The President of the Central African Republic has replaced the Christian Prime Minister with a Muslim as part of a peace deal to end deadly violence that has ravaged the country for more than a year.
Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza on Sunday replaced Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke with Mahamat Kamoun. Nzapayeke stepped aside to make room for a consensus government, a condition specified in the cease-fire between Seleka rebels and the vigilante anti-Balaka. The deal was signed last month in Brazzaville, in the Republic of the Congo.
Kamoun, 53, is the first Muslim to serve as Prime Minister in the Christian-majority CAR.
The move is neither unexpected nor unwelcome, said Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame, President of Evangelical Alliance in CAR, and a member of the Religious Platform – a group of Christian and Muslim leaders.
”We have always said religion should not be used for political purposes in CAR,” Guerekoyame told World Watch Monitor. “Thus, for now we do not know the reasons that led the President to make this appointment.”
”The only criterion that matters for us, is a Central African-born citizen, competent, capable to meet the many challenges the country is currently facing, namely insecurity, the return of [internally displaced people], the regular payment of salaries, etc.”
In the Central African Republic, the President is elected and appoints a Prime Minister, who serves at the head of the national Council of Ministers.
An economist, Kamoun served as director general of the treasury to the former President, Francois Bozize. He served as cabinet chief to the man who drove out Bozize, Seleka leader Michel Djotodia.
Kamoun played down the role of his religious background, or “confessional criterion,” in his nomination.
“The confessional criterion has played a minor role in my appointment, contrary to what some may think. I see myself as a statesman, an open-minded and unifying man, he said in an interview (Source RFI).
”Therefore, reconciliation is one of the actions that the transitional government is expected to implement at this difficult time in our country. With all Central Africa Citizens, the government and the international community, we will work towards that goal. “
Kamoun and Samba-Panza, the interim President, now face the task of directing the political transition. The July 23 ceasefire agreement calls on armed groups to repatriate foreign mercenaries within their ranks, and to drop the idea of partitioning the country. The deal also orders combatants back to their barracks, “subject to mobilization of necessary resources.” There is no mention of disarmament.
The Seleka, who expected one of their group to be appointed Prime Minister, rejected Kamoun’s appointment.
“We have been very disappointed by this appointment,” Seleka spokesman Capt. Ibrahim Nedjad told the BBC. It’s true that Mr. Kamoun worked with former President Michel Djotodia, but Seleka is well organized. Seleka has a political branch.”
The Seleka, however, are no longer a homogenous group. Clear divisions have appeared between political and military leadership, and among several armed groups that were part of the coalition, which Djotodia disbanded in January.
On the ground, the situation remains tense, as the fragile cease-fire has been frequently violated.Seleka accuse anti-Balaka of attacking Muslims in Bambari, Dekoa, Bodo and Batangafo at the end of July. The anti-Balaka has denied involvement in the attack. Last week, heavy fighting between international forces and Seleka fighters in Batangafo, 300 kilometers north of the CAR capital of Bangui, killed 50 Seleka fighters and two international African peacekeeping soldiers, according to media reports.
The Seleka combatants were accused of committing atrocities among civilians, especially Christians, in Batangafo. Pastor Jean Nbefara, 56, with Foursquare Church, was shot dead in his house along with one of his sons.
All Catholic priests serving in the city were transferred to Bossangoa as a result of the violence.
A new transitional government is expected in few days. Amnesty International has expressed concern that militants suspected of serious human rights abuses are seeking positions within the new government, and is asking Samba-Panza to ensure that those suspected of involvement in crimes are not given seats.
Lessons from Rwanda
CAR’s religious leaders visited Rwanda Aug. 7 and 8 to examine progress in conflict resolution made since the 1994 genocide. The delegation included Guerekoyame; Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the archbishop Bangui; and Oumar Kobine Layama, the the person who leads prayers in a mosque. More of Bangui. Each is a member of the Religious Platform.
“We came to visit the memorial [of genocide] in order to assess the scale of the 1994 tragedy in Rwanda,” Nzapalainga told the media. “The international community is urged to act so that what happened in Rwanda never happens again in Africa or elsewhere in the world.”
There are similarities between Rwanda’s tragedy and CAR’s current crisis, he said.
“In Rwanda, ethnicity has been manipulated. In my home country, we took religion as the ‘entry window’ to oppose people,” he said. ”If we are not paying attention, one day, a group will stand up and decide wipe away another. We do not want to be there.”
During the two-day visit, the CAR prelates visited the genocide memorial in Gisozi, a hill overlooking Kigali the capital; and paid respects at a monument where some 280,000 victims of the 1994 genocide are buried.
Background: CAR’s Violent History
The Central African Republic has been wracked by violence since December 2012, when a coalition of Muslim-dominated rebel groups under the Seleka banner moved through the country to eventually drive out President Francois Bozize in March 2013. What followed was 10 months of Seleka violence, much of it directed at Christians, thousands of whom were killed and driven from their homes.
Seleka leader Michel Djotodia took control of a transitional government, but lost control of Seleka soldiers. In December, the UN Security Council authorized the expansion of the African and French military forces then attempting to maintain security in the CAR, and started planning for the possible conversion of those forces to a UN-managed peacekeeping operation. By January 2014, an interim President had replaced Djotodia, the Seleka coalition had been disbanded, and was being pursued by violent vigilante groups known as the anti-Balaka, which originally formed to ward off cattle rustlers and bandits.
Many anti-Balaka self-identify as Christian, giving the violence a sectarian appearance. However, many of the same anti-Balaka also embrace animist beliefs, placing them outside Christianity. Leaders of CAR’s Christian denominations have publicly rebuked anti-Balaka violence and rejected their claim to Christianity.
Since December 2013, the anti-Balaka have waged a revenge campaign of ethnic cleansing in the west of CAR, as Seleka remnants have retreated to the northeast. Many hundreds of Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, have been killed. According to the UN, nearly 20% of CAR population has been displaced.