Catherine Samba-Panza, a French-educated businesswoman and lawyer, has been elected President of the Central African Republic. Samba-Panza was formerly mayor of the CAR’s capital Bangui, a city with a population of roughly 750,000.
The UN has warned of “seeds of genocide” in the ongoing dispute between the Muslim and Christian communities in the CAR. This past March, the Muslim coalition known as “Seleka” seized power, burning dozens of Christian villages and slaughtering their citizens. Leaders of the Christian community established a reactionary force, “anti-balaka” (anti-machete), to counteract the advances of the Seleka groups.
After acquiring her nations’ highest office, Samba-Panza plead with the Central African Republic’s citizenry to put an end to the ongoing violence, “Stop the suffering of the people… lay down your weapons,” she said. Samba-Panza, who is a Christian, succeeds Michael Djotodia, CAR’s first Muslim President. Djotodia had resigned in January due to pressure from the international community stemming from his failure to curb the violence.
Over one million people, or 20% of the total population caught in the crossfire, have been forced to flee their homes and communities. The UN Children’s agency: UNICEF, has noticed “unprecedented levels” of violence against children. Adolescents have also been recruited to fight amongst rival militias, with an estimated 6,000 child soldiers engaged in the conflict.
As if the violence was not enough, many warn that a massive food shortage may result in the creation of a widespread famine in the country. The U.N World Food Program has been rendered useless in counteracting the famine, as its drivers refuse to cross the border into CAR for fear of their safety.
France, along with the African Union and United Nations, has deployed peacekeeping forces into the region to counteract CAR’s ongoing destabilization. The European Union has considered sending in its own multinational force. The United States has not committed any military forces into the country as of yet. The US has however announced a total commitment of $45 million in humanitarian assistance through USAID. The funding will provide “critical food assistance, medical care, and relief supplies to those affected by recent violence and internally displaced as well as those who have fled as refugees to neighboring countries.”