Catherine Samba-Panza became the first female president of the Central African Republic (CAR) on Monday when she was voted into office by the interim parliament. Ms. Samba-Panza previously served as the mayor of Bangui and became the embattled nation’s interim president after beating rival Desire Kolingba, son of a former president. President Samba-Panza is tasked with ending the sectarian violence that has been ripping through CAR for nearly a year.
Michel Djotodia, who rose to power through a coup and was the first Muslim president of CAR, stepped down earlier this month amid pressure from regional leaders. Djotodia was unable to quell the growing violence between Christians and Muslims in his nation, which led to over 1,000 deaths in December alone.
In her acceptance speech, Samba-Panza implored warring factions to lay down their arms and stop the violence.
“I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka – they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings.”
Many hope Samba-Panza’s presidency can quell the violence that began ravishing the nation last March when Seleka militia, a Muslim group, went on a killing and looting spree that led to revenge attacks by the anti-balaka, a Christian militia.
Samba-Panza, who is Christian but seen as politically neutral because she does not have ties to either group, said she would try to bring the country together. “Starting today, I am the president of all Central Africans,” she said in her speech, “without exclusion.”
The new president may have some help restoring order to her country. In addition to the 4,000 African Union (AU) troops that have already been dispatched to the nation, the Guardian reports European Union officials have moved to send troops to CAR to help quash the violence and support AU forces. France sent 1,600 troops to the nation in December, and an additional 1,000 EU troops may be on their way to provide “temporary support, for a period of up to six months, to establish a secure environment in the Bangui region, with a view to handing over to the African Union (AU).” International donors have also pledged $496 million in humanitarian aid to the nation.
As the interim leader, it is up to Ms. Samba-Panza to organize national elections while helping the nation get back on track. Although she has a huge task ahead of her, she told her jubilant supporters her main objective is “to stop people’s suffering, to restore security and the authority of the state across the country.”
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