By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba | January 28, 2013
Expectations for peace and reconciliation in Central African Republic (CAR) shot up after the appointment of Catherine Samba-Panza as the new interim president, the first female leader of the CAR, and the third in Africa on January 23.
Symbolically, the appointment of Mrs Samba-Panza is a powerful statement of CAR’s intention to stop the bloodshed which has torn apart the country. Part of Mrs Samba-Panza appeal is that she did not abandoned Bangui, the country’s capital city, at the height of the violence. As a result, she has been dubbed “mother-courage” and the days ahead will tell whether she is up to the huge task of fostering much needed hope in CAR to stop it from descending into an “anarchy, a non-state” as surmised by its former Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye.
CAR, a landlocked country in Central Africa that covers a land area of about 620,000 square kilometres, with a population of approximately 4,5 million has been gripped by conflict since last March. Like many African countries, CAR has a long history of violence, corruption and authoritarianism all of which have fomented the bloodshed being witnessed today in the country.
After months of carnage, Mrs Samba-Panza provides a sense of hope for the beleaguered country. But much work remains to be done. According to the Economist, as Mrs Samba-Panza was being sworn in, gunshots rang out across the capital and violent exchanges continued in the suburbs, leaving at least 16 dead.
Almost one million people, or a quarter of the population, have been displaced by fighting that began when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian former French colony in March.
Mrs Samba-Panza is Christian, so is André Nzapayeke who was named as the new prime minister. There are fears that political leaders loyal to the former president could scuttle peace efforts if they feel left out. And that the presence of Christian leaders could add fuel to the ongoing reprisals against Muslims in the country.
To succeed in bringing her country together, Mrs Samba-Panza will have to immediately put an end to the wanton killings. Her first major priority is to stem the bloodshed, ensuring safety for the entire population. If she is seen to favour Christians over Muslims, her efforts will only inflame the already volatile situation.
Mrs Samba-Panza will have to implement a disarmament programme for Christian and Muslim militias. But, more importantly, she has to ensure humanitarian access to the millions of people that have been displaced by the violence.
A full, prompt and impartial investigation into the killings will be required to ensure that victims and their families receive justice and that lessons can be learned in order to stop a repeat of the violence in the future. Stopping the violence, lawlessness, and impunity will be key. Strengthening the rule of law and accountability will give the citizens of CAR confidence that their country is moving out of the morass of bloodshed.
Ultimately, a political settlement will bring the much needed stability to CAR. Mrs Samba-Panza is only president for a year as elections will be held by January 2015. But what she will do between now and then will be key to the future trajectory of the country. In the absence of a political settlement, the nation of CAR will continue down the road of further disintegration and decline. And it’s not what African needs today.