Renewed international attention to the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the change of leadership in the violence-torn country bring new hopes of putting an end to the CAR’s spiraling sectarian violence that wracked the country during the disastrous ten-month tenure of former interim president Michel Djotodia. The election of Catherine Samba-Panza, the country’s first female president, who was sworn in on January 23 to lead the second transition after the military coup that toppled former president François Bozizé in March 2013, constitutes a singular and historic choice for the central African nation.
For the Central Africans, the election of a woman to the highest office in the land permits fresh hopes for a better future, notwithstanding the country's unprintable woes. However, despite widespread declarations of support by her fellow CAR nationals, regional actors, and the international community, the newly-elected interim president faces an insurmountable task, should these well-wishers not follow through with concrete actions.
- Given the potential of central African women to be actors for peace, and the new president’s commitment to gender parity, every effort should be made to ensure that these women are enabled to actively participate in the next elections as informed voters and motivated candidates.
- Disarmament of the various armed groups is a priority for the new president. However, for this effort to be sustainable, it must be accompanied by a credible job creation program and vocational training activities, targeting in particular the radicalized youth among these groups.
- Addressing the dire security, human rights, and humanitarian situation is urgent. Equally urgent is the rebuilding of key state institutions and the restoration of basic social services to the population. Unless concerted regional and international efforts, combined with a clear, unified and effective engagement by all national actors, quickly materialize in support of the new and acclaimed female leader, these challenges will remain insurmountable.
In her first brief and improvised statement shortly after being elected as the first interim female president of the embattled Central African Republic (CAR) on January 20, Catherine Samba-Panza had this to say: “I would like as a mother to be able to pacify the minds… I could detect a lot of hatred in your hearts… a great deal of rancor… Only a mother has the capacity to bring her divided sons and daughters together…” The announcement of her election brought rare cheers among Christians and Muslims alike who have known her as the indefatigable, incorruptible mayor of the capital city Bangui during the height of the sectarian strife that continues to pit their communities against each other. As she outlined the priorities for her devastated country, women across the various divides hailed her election as honoring the female population that constitute nearly 51 % of the country. “I am happy,” one was heard saying. “Men have failed...from now on, women will manage the country.”