Her Excellency outlined that when she took office, she “was given a country torn by years of crisis where the basic public services of security and administration were inexistent”. Faced with that complex situation she was required to “put in place an adequate leadership” befitting the context. Owing to the fact that she was not from a strong political background, she said she was able to feature all the politically and socially relevant parties using dialogue as her main tool in order to encourage discussions on CAR’s most critical issues.
On 11 July 2019, the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) organized an Indaba Session with Her Excellency Catherine Samba-Panza, Former President of the Central African Republic (CAR). Rubiyat Mohammed, IPSS Policy Dialogues Coordinator, served as moderator for the session.
Her Excellency Catherine Samba-Panza presented her experience as a woman Head of State of the Central African Republic (CAR) between 2014 and 2016, noting the importance of discussing women’s leadership, both in general but also in the complex context of a war-torn state in particular. Her Excellency raised the example of H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a leader she held in great admiration and a fellow woman former Head of State of a country with a similarly complex peace and security context.
Her Excellency Catherine Samba-Panza presented CAR to the audience; a 623 km² country located in the heart of the African continent, with about 5 million inhabitants. The country, since its birth, has experienced 1 empire, 5 republics, 6 constitutions and 13 regimes in total. Her Excellency noted that the crisis that occurred between 2012 and 2016 was the most violent in her country’s history, with thousands of deaths and displacements. Regarding the motivation that led her to run for the presidency of CAR, she highlighted the fact that while she never had the political motivation to be president, she and other women felt the need for the country to have an adaptable and engaged leader able to listen to all the belligerent parties. Her experience as the Mayor of Bangui (the capital city of CAR) and her intensive engagement in dispute settlement throughout the country led CAR’s women to pledge for her candidature. She dutifully accepted and was subsequently elected by the CAR Transitional Parliament as the first woman president in January 2014.
Her Excellency outlined that when she took office, she “was given a country torn by years of crisis where the basic public services of security and administration were inexistent”. Faced with that complex situation she was required to “put in place an adequate leadership” befitting the context. Owing to the fact that she was not from a strong political background, she said she was able to feature all the politically
and socially relevant parties using dialogue as her main tool in order to encourage discussions on CAR’s most critical issues. Within that framework, she shared with the audience her experience in initiating a process of national/popular consultations on the territory, leading to the signing of various accords with rebel groups and militias with the aim of re-establishing stronger state authority.
In her remarks, Her Excellency Catherine Samba-Panza underlined that the support of the international community and neighbouring countries was crucial for CAR and the success of her mission. She pointed
out Pope Francis’ two-day visit to CAR in late November 2015 having served as a catalyst to undermine violence between belligerent parties. She further identified poverty and impunity as the drivers of conflict
in CAR; the political strategy to resolve the country’s multi-layered challenges would then need to “have reconciliation as its basis, justice in its middle and development at its summit”.
Furthermore, one of the most pressing challenges in CAR, as stated by Her Excellency, was wide spread sexual violence. She affirmed that “combating sexual violence was a way to bring about justice for women victims of this violence”. She also asserted during her presentation that her term was marked by an intensive political strategy to promote women as no one (except a fellow woman) would have understood the context better. In that regard, she encouraged women’s increased participation in CAR’s political, social and economic landscape. She further initiated a law on gender parity that was finally adopted by the parliament, and established the National Authority on Elections, an independent state institution led by a woman and in charge of elections. As a result, during her presidency, the Central African Republic organized elections despite finding itself in a very complex and highly militarised context. Her Excellency highlighted that she withdrew from power after her transitional term ended as she “had to respect the transitional rules that did not allow any member of the transitional government to participate in the elections”.
In a political environment dominated by armed men and greedy politicians looking for legitimacy, Her Excellency noted that her determination to succeed in her mission was unwavering. She wished “to show the world that a woman was able to assume responsibilities in a complex context as well as a man, or even better”. She remarked that while it was a challenge, it was also a learning environment to see that women and female “maternal” leadership can foster democracy and serve as a catalyst for peace in complex situations. She underscored that women need to be encouraged to “show their capacities in positively impacting their communities, societies and countries”. Accordingly to Her Excellency Catherine Samba-Panza, African women have to be involved in the diverse peace processes as they have a key role to play.