Can ‘Mother Courage’ Bring Reconciliation to the Central African Republic?
January 26, 2014
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The 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: