Catherine Samba-Panza, the politically independent 58-year-old mayor of the Central African Republic capital of Bangui, was elected by a transitional council on Monday to act as the country’s interim president.
Seen as a political independent, she is the first woman to be elected to the country’s highest office.
Samba-Panza, a businesswoman, will be tasked with putting an end to months of deadly sectarian violence and organising national elections before the end of the year.
“As of today, I am president of all Central Africans, without exception,” she said after her election.
Samba-Panza, who beat seven other candidates, succeeds Michel Djotodia, the leader of the Seleka rebels who seized power in March. Djotodia stepped down on January 10 under mounting international pressure after failing to halt inter-religious violence that pit Muslim fighters loyal to him against armed Christian militia.
The fighting has displaced more than 1 million people, and an estimated 2,000 have been killed.
Samba-Panza was elected in a second-round runoff by 75 votes to 53 for her rival Desire Kolingba, the son of former president Andre Kolingba.
A president with ‘principles’
The landlocked former French colony slid into chaos last March after Seleka unleashed a wave of killing and looting, triggering revenge attacks by the Christian militia, who are known as “anti-balaka”.
Many now hope that the election of a new interim president with no links to either camp will help calm the nation of 4.6 million people.
Samba-Panza “is someone who has principles”, according to Gauthier Rybinski, FRANCE 24’s international affairs specialist. “People say she is incorruptible, she has a strong personality and, above all, knows what being a citizen of Central African Republic should signify.”
A spokesman for a major group of anti-balaka fighters said they were happy with Samba-Panza’s election. He welcomed the fact that a woman had been elected to the presidency for the first time.
Born in 1954 in Chad to a Cameroonian father and a Central African mother, Samba-Panza earned a reputation as a politician of considerable courage when, as mayor of Bangui, she rehabilitated municipal administrative services after the Seleka rebels pilloried the city in March 2013.
The newly elected interim president -- and mother of three -- has promised to make women’s rights a policy priority.
Pledges of support from France
French President François Hollande welcomed Samba-Panza’s election, saying in a statement that France would stand by her efforts to carry out the “difficult task” of putting the former French colony back on its feet.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the interim president “a wholly remarkable woman” and said he would be “happy to visit her shortly”.
France deployed 1,600 troops in December under a UN mandate to support an African Union peacekeeping mission but has failed to halt the violence. UN officials say that more than 2,000 people have been killed in clashes since March.
EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday to send up to 1,000 soldiers to help stabilise the country, a diplomatic source said, the bloc’s first major army operation in six years.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-01-20