On Monday, amidst continuing violence despite the resignation of Seleka rebel leader Michel Djotodia, the Central African Republic’s (CAR) interim parliament elected a new president.
Bangui mayor Catherine Samba-Panza has been elected the interim president of the CAR, effectively making her the first woman to hold the post. During a second round of voting by the interim parliament, she defeated her rival, Desire Kolingba, winning seventy-five votes against fifty-three. The election went to a second round after Ms Samba-Panza failed to secure an outright majority in the first round.
Ms Samba-Panza, a Christian, will succeed the CAR’s first Muslim leader, Michel Djotodia, who resigned on 10 January 2014 as a result of mounting pressure from regional leaders and former colonial power France over his failure to curb the on going violence.
In all, eight candidates were in the running during Monday’s elections. Amongst them were two sons of former presidents, Sylvain Patasse and Desire Kolingba, respectively the sons of former president Ange-Felix Patasse (in power from 1993 – 2003) and Andre Kolingba (in power from 1981 – 1993). Another locally familiar name is that of Emile Gros Raymond Nakombo, a banker close to Kolingba who in 2011 ran for the presidency against incumbent Francois Bozize, who took power in a 2003 coup and was toppled by the 2013 Seleka coup. About 129 members of the National Transitional Council (CNT), which serves as acting parliament with 135 members in all, took part in today’s vote by secret ballot.
Prior to voting, each presidential candidate was given ten minutes in order to make a “statement of intent” to the CNT members who were then tasked with electing a new transitional leader by secret ballot in a single round. The newly elected president will be tasked with restoring peace in the CAR.
In March 2013, the CAR collapsed after Seleka rebels overthrew the government and installed Mr Djotodia to power. He however proved to be powerless in controlling his Seleka coalition, with many responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, mainly from the CAR’s Christian majority. While some Christian communities responded by forming “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) self defence militias, which were charged with attacking the CAR’s Muslim population, both sides have now ben accused of major abuses, with officials at the United Nations warning of a potential inter-religious “genocide.”
EU Diplomats Vote to Deploy Troops
Meanwhile diplomatic sources have indicated that European Union (EU) foreign ministers agreed, during a meeting in Brussels on Monday, to deploy troops to the CAR in order to bolster African and French forces already on the ground. The EU “crisis management concept” is the first step towards sending a force. According to an official statement released shortly after the meeting, EU ministers indicated that the operation would provide “temporary support, for a period of up to six months, to establish a secure environment in the Bangui region, with a view to handling over to the African Union (AU).” The statement further noted that the plan is to turn the current AU deployment in the CAR into a UN peacekeeping operation, with the aim of stabilizing the situation so that urgently needed humanitarian aid can reach suffering civilians.
While the EU is expected to despatch 400 – 600 European soldiers to Bangui, correspondents have indicated that an EU force of up to 1,000 troops is likely. They will be tasked with backing the 1,600 French troops of Operation Sangaris, who have been deployed in the CAR since 5 December 2013 under a UN mandate, along with the 4,400 African troops from the African Union’s (AU) MISCA peacekeeping force. During this week, the EU will seek a mandate at the United Nations for such an operation, with EU experts later travelling to the CAR’s capital city in order to assess the cost. An EU diplomat has indicated that at the moment, “it is unclear what exactly will be needed,” adding that Greece has offered to host a mission headquarters while Estonia is prepared to send up to fifty-five troops. Several other countries, including Austria, Finland, Lithuania and Romania, are considering troop contributions.
The agreement for deployment comes as violence continues throughout the CAR despite the resignation of Michel Djotodia ten days ago. A month and a half into the French intervention, security in Bangui has gradually improved, however sporadic outbreaks of brutal violence still spread fear. Over this past weekend, the CAR’s capital city, Bangui, was the scene of continued violence as two Muslim men were killed and burnt on Sunday