BANGUI, C.A.R.— The Central African Republic's new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, faces massive challenges after more than a year of political unrest and inter-religious violence in the country. On Tuesday, the interim leader and her prime minister announced the names of the ministers who will serve in the new government.
At her swearing-in ceremony last week, the president promised a government of technocrats. She also said the new government’s priority would be to disarm and demobilize all the armed groups in the country and ensure they re-enter civilian life.
Human rights activist Thierry Konde, who heads a network of activists in the C.A.R., said the president has delivered on the first of her promises.
The new ministers really are technocrats, he said. They know their dossiers, and while there might be some people criticizing them already, he believes they can really achieve something and should be given the chance to do so.
Out of 20 ministers, only about six were ministers in previous governments. Seven are women, a record for the C.A.R. The women are not just there for the décor, added Konde. They are all experts in their respective fields.
The influx of women has pleased Marie Veronique Manda Kondji, a midwife.
It’s the beginning of a reign of women, she thinks. She feels that a woman can represent everyone, that a woman is the symbol of softness and smiles and that a woman can also act as a mother for the nation.
The government also includes three ministers who were in the largely Muslim Seleka rebel alliance that took power in Bangui last March, and one minister associated with the largely Christian or animist anti-Balaka militia that has been fighting the Seleka.
Konde comments that it is a good idea, at this stage, to have people from the militias involved in the government.
One of the three ex-Seleka ministers has been appointed senior Minister of State, meaning he is No. 3 in the hierarchy after the prime minister. The anti-Balaka’s man, Leopold Narcisse Bara, comes 19th in the hierarchy as Minister of Youth and Sport.
Joachin Kokate, a leading spokesman and self declared coordinator of the anti-Balaka, which have killed many Muslim civilians in the past two months, told VOA that anti-Balaka members don’t feel the Minister for Youth and Sport represents them. However, he added, they understand that the choice has been made, and they must move on because the Central African people are watching them - so is the international community, very closely.
Maybe Bara was considered acceptable because, according to Thierry Konde, he is not known to have been inciting ethnic and religious hatred, unlike some of the other anti-Balaka. Konate told VOA that now is the time for messages of peace.
At this time we must speak only in terms of pacification, he said. As for those who will try to incite people or divide the population, the United Nations will take the necessary measures from this point onwards.
Kokate said the anti-Balaka consists partly of ex-soldiers who want to be incorporated into the army, with officer ranks in some cases, and partly of civilians, many from rural areas, who want help to go home. He acknowledged that the Seleka come from similar backgrounds and said that so long as they are Central Africans, they should also be offered the chance to enroll in the army.
The new Minister of Defense is a relatively young man and a serving soldier, Thomas Theophile Tchimoanga. He will have the difficult task of rebuilding the C.A.R. army and deciding which militia fighters to put where.
Encouragingly, he seems to have support from the army hierarchy.
Politician Joel Yangongo, the son of the veteran general and politician Xavier Sylvestre Yangongo, is optimistic that Tchimoanga is ready for the task.
Joel Yangongo said the new defense minister is young but has a very good reputation with the Central African military, has the skills required, was trained at a military college and knows all about the army.
The anti-Balaka’s other main demand, according to Kokate, is that a sovereign national conference be held in the near future. However, he pointed out that this could wait until after the national elections.