Fear over revenge attacks as Central African Republic’s leader resigns

Departure of Djotodia after disastrous rule brings joy and fear

People gesture as they celebrate the resignation of Central African Republic’s interim president Michel Djotodia in Lakouenga district yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Emmanuel Braun

People gesture as they celebrate the resignation of Central African Republic’s interim president Michel Djotodia in Lakouenga district yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Emmanuel Braun

Sat, Jan 11, 2014, 01:00


The interim president of the Central African Republic (CAR) resigned on Friday

after a disastrous eight-month rule, prompting celebrations on the streets but fresh anxiety about a power vacuum and revenge attacks against Muslims.

The fate of Michel Djotodia, a rebel who became the country’s first Muslim leader, only to preside over its descent towards civil war, was sealed at a regional summit in neighbouring Chad. The prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, with whom he had a fractious relationship, also stepped down.

Mr Djotodia (65) has appeared impotent amid a cycle of attacks and counter-attacks by Christian and Muslim militias that has left thousands of people dead and forced a million from their homes. He became deeply unpopular, particularly among the nation’s Christian majority.


Transitional government
But Mr Djotodia’s departure leaves the state in the hands of a weak transitional government and facing an uncertain future. The CAR has endured five coups and perpetual instability since gaining independence from France in 1960.

As news from the summit reached the capital, Bangui, thousands of residents took to the streets, dancing, singing, honking car horns, firing into the air and waving flags, handwritten placards and tree branches in celebration. Cheers erupted at a camp for 100,000 displaced Christian civilians at the French-controlled airport.

“Finally we are free!” Carine Gbegbe, (28) who has been living in a displacement camp, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “We are going to return home at last.”

International aid agencies working in Bangui described an unsure mood.

Renee Lambert, country manager of Catholic Relief Services, was driving back to her office when word came through. She noticed a French military checkpoint had been set up and Congolese citizens, normally seen outside their embassy, had gone inside for their safety. “The immediate reaction was: ‘Let’s go inside. We don’t know what’s going to happen’.”

Later Ms Lambert’s staff reported dancing, singing and celebrations in predominantly Christian neighbourhoods, whereas Muslim areas were much quieter. “My concern is that the Central African Muslim population is going to be the target of very serious revenge attacks,” she said.

It is now vital for the right successor to be chosen and for a balanced government to be established in which Muslim voices are represented, Lambert added. “This can be positive but there has to be a clear plan to move forward.”

Like many before him in the CAR, Mr Djotodia had a violent and brief reign. He seized power after his Seleka rebel coalition overthrew the then president, François Bozizé, but seemed ill-prepared for the job.

American anthropologist Louisa Lombard, formerly based in the CAR, wrote: “Hearing the stories of his ambition during my research, I almost felt embarrassed on his behalf – he seemed like a Jamaican bobsledder convinced he’d win gold.”

Although Mr Djotodia officially disbanded the Seleka, he proved unable to keep them in check. They went on to carry out countless atrocities against civilians, killing, looting and razing villages.

The group is largely drawn from the CAR’s Muslim minority and the conflict soon became defined along sectarian faultlines.

Last month a Christian militia backed by loyalists of Mr Bozizé attacked the capital. In the violent aftermath, more than 1,000 people were killed and nearly a million displaced.

– (Guardian service)