After years of unrest, the Central African Republic recently observed peaceful elections. Now, two candidates and former prime ministers, Anicet Dologuele and Faustin Touadera, head to a runoff at the end of the month.
The National Electoral Commission said nearly 80 percent of voters turned out for the elections last month. That included some living outside the country, like residents of a refugee camp near Garoua Boulai in Cameroon.
"Everybody is excited because we need change in our country," said Abdoul Karim Carvalho, a refugee voter.
"Because there is disorder in my country, we are here to find a unique president who'll be able to reconcile our country and bring peace. That's all we want," said Sidick Aboubakar, another refugee voter.
While thousands of Central African refugees at the camp were able to cast their ballots in the presidential election, others in other parts of the world couldn’t.
Reason for hope
But regardless of who becomes the next leader after a runoff ballot later this month, Central Africans around the world said they were excited and couldn't wait for their country to emerge from its crisis.
Gabino Guerengomba lives in the United States; he is chief executive officer of Integrated Solar Technologies and a leader of the Central African community in Washington. He didn’t get to vote but said the high turnout sent a message to the world.
"They really want to get past this really sad episode of our history and move on to greener pastures," he said.
Sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims in the past several years has caused nearly 1 million people to flee their homes.
Guerengomba said the election “was an opportunity for us to realize that we Central Africans are the only people that could be responsible for what our country would become."
'The best plan'
When asked to name his favorite candidate, he smiled and said he wasn’t supporting anyone in particular.
“Right now, it’s not even about preference, nor affiliation," he said. "It’s about who has the best plan, who can reconcile the Central African people, who can bring about a societal framework.”
The winner of the runoff will replace the transitional government of Catherine Samba-Panza that came to power in 2014 after a rebel leader stepped aside less than a year after overthrowing President Francois Bozize.
Dologuele won 23.78 percent of the vote in the first round of voting on December 30. Touadera trailed at 19.42 percent, according to unofficial results.
Dologuele, 58, a former central banker, came to be known as "Mr. Clean" after his attempts to clean up murky public finances during his spell as prime minister from 1998 to 2001.
Touadera, also 58, is a former math professor who served as prime minister under Bozize. He was considered an outsider among the 30 candidates running for the top job.
In a statement released Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commended the vote and said there were "clear signs that Central Africans seek a new beginning for their country, and a future based on democratic governance and free from the violence and instability that have plagued the country for far too long.”