Today Catherine Samba-Panza, a businesswoman turned politician, became President of the Central African Republic. The 1st woman head of state in that country, Samba-Panza joins 2 others in Africa: President Joyce Banda of Malawi and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.
The 135-member National Transitional Council chose Samba-Panza in a runoff held because none of 8 original candidates obtained a majority in the 1st round of voting. The Council voted in the wake of the January 10 resignation of Michel Djotodia, who had seized power in March 2013 and ruled as President for just under a year. In that same time frame, Samba-Panza has served as mayor of Bangui, the capital. (credit for photo by Eric Feferberg/AFP)
The new President faces immense challenges. The Séléka rebellion that brought her predecessor to power eventually morphed into protracted armed violence, between former rebels in that Muslim-led faction and Christian, “anti-Balaka” militias. These armed groups are said to have recruited upwards of 6,000 child soldiers, notwithstanding the international ban on child-soldiering. A fifth of the population – nearly a million persons – has been displaced.
The new President, described as a politically neutral Christian, addressed these troubles in her election speech:
‘I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka – they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings.’
Whether violence will abate in the Central African Republic – a situation-country of the International Criminal Court, to which thousands of U.N. Security Council-authorized international troops are now being deployed – remains to be seen.