''Thus we managed to prevent the worst and maintain a certain level of stability," said Gazzera. "Since the departure of the Seleka in January 2014, only two deaths were recorded against some 130 [deaths] weeks before.''
As signs of this stability, the hospital as well as schools - from nursery to grammar schools - re-opened thanks to a ‘simple’ strategy which consists of buying school materials for students and providing a little ‘incentive’, $30 to $40 US a month, for teachers.
However, these incentives are not a replacement for their wages, which the government is supposed to provide. In total some 15,000 students are registered in 70 schools. This represents an attendance rate of 85% in the city.
Another sign of normality in Bozum is the commencement of farming activities; which are necessary to ensure food needs. Markets and shops have also resumed their usual exchanges - although some imported foods are missing, or are unaffordable. This is the direct result of the departure of the Muslim population, as most of them worked as traders or lorry drivers and predominantly supplied the city’s imported goods from neighboring countries.
Mediation efforts - a risky approach
Discussions with armed groups have often been cut short, said Gazzera, ''They [Seleka and anti-Balaka] are very violent and have no sense of respect and human dignity.''
Several times, the Italian priest was assaulted by armed men.
On other occasions, Gazzera was pelted with stones and shot at. He was unharmed, but the bullet holes are still visible on his car.
Despite the danger, Gazzera has not let the assaults intimidate him.
He says he has a ‘firm attitude’, that he is the ‘’only voice that has some weight in the area'' especially since civil and military authorities, who fled the rebel attacks in Bozoum, have not yet made their return.
Part of Gazzera’s mediation efforts include the ‘‘Committee of the Wise’’ which acts as a court for the settlement of disputes, while a ‘‘Mediation Committee’’ which consists of Christian and Muslim clerics, and other members of civil society, meets every day to assess the situation in Bozoum.
Gazzera said that despite persistent difficulties, the crisis has led to new, hopeful dynamics within Bozoum’s population.
''God has allowed us to engage in more acceptance of others. The crisis also opens the way to a life of faith, and has enabled some people to encounter the Gospel," he said. "Also, many have already started to regret the departure of Muslims, who were the economic engine of the city."
Gazzera is thankful for the efforts of the city’s religious and community leaders, and hopes that Bozoum’s experience will spread to other cities in CAR.
However, cautioned Gazzera, this mediation effort will - at some point – require the support of experts to set up analysis and strategies on how to better deal with the ongoing crisis.