Playing for peace in the Central African Republic
The conflict in the Central African Republic has pitted sectarian militias against each other at the cost of thousands of lives. But could it be resolved through a game? That's the aim of one African developer called Teddy Kossoko, whose new game Kissoro Tribal Game hopes to create a virtual peace that could inspire the whole of the African continent.
"Many people around the world don’t know that the Central African Republic even exists," Teddy Kossoko told RFI.
It was partly to tackle this ignorance that the young developer came up with the idea to create a game dedicated to African culture.
What better than using an ancestral tradition like Kissoro, a board game played in all African countries and able to unite thousands.
That's how Kissoro Tribal Game started.
It depicts the story of two rival kingdoms that are locked in a bloody battle for control of their local river, and access to its rich resources. It's a classic story played out all too often on the African continent.
Today Kossoko wants to change the narrative.
"The aim of my project is to promote my country first, the Central African Republic, a country that is renowned in the world," says the 23 year-old. "And also to value Africa and show that Africa can bring a lot to the world in terms of culture.”
The Central African Republic (CAR) is above all renowned for violence.
The country has been in turmoil since 2013 when former president François Bozizé was overthrown, sparking conflict between the Seleka and anti-Balaka militias.
Rich in gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, CAR has proved irresistible to warlords and has seen six coups since independence in 1960.
Kossoko believes his game can change people’s perceptions of a country plagued by violence.
Message to the people
"I wanted to show people that in my country there is not only conflict," he says. "There are many people, we can share ideas, we can innovate, we can also try to fight war using peaceful tools."
That tool is Kissoro. The game's main character is a young orphan.
"One day there is a young orphan who decided to tell to his king that they have nothing in common with the opponent but they have just this board game, so why couldn't they use this board game to resolve the conflict?"
This is the Central African Republic that Kossoko chooses to see, a country of peace. A fiction that the young developer hopes will one day become reality.
"In my country, it is very difficult to talk about the situation and so, thanks to my game, it was a bit easy to say to people that they have to stop the war, and they have to find solutions themselves. Solutions are not going to come from elites, from the United Nations, or any other country, people have to take their lives in their hands and fight for solutions."
The virtual peace offered by Kissoro Tribal Game is far removed from the current violence in the CAR, which has seen an upsurge in violence that has left at least 21 people dead, including one UN peacekeeper, killed during an exchange of fire with armed elements on Tuesday 10 April.
Most of those killed were young people, enrolled by criminal gangs, according to the head of the UN peacekeeping mission.
Kossoko wants to offer Africa's youth alternatives to violence.
Put down the guns
"Young people do not have to take guns to resolve these conflicts," he insists. "There are many peaceful ways, they must be source of proposition like the character of my game."
Since the start of the latest conflict in 2012, up to 10,000 children have been enrolled by rebel groups on both sides of the divide, according to the UN's Unicef.
Given the gravity of the situation, is it fair to make a game out of a cruel reality?
"I took care to put very quickly the light on the main character: the young orphan who will save the kingdom," insists Kossoko.
"Clearly this player’s objective is to quickly show that war is not the solution. Also in my game I do not say that this or that kingdom is responsible for the war, but that the war divides instead of gathering. People will win more to sit around a table and play a game. They will see that they have many things in common."
Discovered gaming culture in France
Born in the CAR, Kossoko moved to France at the onset of the 2012 conflict to study computer science and management and he was introduced to gaming culture.
But he never forgot his past.
"I experienced the war in 1998 and the coup d’état in 2003 and so for me these are very bad experiences," he recalls.
In 2012, a few months after Kossoko let for France, his country sank into another crisis, "the deadliest of its history, so I know that war is something that is very horrible," he says.
This explains why he is committed to projects that promote peace and fraternity.
Politicians show interest
His game has attracted wide interest, including from CAR politicians who are using it as a weapon of reconciliation.
"I’m very surprised," says the developer.
"At the beginning, I was very happy and it has been an honour for me to see that many people in my country and even government officials are playing this game and I think that the work I do has a positive echo even to politicians, and for me that is a good sign for the future."
Kissoro Tribal Game and its counterparts are part of a movement that aims to amplify African myths, stories and traditions.
With its African myths and legends, the game has been compared to the blockbuster movie Black Panther, a film that also portrays the continent in a positive light.
After the success of Kissoro Tribal Game, what next for Kossoko?
"With my team, we are preparing another project more ambitious that will allow Africa and the world youth to discover one of the most powerful kingdoms of its time, the Songhai empire," he explains.
The new project portrays a Central African detective, who, bored with his investigations, decides to unlock the murder mystery of one of the greatest conquerors of the 14th century, Sonni Ali Ber.
"We want the African youth to know that they have a great past and they must work hard to have a great future too," Kossoko says.