After years of crisis and political violence, Central Africa Republic began the first phase of its transition to democratic civilian governance by electing Catherine Samba-Panza to act as an interim President.
A study of the political history of the country showed that Samba-Panza is the first female to become the president of the country.
She emerged after former president, François Bozize, was pressurized to stepped down by the international community amid violent clashes between Muslim and Christian groups.
Who is Samba-Panza?
The 59-year-old former Bangui mayor was born on June 26, 1954 in Fort Lamy, Chad to a Cameroonian father while her mother was from CAR.
She studied law in France where two of her three children still live. Before getting into politics, she worked as a corporate lawyer. She was also active in a women’s rights organisation.
Ms. Samba-Panza succeeds CAR’s first Muslim leader Michel Djotodia, who resigned on January 10 after being put under pressure by regional leaders and the former colonial power, France, over his failure to curb the conflict.
She is a Christian but the successful businesswoman is seen as politically neutral. Samba-Panza was the Chairwoman of the National Dialogue in 2003 which was established to address conflict in the region.
She was appointed mayor of Bangui by the National Transitional Council during the 2012 -2013 conflict.
Her appointment was accepted by both sides in the conflict as she was viewed as politically neutral.
How she emerged
She was elected as the top candidate amongst seven contenders in a vote by the transitional parliament on Monday. Samba-Panza won 75 votes in the run-off, against 53 for Mr. Kolingba, the son of a former president.
The election went to a second round after Ms. Samba-Panza failed to secure an outright majority in the first round. Six other candidates were knocked out in the first round. Among them were two women and two sons of former presidents.
They all had to meet the stringent requirements set by the National Transitional Council. All those who had held political offices under previous interim president, Michel Djotodia, as well as all party leaders and active members of the military were not allowed to run for the presidency. Also among those excluded from the top job were members of militia groups.
About 129 members of the 135-seat council took part in the secret ballot, AFP reports.
Task ahead of the new president
Central African Republic leader, Catherine Samba-Panza, faces tough challenges as the country’s new interim president. She faces a huge task of bringing peace between Muslim Seleka fighters and the Christian anti-balaka militias.
As interim president, she is required to organise a general election by 2015; as well as facilitating the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees to their villages and restoring a functional government.
CAR has to hold a fresh election by February 2015 at the latest. France, however, wanted the election to hold this year. Current law excludes the interim president from running.
What people say about her
According to the French Catholic daily newspaper, La Croix, the news of her appointment as interim president was well received by most Bangui residents.
In the eyes of the business community, Samba-Panza is the right person for the job. Development and human rights organisations have also welcomed the appointment of the first female to such a high profile job in CAR.
Her first request
The first request made by the female president was to plead with the Christian militias, known as anti-balaka and Muslim fighters in the ex-Seleka rebel movement to end the bloodshed.
In her victory speech, she said, “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.
“Starting today, I am the president of all Central Africans, without exclusion,” she is quoted by AFP.