AFP – The new president of Central African Republic, Catherine Samba Panza, will be sworn in Thursday with a mission to end atrocious sectarian violence and tackle an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
She will be sworn in at a ceremony due to begin at 2:00 pm (1300 GMT), succeeding Michel Djotodia, who was installed as the country’s first Muslim president by his mainly Muslim Seleka rebels after a coup in March 2013.
Djotodia had toppled the regime of Francois Bozize but was himself forced to step down after proving incapable of reining in the Seleka, some of whom turned rogue.
Their atrocities against Christians provoked an unprecedented inter-religious conflict claiming thousands of lives, and the UN has warned that the bloodshed could descend into genocide.
Samba Panza, the first woman to take charge of the poor, landlocked nation, is expected rapidly to appoint a prime minister – probably by Friday night – in hopes of forming a government early next week capable of meeting vast challenges.
The foreign minister of former colonial power France, Laurent Fabius, will be among the dignitaries present at the investiture.
On Thursday morning, a day after further clashes took at least ten lives, life in the capital had a semblance of normality, with French and African peacekeeping troops patrolling.
But all the elements that have plunged the country into chaos persist, after months of spiralling violence between armed extremists in religious communities.
About 400,000 people or half of Bangui’s population are still displaced. About a quarter of them subsist in a sprawling refugee camp near the airport and the bases of the foreign troops, too scared to go home.
Most of the interior of the CAR is under the sway of warlords, according to Bangui’s Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and the chief imam, Oumar Kobine Layama, who pleaded for further international help Wednesday in Paris.
The administration and facilities provided by the state have virtually ceased to exist, partly due to the strife and also because government workers have not been paid for months. The state coffers are empty and Samba Panza’s government will be totally reliant on promised foreign aid.
Relief agencies report that half of the population of 4.6 million people is in dire need of food and medical care, while both Seleka ex-rebels and the “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) Christian vigilante forces created to fight them are accused by the United Nations and rights bodies of widespread atrocities, including slaughter, rape and pillage.
Samba Panza warned Thursday that foreign troop numbers were “not sufficient to regain order in Bangui”, in an interview with the French daily Le Parisien.
The African Union plans in coming days to boost MISCA to about 5,200 men, with a longer-term goal of deploying 6,000 soldiers on the ground. The European Union has for its part pledged to send 500 troops to Bangui.
Adama Dieng, the UN adviser on the prevention of genocide, has also warned that the size of MISCA means it cannot cope with the crisis.
In recent days, French and African soldiers have sought to tighten their net around the final districts in the capital where outbreaks of deadly bloodshed remain frequent. Samba Panza told the newspaper that she hoped more European countries would “follow France’s example”.
The new leader said her priorities would be “a return to security” and “putting people to work” as quickly as possible.
“We have thousands of armed youths, both with the Seleka and the anti-balaka. If we release them onto the street, we will not have solved the problem,” she said in her interview.
“It is often out of anger, in extreme poverty and with no future that these young people resort to violent behaviour,” she added.
The international community on Monday pledged to give the CAR $496 million dollars (365 million euros) in aid for 2014, after largely overlooking a nation where chronic instability and corruption have prevented the exploitation of its own resources.
In the longer term, Samba Panza is due to oversee a political transition that will lead to general elections in February 2015, when she will be banned from standing again for office.