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Catherine Samba-Panza speaks to members of the National Transitional Council. Photo: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
Image: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

CAR president needs support

Dirke Köpp, Kossivi Tiassou / gu
January 27, 2014

The Central African Republic's new interim president sees the need for additional troops. In an exclusive interview with DW, Catherine Samba-Panza also details ways in which she would like Germany to help.


DW: Madam President, you have one year to organize elections in the Central African Republic. Can it be done?

Samba-Panza: That is the deadline the international community has set for us. It is our duty to meet this deadline, also in order to fulfill the commitments we ourselves entered into one year ago in Libreville. The priority will be to ensure that the authority in charge of organizing the elections is able do its work. Of course that is difficult, because administrative bodies throughout the country have ceased functioning, including those in charge of the local electoral rolls. So the first thing we have to do is get the national and local administrative bodies up and running again, in order to tackle the electoral process.

When you were elected, many people hoped the violence would end. But violent attacks have continued. What do you intend to do to end the conflict?

Immediately after my election the various groups signaled their support for me. Both the anti-balaka and the Seleka declared they were prepared to stop fighting and to help me in my mission. I have met with Seleka and anti-balaka leaders, and they regret what has happened. But there are many people who have joined the movements and now can no longer be controlled. We have been trying to work out together how we should proceed. Be they Seleka or anti-balaka, we are dealing here with a large segment of the population, sons and daughters of this country, people who have taken up arms for various reasons. I am here to try to get them to come to their senses - to try to convey to them that although they all had certain demands, after my election these demands have lost their justification. Instead, we must all work together for our country. However, that does not mean there will be impunity: anyone who can be shown to have committed massacres will be prosecuted.

It has been said by some that you owe your position to France?

That is not how I see it. There is actually a movement in this country that has brought me to power: men, women and young people from all walks of life. They had been trying to get me into the highest office for several years, but I had always resisted. After President Djotodia stepped down, this movement became active again. As a result I came under the closer scrutiny of France and the countries in the region, and I was deemed eligible. So they encouraged me to run for the presidency.

On Saturday (25.01.2014) you appointed your prime minister, André Nzapayeke. What are the criteria for selecting the members of the cabinet?

The same criteria as for the selection of the prime minister: competence and sincerity. But let us be realistic: This is taking place in a political context, so certain sensibilities and have to be taken into account. Whoever is excluded is frustrated and might feel inclined to take up arms again. So if I want to unite the country, I have to integrate all forces in the nation and take into account certain sensitivities.

Your prime minister is not only a banker, but a social anthropologist. Was this intentional or a fortunate coincidence?

I took a very close look at his background: his personality, his experience and so on. As a social anthropologist, he understands the problems of Central African society. He worked for the African Development Bank (AfDB) for a long time and presently works for the Development Bank of Central African States (BDEAC). He knows the international banking sector. We will capitalize on this experience. Moreover, he does not belong to any political party. So he and I can make our decisions without any major constraints.

Do you intend to create a cabinet post of minister for reconciliation like the one in similarly troubled Mali?

Yes, but there will not be a minister exclusively for national reconciliation. He will have a department added to his portfolio. After all, we must affirm the will to achieve reconciliation by entrusting this task to a special department.

For months religious leaders of the Central African Republic have been working to promote reconciliation, with little success so far. Where does the deep hatred come from?

At the moment we are dealing with forces that are out of control. Here in Bangui and across the country there are initiatives to foster reconciliation between Muslim and Christian communities. We are in contact with the anti-balaka to get them to restore order in their ranks. That is important, and it is something we have talked about at length. Suggestions have been made about how to get people who joined the militias to go back home to their provinces. These people have nothing to do here, no money to survive, and so they become bandits. And then there are the extremists. Everything has to be channeled into the right direction. We will tackle this one step at a time. I assure you that I have the support of the groups.

The European Union has announced that it would send 500 soldiers. Is that enough?

Perhaps it might not be enough, but it will be a big help all the same. The troops already here will not succeed in restoring order to Bangui and the rest of the country alone. We need more troops, and therefore we strongly welcome the EU's commitment.

What do you expect from Germany?

Germany is part of Europe. The French president is presently mobilizing EU countries and trying to get them to broaden their support for the Central African Republic and to get involved alongside France. I sense that the will is there, and there have already been some pledges. From the bottom of my heart I wish that things would soon become more concrete. From Germany, an important player in the European Union, I expect significant support: in the humanitarian sector, in security matters and financially. If I'm going to be able to get the administrative bodies working again, I'll need financial help - to pay salaries and pensions and to avoid new social tensions. If I start my presidential term with fresh social tensions, we will soon have even more problems. Germany could also help rebuild the radio stations in the interior of the country and build a broadcasting station in Bangui as well. That would be good.

You worked for a German insurance company for a long time, so you have a personal relationship with Germany?

Yes! And I had the good fortune of being invited to Germany for a month. I visited the Bundestag and several German cities. To have been in a country, to have lived in a country and been welcomed there with all honors creates a strong bond; it has a lasting influence. I believe relations with Germany could be developed even further, if Germany would like to accompany me in my work.

Catherine Samba Panza is the interim president of the Central African Republic.

Interview: Dirke Köpp, Kossivi Tiassou.

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