In the midst of a civil war, the Central African Republic recently elected its first female president.
Catherine Samba-Panza was recently elected by the transitional parliament to lead the people. As the newly elected interim president of the republic, she will most likely lead the country until national elections are held.
Two religious groups divide the war torn country: Muslims and Christians. A Muslim group known as the Seleka rebels appointed country’s previous president, Michel Djotodia, the first Muslim president. But Djotodia failed to control the previous rebels who terrorized the country, mainly targeting the Christian community in their attacks.
In some cases, Christian communities created their own militias and attacked Muslims. In light of this civil war breaking out, Djotodia stepped down on January 10, leaving the temporary parliament to elect a new leader.
Samba-Panza’s recent election was met with cheers of joy from the government and the public. After the news broke, there was singing and dancing in the streets.
Marie-Louise Yakemba, the head of an organization designed to bring together people of different faiths, said in a statement, “Everything we have been through has been the fault of men.We think that with a woman, there is at least a ray of hope.”
Samba-Panza has beaten seven other candidates while still refusing to use bribes in exchange for votes, despite being approached by multiple members of the transitional parliament.
Women in the Central African Republic seem to be especially inspired and hopeful. Annette Ouango, a member of a women’s group says, “As a woman, she can understand the sufferings of the people, and as a mother, she will not tolerate all of this bloodletting,” This attitude towards the new interim president has given her the name “mother courage.”
While the election is joyful news to some, it sparked unrest within Muslim rebels, who dislike the reemergence of a Christian administration. When Samba-Panza was sworn in on January 23rd, gun shots were heard in the capital, and violence in the suburbs continued, killing 16.
In her swearing in speech, the new president promised to work amicably with other major, “political forces.” Despite this, leaders of muslim rebel groups have threatened to “undermine reconciliation efforts,” leaving the fate of the country unclear.
Samba-Panza will have until January of 2015 to lead her country into peace, as elections for a new president will be held at that time. Interim presidents are not allowed to run for office.
This recent election marks a remarkable shift in the CAR’s future as a country, but what direction it will go in is still unclear.
Photographer: Issouf Sanogo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images