in recent violence – started dancing with joy at a visit from their leader, just goes to show what a love of life they have.

Issouf Sanogo is an AFP photographer based in Abidjan

Children run behind the car transporting Central African Republic transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza as she leaves a camp for the displaced in Bangui on February 1, 2014 (AFP PHOTO/ ISSOUF SANOGO)

Children run behind the car of President Catherine Samba-Panza at a camp for the displaced in Bangui on February 1, 2014 

AFP Photo / Issouf Sanogo)