Only the second peaceful transition of power since its independence from France in 1960, Bangui mayor Catherine Samba-Panza was elected on Monday to the position of interim president for the Central African Republic (CAR). She succeeds former President Michel Djotodia, founder of the Seleka militia, who seized power last March in a coup which designated Djotodia to be the first Muslim president to the predominantly Christian nation. Unable to stem the violence succeeding his appointment, he stepped down a week ago following international pressure.
The challenge ahead is to stabilize and rebuild the African state ranked in the bottom 5% of all countries in the world based on the UN’s Human Development Index. The state has seen a quarter of its population displaced from the conflict and the international community fears that the sectarian violence could escalate to genocide. Interim President Samba-Panza will face an uphill battle. The CAR has no budget, no army, no police force, no judges, no jails and no human security—which has driven roughly one million people out of their homes.
The newly elected interim president will have international military assistance from more than nine countries, including a coalition from the African Union with about 4,000 troops—growing to 6,000 troops, 1,600 French troops, and an additional European Union contribution of about 500 troops. President Samba-Panza’s strategy is to engage the rebel groups to ascertain their grievances and petition the international community for aid to support the establishment of human security and resumption of CAR government services. With the interim President’s plea and the EU’s identification that sixty percent of the population is in “dire need of aid,” the international community has already pledged $496 million in humanitarian assistance.
With perceived political neutrality, previous experience in the reconciliation process and purported preliminary support by both the predominantly Muslim Seleka and Christian anti-Balaka fighters; President Samba-Panza is the hope the country is looking for to restore order to the CAR. But success may not be easily achieved, as the interim president believes that economic horizontal inequalities among the Christian and Muslim communities and the exploitation of these inequalities by some are at the root of the rebellion. In one of the poorest countries in the world, providing government services—sanitation, clean water, food, medicine and shelter—to the population and restructuring the CAR to afford the entire population equal access to economic resources will be a long-term goal. With these promising developments, the international community just hopes exogenous factors like neighboring countries in conflict do not derail potential progress in the CAR.