Catherine Samba-Panza was sworn in as the new president of the Central African Republic (CAR) on Thursday. A former mayor of Bangui, Samba-Panza was chosen to lead the country by a national transitional council on Monday.
Her ascent to power has raised hopes that weeks of violence between rival Muslim and Christian militias in the impoverished nation of 4.6 million people may soon be brought to an end.
"The election of the new president is good news because I know that this woman will not be part of any military group,” Pastor Narlais Ngoualesso told FRANCE 24 in Bangui, on the eve of her inauguration. “She is going to play a role as a neutral person to bring back peace and to also bring reconciliation between the people.”
But an outbreak of fresh violence just hours before Samba-Panza was sworn in may already be undermining those hopes. Hundreds of Christians went on a rampage in the capital Bangui on Thursday, looting and setting fire to Muslim-owned homes and businesses and threatening a massacre.
The country descended into chaos after Seleka rebels led by Michel Djotodia seized pozer in a coup in March of last year. Djotodia officially disbanded the rebel group after he seized power, but some of its former members launched a campaign of killing, raping and looting, prompting some Christian communities to form vigilante groups.
Djotodia resigned on January 10 after coming under intense international pressure for failing to halt the violence.
Samba-Panza, 59, faces huge challenges as she seeks to re-establish stability in the country, including disarming the militias, establishing a new national army and ending outbreaks of sectarian violence. The recent unrest has also brought the country's food production to a halt.
The new president has said her priorities are restoring security and "putting people to work" as quickly as possible.
"I have measured the expectations the people have of me," she told members of the press on Tuesday. "I tell myself that I can absolutely not disappoint these expectations."
International donors meeting on Monday pledged $496 million dollars (€365 million) in aid to the Central African Republic for 2014.
'Hostile to corruption'
Samba-Panza was born on June 26, 1954, in neighbouring Chad of a Central African mother and a Cameroonian father. She studied corporate law in Bangui and then in Paris.
When she returned to the CAR, she founded a firm of insurance brokers, but found that doing business and attracting investment were made difficult by the prevailing climate of graft.
People close to her say that she derived a deep-rooted "hostility to corruption" from her experience in the CAR's private sector.
She entered politics in 2003 after then president Ange-Felix Patasse was overthrown in a coup led by François Bozizé, who was himself deposed by Djotodia last year.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)
Date created : 2014-01-23