From midday on, girls decked out in miniskirts, high heels and lip gloss jiggle their hips in front of a huge mirror in a Bangui nightclub, open because of a curfew as rebels threaten the Central African Republic’s capital.
Men sit on barstools sipping whisky after the nightclubs open their doors for six hours from noon, closing in time for the curfew that has been imposed from 7:00 pm to 5:00 am to prevent rebel incursions and to keep potential looting in check.
At the Zodiaque in the city centre, bouncers watch over the entrance. The music is so loud that it comes through thick double doors. The place is not full, but once inside, there is no hint that it is daytime outside.
“It’s not full, it’s half full. On New Year’s Day, like New Year’s Eve, we were under curfew, but there were as many people as on a normal night,” said Achille Kongba, owner of the Zodiaque and another nightclub, Le Plantation. He informed clients of the new opening hours with advertising spots on the radio.
“I’m opening to cover my expenses. In 2001 and 2002, there was a curfew for three months. We couldn’t remain closed for so long, and we already opened during the day,” he added.
Inside, Jacques, a man in his 30s with a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other, summed up the situation in the rebellion- and coup- prone country.
“In other countries, after the nightclub, people drift to another bar. There are also happy hours…. I don’t say that this is going to become a habit because usually we work, but now we’re on enforced holidays and we have to live. We’ve already been through this in 2001 and 2002 and 2003.
“We need to express ourselves, to live,” he added. “The people are suffering. This is imposed on us — rebellion, war. What everybody needs to do is to get round a negotiating table and stop the fighting.”
The bulk of the rebels on Thursday were stationed at Sibut, 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Bangui. A multinational African peacekeeping force has set up a “red line” between them and the capital and vowed to keep either side from crossing it, while regional leaders seek to broker peace talks.
— ‘Every 10 years, it’s the same’ —
Jacques’s neighbour, an unemployed geologist, said: “We’ve had enough. I can’t work in the back-country because of the insecurity. Every 10 years, it’s the same. Just let us live in peace!”
“We can’t go out because of the curfew, so we come in the afternoon,” said Manuelle, a high school student in her final year. “This isn’t the same, but it’s also the afternoon. There’s more room on the dance floor. And then we return home at 7:00 pm, we eat, we watch television and we go to bed.”
Mamita, another student, chipped in: “We’re afraid that the rebels will come, but we’re here to have fun.”
Cynthia Konate however had a complaint. “Right now, there are only Centrafricans who turn up. Usually, there are French people, Cameroonians, South Africans, Guineans, people from every country. It’s better when there’s a mixture, it’s much nicer.”
Outside, Steve, a street vendor, had a small table displaying everything needed for a nightclub: mobile phone cards, cigarettes in packets or sold individually, mints and condoms. “But the condoms for the moment, I’m not selling them,” he said.
At the Safari, a nearby nightclub, the scene is much the same. The walls are covered with paintings of semi-naked African women. A score of people, mostly women, are dancing in front of the mirrors or in little groups.
Most of the ladies of pleasure only dance and avoid drinking anything, unless somebody “whets their throat”, one of the women said.
“We’ve got no money but we also like to enjoy ourselves,” said another. The nightclub owners let them in without paying.
At 6:00 pm, near closing time, the disk jockey produces a trump card by playing the worldwide mega-hit “Gangnam Style”. Three girls line up on the dance floor to imitate the choreography to perfection.
The hit by South Korean musician Psy has found its way everywhere, from chic Western dance floors to Bangui “dayclubs”. As it is in peacetime, so be it in times of trouble.