Long road ahead for CAR’s shaky leadership

Presidents of the Central African Republic (CAR) have a bad track record. Perhaps Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa only appeared to be the worst because of the amount of media attention he received. 

People in the streets of Bangui hesitate to pronounce on whether they believe "self-proclaimed president Michel Djotodia" – as most people refer to him – will be any better than exiled and ousted president François Bozizé. A common sentiment is that their "troubles" are not over. The general feeling is that while Seleka is the strongest game in town militarily, it is anything but a united front. There is a certain fear that the collection of heavily armed young men riding shotgun on the backs of Toyota technicals, Nissans and Hilux bakkies may turn on each other once they are convinced that any threat from what was the national army, the FACA, has been neutralised. 

The Mail & Guardian asked the country's new communications minister, Christophe Gazambeti, how this government would differ from previous administrations. While one wants to be positive and provide the benefit of the doubt to most incoming politicians, the reply sounded like it had been hastily written by a public relations firm: "We won't exclude anyone, we want to look towards the future, there will be more transparency in the administration, natural resources will be shared equally." And in case that wasn't comforting enough, the minister emphasised that "the president doesn't stop talking about justice".

While the people of the CAR would certainly like to believe reassurances from their new leaders, virtually nothing has happened in the more than half a century of independence that would prompt them to believe anything from the mouth of a politician. In fact, only a few kilometres outside of Bangui chances are the minister's words will never be heard. Newspapers don't circulate outside the capital, and if they did, the CAR has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world. Even if people could read the newspapers, very few have enough money to buy one. The primary source of information from the capital – radio – only reaches a short distance beyond Bangui and a small handful of other urban areas. For most of the CAR, the footprint of government does not reach them.

Knowing that he was speaking to a primarily South African audience, Gazambeti wanted to reassure the M&G that "South Africa is still a friend". Referring to Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele's visit to Bangui on Thursday as a sign of friendship, he reiterated the CAR's long history of friendship, dating back to Bokassa and his links with the South African government of the day. His advisors might want to delete that memory from his public history lesson.

Looking forward. the minister says visits to South Africa are in the offing during which business and development links between the two countries will be strengthened. He even speculated that a possible strengthening of Fomac, the regional peacekeeping force, could include a South African element.

'I have nothing to hide'
Not far from the minister of communications office is a house guarded by Seleka soldiers where the now former minister of communications lives. Cyriaque Gonda looks relaxed in his lounge as he looks back at the reasons he no longer has a job.

"In my case I have nothing to hide, that's why I'm still in Bangui." Gonda blames what he describes as the ever-widening gap between Bozizé's party and the opposition in government for the events that would lead to a rebel take over. In particular, he blames bad decisions over governance issues, especially concerning disarmament, and demobilisation and reintegration of soldiers (DDR), a process which he says failed due to lack of funds necessary for buying back weapons in the field. An official with one of the United Nations agencies involved in the funding of the DDR process vehemently denies the ex-minister's take on the issue, claiming ample funds were supplied to the government but the money ended up in places where it shouldn't have gone.

And then there is the outside interference excuse. Earlier this week a former senior official in the Bozizé regime told the M&G that Djotodia had made several trips to Eritrea to procure arms prior to the final push to Bangui. Ex-minister Gonda echoed the allegation, adding that the money for the purchase originated with elements he said he could not identify based in Dubai and Qatar. 

Intrigue reigns in Bangui and it is not a new phenomena. In a country where politicians have never felt the need to be accountable to the people they claim have voted for them, stories circulate in lieu of facts.

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