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Samba-Panza postpones polls as fresh fighting fractures CAR peace

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Catherine Samba-Panza, Head of State of the Transition of the Central African Republic. PHOTO | AFP 

By TREVOR ANALO

Posted  Saturday, October 10   2015 at  18:18

In Summary

  • President Samba-Panza announced an indefinite postponement of the elections following renewed violence that left dozens of people dead in the capital Bangui.

With only a week to the expiry of her mandate, Central African Republic interim President Catherine Samba-Panza faces the difficult task of organising elections in a nation torn apart by sectarian violence.

The country was expected to go into a general election on October 18, but the myriad humanitarian and security challenges make it nearly impossible to hold a free and fair election.

President Samba-Panza announced an indefinite postponement of the elections following renewed violence that left dozens of people dead in the capital Bangui.

“It is a decision that must be taken with the entire political class, with all the Central African actors, so that together we see, by the end of 2015, on what date we can organise the…presidential and legislative elections,” she said.

More than a dozen armed groups roam the countryside, terrorising civilians with little resistance from authorities in Bangui.

This has forced about a million people (or 20 per cent of the population) to flee to neighbouring countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Cameroon and the Congo Republic.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called for the prosecution of top CAR warlords, saying “The most notorious leaders, with much blood on their hands, are not being arrested, let alone prosecuted, tried and convicted.”

About 6,000 Central Africans have been killed in two years of fighting since President Francois Bozize was toppled in 2013 by the largely Muslim Seleka rebel group.

Seleka singled out Christians for attacks, who in turn formed anti-Balaka militia to fight back, fuelling one of the worst religious conflicts in the region.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court has opened investigations into crimes committed during the fighting, and the government is trying to prosecute less serious cases, but the country’s judicial system is barely functional.

Analysts warn that holding elections in this environment could drive the country back to civil war, unless some political and security issues are resolved, key among them being provision of adequate resources to the severely underfunded electoral body and disarming the armed groups.

President Samba-Panza heads a wobbly coalition whose members, with links to the two rival armed groups, are only kept from going at each other’s throats by French troops, African Union forces and a UN peacekeeping mission.

Even as she prepares the country for the elections on October 18, how realistic are these plans and more importantly, why is the international community pushing for elections in such a political environment?

Speaking to The EastAfrican, Prof Christopher Day, who writes on Central African issues and teaches political science at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, US, said ordinary Central Africans want to have elections given their history of authoritarian rule since 1960s.

“In principle, most Central Africans would like to see free and fair elections. But, given the current situation, the country is not ready for these elections,” said Prof Day by e-mail. “Democracy and elections are required in CAR — they cannot have a transitional government indefinitely. However, October is a dangerous and premature date for these elections.”

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