International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Can ‘Mother Courage’ Bring Reconciliation to the Central African Republic?

catherine-samba-panza-afp-Par7768862-20140120The election of interim president of the Central African Republic Catherine Samba-Panza this last week marks a critical juncture in the political and religious strife that has plagued the Central African Republic for some months. Her election followed the bloody nine month reign of terror under Michel Djotodia, who had installed himself as president following a coup led by Muslim rebels in March. His rise to power ignited a series of bloody religious conflicts in the CAR. The pillaging and killings committed by the Seleka, who were Djotodia’s mainly Muslim rebel group, sparked a violent retaliation among the CAR’s prominent Christian population and has led to atrocities on both sides. The conflict came to a head in early December, when hundreds were killed in targeted attacks and hundreds of thousands fled from their homes to try and escape the atrocities. Over the last six weeks alone, over 1,000 people have been killed by both Muslim rebels and Christian vigilantes and the violence escalated so badly that the United Nations warned that it could be the precursor to genocide. 

Amid the international scrutiny, on January 10th Djotodia was forced to step down from his position and nearly two weeks later the CAR elected its first female president. What I found most interesting about the media surrounding the election, however, was the emphasis on reconciliation–mainly between the Central African Republic’s Muslim and Christian populations–and womanhood. There seems to be this overriding belief among the CAR that since men had caused the violence, it was only natural that a woman would bring peace. As a New York Times article stresses, “The consensus, in the chamber and on the street, was that men had inexorably led the country into a spiral of vicious violence, and that the only hope was for a woman to lead them out of it.” Even Samba-Panza points to her “sensibilities as a woman” as a key ingredients that can lead to peace and reconciliation between the warring factions in the CAR. Many believe that ‘Mother Courage,’ as she has been nicknamed, holds the best chance for the CAR to have reconciliation because she, as a woman, is compassionate and is not “a man with a gun.” For a country that still has an early and forced marriage percentage of 60%, does the election of Samba-Panza represent a significant shift in gender dynamics for the CAR? Can gender truly be a factor in aiding the process of reconciliation?

Here’s the sources I found too if anyone is interested in learning more:


2 responses to “Can ‘Mother Courage’ Bring Reconciliation to the Central African Republic?

  1. pstichnoth January 28, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    I think that describing the conflict just as a religious one ignores a lot of the particularities of the stiuation and history of CAR, as well as the diversity of both Seleka and government supporters. Louisa Lombard did a great job describing the important political and economic dynamics of conflict for African Arguments (

    Samba-Panza’s gender seems important insofar as it suggests to people that she represents a change, but I think there’s also been a lot of gender essentialism in coverage of her election. Obviously that could be coming either from journalists’ sources of from the writers themselves, but it is something to watch out for.

    Finally, I wonder about the influence of one person on the process of rebuilding. Leaders can be antagonistic to transition, through corruption or the encouragement of violence. I think they can also be helpful, too, but that can often be less visible.

  2. aoforiappiah January 28, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I believe that gender can be a factor in aiding peace and reconciliation, but the extent to which gender has pull in the process for the Central African Republic is pretty questionable. Samba-Panza definitely invoked her gender when making the bid for the presidency, citing her “sensibilities as a woman.” I’ve also noticed that she has been wearing a lot of pink in her appearances perhaps in an attempt to emphasize how different she is from her predecessors. It’s sort of interesting because in politics women don’t necessarily like to differentiate themselves from men, sometimes refraining from emphasizing their gender. Samba-Panza has done exactly the opposite, and it has seemed to work in the sense that she’s gotten elected.
    However, her gender will only take her so far in her attempts to foster peace. As the author of the Guardian rightly notes, the Central African Republic has barely seen stability since its independence in 1960. This pattern of instability speaks to a fundamental institutional problem in CAR. It needs a major overhaul.
    One thing Samba-Panza does have going for her in addition to her gender/popularity is her backing by France, and France’s support for CAR in general. The French are very enthusiastic about her election. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she was educated in France and has two children living there; she is “Westernized” in a sense, and I think the West is probably hopeful about her election because of this. That being said, some past African leaders who were educated in the West would later become a dissapointment. Let’s hope Samba-Panza does not follow the same trajectory.
    Samba-Panza is tasked with holding the general elections by mid-2015, but France is pushing for them to be held this year. So it appears that France will remain actively involved. At least until their troops pull out, and the transition is made. The EU has also committed to sending a few 100 troops. So at the very least CAR remains fresh in the minds of important political actors.
    But what happens after a transition or when France/ the EU pull out is very uncertain. What happens now is uncertain. CAR is largely a failed state. As the Guardian points out, Samba-Panza is starting from scratch. There’s no trained army or trained police force. How do you institute rule of law in such a place? I’m curious how Samba-Panza will build up these institutions that help maintain rule of law. Perhaps the French will provide some assistance? But even if she was able to build up a police force or army I question the extent to which they would be motivated to oversee the rule of law. In a country as poor as the CAR salaries are bound to be small, creating a disposition toward bribery.
    Samba-Panza’s success, and the success of the subsequent regime is largely going to be dependent on whether she is able to build strong institutions. If such institutions are not built than the CAR’s progress toward peace and reconciliation will be miniscule at best, and we might even see a regression into the large scale violence that necessitated a change in leadership in the first place.

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