The new president of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba Panza, who was elected on the 20th January, has made her first official visit to Congo-Brazzaville.
The country has played a leading role as mediator during the Central African Republic crisis, which has seen widespread violence between Muslim and Christian communities and nearly one million internally displaced people.
François Chignac of Euronews met the new interim president and asked her about her vision for the future of this troubled African state.
François Chignac: “Welcome to Euronews, President Samba Panza. Thank you for agreeing to talk to us as your country goes through one of the most serious crises the African continent has seen in recent years. The International Criminal Court has launched an inquiry into war crimes in the Central African Republic. Will you be cooperating with the ICC inquiry?”
Central African Republic President Catherine Samba Panza: “The ICC prosecutor has informed me about this inquiry and asked for the government’s cooperation, which we are giving.”
euronews: “And if by some chance they want to interview the military, will you still support the inquiry?”
Samba Panza: “Justice will take its course. The executive will not interfere with the judiciary.”
euronews: “And if important political leaders are arrested?”
Samba Panza: “Everyone must answer for their actions. That’s that. Some people have committed reprehensible acts. They will answer for those acts. I will not protect bandits or crooked politicians or agitators who have led this country into the current situation. I will not protect anyone. Everyone will answer to the International Criminal Court.”
euronews: “Do you need more troops? Troops from France, the EU, the African Union, or the United Nations?”
Samba Panza: “Absolutely. We need more troops. That’s why I have called for a peace-keeping operation. I think we must be realistic, we don’t have enough troops to be in every troubled zone where there is real insecurity. So we really do need more troops. We will have European troops at the airport. That will free up more French army troops. But even with freeing them up, the European troops will only be deployed in certain areas. Experience has shown us that when African or French troops withdrew from a sensitive zone there were abuses. So we need more troops all over the territory.”
euronews: “How long do you think it will take to restore security to Bangui?”
Samba Panza: “I’d say a month.”
euronews: “Your priority right now, is it to disarm all the militia groups?”
Samba Panza: “There are so many weapons throughout the country that its an operation that will have to be done progressively. But we are determined to disarm the militias.”
euronews: “Why is there such violence between Christians and Muslims, these scenes of looting, lynching and murder that we have seen between two communities which used to live side by side in peace.”
Samba Panza: “The main cause is poverty. There is widespread deep poverty. Young people, unemployed people are easily manipulated. So I believe that politicians played on those sensibilities for their own ends. Sadly now it has taken root among Muslims and Christians, it’s a reality.”
euronews: “Do you think the country needs to undergo a national reconciliation process?”
Samba Panza: “Yes, we need a reconciliation process. National reconciliation will be a process that comes step by step. I want to see it start with dialogue between communities, so that people in this country learn to live together again. The day we see national dialogue will really be the conclusion of all the processes that we are putting in place. There’s no point in setting up massive group therapy if at the base people don’t get along and can’t live together.”
euronews: “How would you answer pessimists who say the country is heading for an inevitable split?”
Samba Panza: “I won’t cede one inch of my country. Really, I completely condemn all secessionist tendencies in the country. And I warn people who want to see this split, that I will stand in their way.”
euronews: “The international community has welcomed your election, as have neighbouring States and the African Union. So how do you intend to get the country out of the terrible crisis in which it is embroiled?”
Samba Panza: “The problems are real. The challenges are immense. The expectations of the people are huge. There are many needs to satisfy. I can’t do it all in a fortnight. But having said that, I recognise the challenges ahead, I understand the hopes which have been placed in me and I know that I have to get results.”
euronews: “You are the third woman to be elected as an African Head of State. But you are the Head of State of a country which is torn apart and soaked in violence. It is a help or a hindrance to be a woman in this situation?”
Samba Panza: “I’m proud to say that it’s a help. My femininity and maternal feelings means I can tackle certain problems with lots of realism and sensitivity. I know there are many difficulties ahead of me, but I truly believe that we will succeed.”
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