Amidst the absence of a formal government, on Monday, January 20, a transitional parliament appointed Catherine Samba-Panza, 58, as interim president of the war-torn Central African Republic (CAR). She will serve as the CAR’s very first female president.
Samba-Panza, a businesswoman and mayor of the nation’s capital of Bangui, will be entrusted with the task of restoring order and stability to the former French colony. A history of civil and political unrest continues to plague the Central African Republic following independence from France in 1960. As authoritarian regimes wrestled for political control in the subsequent years, many hoped that the emergence of a multi-party democratic election in 1993 would finally signal an end to the string of dictatorial governments.
Despite the failed efforts to democratize political processes, the CAR has yet to achieve true stability. In March 2013, a militant rebel coalition called Séléka ousted former president Francois Bozize. As a violent militia of Muslim rebels, Séléka soldiers continue to contribute to the unprecedented violence that terrorizes Central Africans and halts any hopes of achieving political stability. In retaliation, Christian vigilantes known as ‘anti-balaka’ have responded with similar force, heightening the violent religious and ethnic conflict that divides Central Africans.
Innocent civilians are left to fend for themselves, as the absence of a formal CAR state is unable to address endless strings of violence and mayhem. Central Africans lack protection; there is no police and no military. Almost one million have fled their homes in search of safety and refuge.
As the bloodshed intensifies Adama Dieng, the United Nation’s chief special adviser on genocide prevention, has cautioned that the Central African Republic is on the brink of genocide. Dieng reported to the Security Council that the CAR was at “high risk of crimes against humanity and genocide.”
Samba-Panza is encumbered with the task of resolving conflict between Muslims and Christians, finally ushering in a new age of peace and stability. The new president has stated that it is her main concern to “Stop people’s suffering, to restore security and the authority of the state across the country.” With backing from the French government, Samba-Panza is charged with organizing democratic general elections by the year 2015.
The current state of the Central African Republic has catapulted the issue to an international concern. Amidst heated debate among European foreign leaders, the European Union (EU) has agreed to aid in the effort to stabilize conflict between Muslims and Christians. The EU is prepared to deploy 500 troops to assist alongside the 1,600 French soldiers and 5,000 African Union peacekeepers that are currently stationed in the Central African Republic.