There is a job opening at the top of the political hierarchy of Central African Republic. After losing support from basically everyone, interim president Michel Djotodia agreed to step down late last week while attending a regional summit in Chad on the crisis in his home country.
He didn’t even bother to go home for a last round of goodbyes—and instead went straight into exile in Benin.
Now the post is vacant and will have to be filled within two weeks. The problem: there is probably not a single position in international politics that is less attractive to possible candidates. Which is why nobody has even indicated his or her interest.
Being president of Central African Republic makes you, statistically speaking, very likely to get pushed out of your office violently. The country only ever had one election approaching something resembling “free and fair.” Its winner, Ange-Félix Patassé, was ousted in 2003 by François Bozizé, who in turn was chased out in early 2013 by Michel Djotodia.
None of Djotodia’s predecessors did much of a bang-up job during their time in office, but Djotodia’s reign was particularly catastrophic. After ousting Bozizé with the help of the rebel coalition Séléka dominated by northerners of Muslim faith—and, as alleged by Bozizé’s camp, mercenaries from neighboring countries—Dojotida lost control over his allies.
Séléka fighters ran amok in the capital, Bangui, looting and killing while an understaffed and outmatched African Union peacekeeping force could do little more than look on.
Soon, local self-defense militias known as Anti-Balaka emerged in many parts of the country, sometimes supported by armed groups loyal to Bozizé. The result was a free-for-all—and the conflict soon split along religious lines. In Bangui, Christian and Muslim militias raided each other’s areas, killing hundreds. Nobody has even tried to make a convincing estimate of the deaths in the countryside, but they surely number in the thousands.
Amid warnings of an emerging genocide, France got involved, dispatching 1,600 troops in December to secure the airport in Bangui and restore at least a semblance of order to the capital.
Joy and fear
The presence of French soldiers and tanks reduced the occurrence of atrocities in Bangui, but not the underlying tensions. A hundred thousand people sought refuge on the grounds of the international airport, which lacks the facilities to provide shelter, food, sanitation and clean water to so many refugees.
Djotodia’s government proved to be fully incapable of resolving the situation. France and Chad, the latter the most important regional player, lost their faith in him by degrees and finally forced him to resign this weekend.
The news was greeted by spontaneous celebrations in Bangui and some hopeful signs of militias turning their weapons in and declaring that they will now wait for the next government to come in peaceably. But tensions persist and it the joy over Djotodia’s resignation will soon give way to intense power struggles over his succession.
It is completely unclear who will head this next government. For the moment, the head of the National Transitional Council, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, has taken over the role of acting head of state. He will have to organize elections for a new president in the coming two weeks, with the first session of the NTC on the topic slated for today.
So far, he has given no indication that any candidates have expressed their interest.
The NTC is of course itself a body without any democratic legitimation, because it was formed after Djotodia dissolved parliament in the wake of his coup. But it is the closest thing to a legislative the country possesses for the time being.
With both Bozizé and Djotodia out of the picture, there is no natural candidate. It is relatively clear that it will have to be a southerner and Christian, after the takeover of the Muslim Séléka produced so much bad blood.
But he or she will also have to be acceptable to both Chad and France. Chad has considerable political influence in Central African Republic and is also often accused of having supported the Séléka and Djotodia in their coup. For certain, the neighbor has the military capability and influence to remove any candidate it doesn’t like.
France on the other hand is the only force that holds the country together at the moment and has the only troops on the ground that can guarantee the security of the incoming government. France’s government officially says that finding a replacement for Djotodia is an “internal affair” of the Central African Republic, but Paris will be very active behind the scenes in vetting possible candidates.
No matter who ends up with the job of leading Central African Republic through the coming uncertain times, he will have to start of with a task almost as difficult as finding a fitting candidate for the presidency. The country’s prime minister Nicolas Tiangaye resigned alongside Djotodia and is in need of a replacement, as well.
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