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Catherine Samba-Panza

Written by Hellen Kivaya

Mother courage chosen to save Central African Republic

Cheers broke out in the national assembly building in Bangui as representatives chose the mayor of Central African Republic’s capital (Bangui) to serve as the interim president of the Central African Republic, a country that is facing mayhem.

Catherine Samba-Panza, 59, will be the first woman to lead the nation and will probably serve for a little over a year, with the goal of leading the country to national elections.

Samba-Panza was elected in a second-round vote by the National Transitional Council, which serves as the acting parliament with 135 members in all, voted by secret ballot to replace Michel Djotodia, who was forced to step down on January 10 after he failed to contain the stemming anarchy in the country.

In the first round of the election, Samba-Panza secured 64 votes, one less than the total needed for an outright win. This was against 58 for Desire
Kolingba, the son of a former Central African president. In the second round Samba-Panza secured 75 votes against 53 for Kolingba.


“Show your support for my nomination by giving the strong signal of laying down your weapons” to “stop the suffering of the people,” Samba-Panza said in a speech to lawmakers after she was elected.

Samba-Panza was born in Chad to a Cameroonian father and Central African mother. She studied corporate law in Bangui, then in Paris, and founded an insurance brokerage firm when she returned.

The mother of three, a Christian, turned from the private sector to politics in 2003 after former President Ange-Félix Patassé was overthrown in a coup by François Bozizé, who Djotodia ousted. She has participated in enough mediation to become what some called “incorruptible”.

It is hoped that her appointment will allow strife to shift into calm. “I strongly call on the fighters to show patriotism in putting down their weapons,” she said in her inaugural address. “The ongoing disorder in the country will not be tolerated.”

Samba-Panza will only be president for a year, however, as elections must be held by February 2015 and the interim leader is not allowed to stand. Until then the scale of the challenge is immense as the Christian majority now seems in the ascendant and African and French troops are struggling
to keep the peace.

Disarmament is just the beginning of the enormous task Samba- Panza faces. If the cycle of killing ends, she will have to restore a functioning government so refugees can begin returning to their homes and restart their lives. As the promises of aid pour in, that will mean pushing for transparency despite more than five decades of the opposite.

The first female leader of Central African Republic, and only the third in Africa, has inherited a hellish legacy that leaves her trying to pull the country back from the brink of civil war. The emphasis on her sex is no mere media contrivance. Many Central Africans say that a woman, and mother, is best placed to bring reconciliation.

But “mother courage”, as she has been dubbed, takes on a state that has been barely functional since independence from France in 1960. Its presidents, including Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who named himself emperor with a Napoleonic coronation to match, have found their writ seldom runs beyond the capital. Last March, the most recent of many coups brought a mostly Muslim rebel coalition to power over the majority Christian population, and conflict soon erupted.

Why did the Central African Republic, where the level of early and forced marriage is above 60 per cent, choose a woman to save it? One answer is that nations often do in their hour of need. Minna Salami, a feminist commentator on Africa, said: “We can observe the same old patterns. It is historically and globally the case that women are more prone to access institutions traditionally reserved for men during crisis, for example the second world war, pan-African independence struggles, Burma, postwar Rwanda, Liberia. In that regard, it is no surprise that the Central African Republic now has a female president. The country is facing a crisis and it is not simply Samba-Panza’s background but also her gender that is key.”


A Christian, she has earned respect from both sides of the sectarian divide. In her victory speech last week, the new mother of the nation called on “my children” to lay down their arms and declared: “From today, I am the president of all Central Africans.” She cited her “sensibility as a woman” as a vital asset that could bring reconciliation.

Samba-Panzas’ victory was received positively by the women in the republic. “Everything we have been through has been the fault of men,” said Marie-Louis Yakemba, who heads a civil society organisation that brings together people of different faiths, and who cheered loudly when the speaker announced Samba-Panza’s victory. She added: “We think that with a woman, there is at least a ray of hope.”

Annette Ouango, a member of Central African Women’s Group says that as a woman she can understand the sufferings of the people and as a mother, she will not tolerate all this blood shedding.

“The men have done nothing but fight and destroy the country. I believe this woman would change things for the better,” said Judicaelle Mabongo, an 18-year-old student in downtown Bangui.

All this positive feedback show how the society has faith and shows support in women leadership.

Samba-Panza joins Ellen Johnson (first- elected African female President), Malawi’s Joyce Banda and Aminata Toure’ prime minister of Senegal.

The rise of female leaders in Africa is a hugely positive statement of the direction Africa is headed to.

Since the beginning of time women have always played important roles  in the society. The natural tendency that women posses in taking care and nurturing their children makes them loyal citizens. As a result of this, women tend to readily contribute to the development of their various societies.


“Biological clock” seems to be the most popular case against women leaders in African societies. Many believe that as a result of a woman’s metabolism and her duty of bearing and upbringing children she has little time for anything other than the upkeep of the household.

Women are also considered not able to perform to the best of their ability in stressful situations. This is because women are viewed as sensitive and very emotional.

Africa is headed to a good direction in accordance to women leadership. With unity and support from their various nations women will be empowered for the betterment of the society.


Negative energy is all that puts women down for them not to pursue leadership positions in their nations. For instance, one western diplomat close to selection process said that numerous members of the transitional council that selected Samba-Panza had approached her for bribes, offering to sell their vote but she refused.

Such actions are only barriers to the success of women in their nations. Women should stand firm, be aggressive  and pursue whatever they wish for.

Samba-Panza is among the many African leaders that other women should emulate.

Caesar Poblicks, of the London based consultancy Conciliation Resources, said: “Expectations on her are so high that the international community needs to say, ‘We cannot let her fail. There is respect for her resilience because she decided to stay in Bangui but, without humanitarian assistance and law and order, it will disappear very quickly.” 

Additional information from agencies.

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