The President of the Central African Republic Has Replaced the Christian Prime Minister with a Muslim to End Deadly Violence

By Opendoors On August 19, 2014

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. On Aug 10, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza replaced Prime Minister Andre Nzapayéké with Mahamat Kamoun. Nzapayéké stepped aside to give place to a consensus government, a condition specified in the ceasefire between Séléka rebels and the vigilante anti-Balaka. The deal was signed last month in Brazzaville, in the Republic of the Congo.

The Central African Republic has been wracked by violence since December 2012, when a coalition of Muslim-dominated rebel groups under the Séléka banner swept through the country to eventually drive out President Francois Bozizé in March 2013. Ten months of Séléka violence followed, much of it directed at Christians, thousands of whom were killed and driven from their homes.

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Since December 2013, anti-Balaka fighters have waged a revenge campaign of ethnic cleansing in the west of CAR as Séléka remnants have retreated to the northeast. Hundreds of Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, have been killed. According to the UN, nearly 20% of CAR population has been displaced.

Recently appointed, 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 Guérékoyame, 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," Guérékoyame 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 having 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 as the head of the national Council of Ministers. An economist, Kamoun previously served as director general of the treasury to the former President, Francois Bozizé. He also served as cabinet chief to the man who drove out Bozizé, Séléka leader Michel Djotodia.

Kamoun downplayed 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 African Citizens, the government and the international community, we will work towards that goal."

Kamoun and interim President Samba-Panza now face the task of directing the political transition through the major challenges ahead. The Séléka, who expected a member of their group to be appointed Prime Minister, rejected Kamoun's appointment. "We have been very disappointed by this appointment," Séléka spokesman Capt. Ibrahim Nedjad told the BBC. "It's true that Mr. Kamoun worked with former President Michel Djotodia, but Séléka is well organized and has a political branch."

The Séléka, however, are no longer a homogenous group. Clear divisions continue to grow between political and military leadership. The situation remains tense as the fragile ceasefire has been frequently violated. Two weeks ago, heavy fighting broke out between international forces and Séléka fighters in Batangafo, 300 kilometers north of the CAR capital of Bangui , killing 50 Séléka fighters and two international African peacekeeping soldiers, according to media reports.

The Séléka combatants were accused of committing further atrocities among civilians, especially Christians, in Batangafo. Jean Nbesara, 56, a pastor 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 in the wake of the violence.

CAR's religious leaders visited Rwanda Aug 7 and 8 to examine progress in conflict resolution made since the 1994 genocide. "We came to visit the memorial [of genocide] in order to assess the scale of the 1994 tragedy in Rwanda," Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the archbishop of Bangui; 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."

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