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09 Jan 2014 14:25
Rebel-turned-president Michel Djotodia. (AFP)
Swept to power as the previous Central African regime crumbled, the rebel-turned-president Michel Djotodia now stands accused less than a year later of letting his country slide into chaos and bloodshed.
Djotodia was summoned to the Chadian capital on Thursday for a summit of African leaders set to confront his failure to stem the sectarian violence tearing apart his resource-rich, impoverished nation.
The Central African leader was carried to power as the first Muslim leader of the overwhelmingly Christian country in a March 24 coup that unleashed the deadly unrest.
Leading a rebel coalition named Seleka into Bangui he seized the presidential palace from President François Bozizé, who fled after 10 years in power, and proclaimed himself president.
A few weeks later Djotodia was voted in as president by a national transition council to provide a veneer of respectability.
He appeared to take international concerns on board and pledged to hold free elections within 18 months.
He promised the government would be independent of religious influences and would respect the nation's various ethnic groups and faiths.
"I hope that those who cheer me today will do so when I stand down –instead of throwing stones," he said after taking office.
But things quickly started to sour – as early as his swearing in in August as it emerged he was wearing bogus army decorations, bought from crooks for nearly a million euros.
Djotodia officially disbanded his rebel movement, but proved unable to keep the fighters in check.
Instead the rebels went on killing, raping and pillaging, prompting Christians to form vigilante groups in response and sparking a deadly cycle of revenge attacks in a country where up until then, Muslims and Christians have managed to live peacefully.
More than 1 000 people have been killed in the past month alone and nearly a million have been displaced since the coup.
The descent into chaos cost him the confidence of the international community.
No taste for high office
But Djotodia himself has confessed to having little taste for high office – in an astonishing admission to a group of political leaders in November.
"I want things to improve, and quickly, so that I can leave. I do not want to stay in power – I am going to leave."
"You get to sleep – but we never sleep," he said.
"Why hold on to something that stops you from sleeping. Sometimes you can't even think of your wife!".
Michel Am-Nondroko Djotodia was born in 1949 in the northeastern Vakaga region, near the borders with Chad and Sudan, but his precise date of birth is unknown and details of his childhood are sketchy.
The enigmatic strongman lived abroad for many years, notably 14 years in the former Soviet Union, and worked as a Central African civil servant before passing into the rebel camp.
Djotodia served in the planning ministry before going to the foreign ministry, where he was named consul to neighbouring South Sudan, then an insurgent part of Sudan before independence.
In 2005, Djotodia joined the rebellion against Bozize, an army general who seized power in a 2003 coup.
He was a founding member of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) rebel grouping.
A former rebel comrade describes him as "determined", and true to his word.
"That quality can also be a flaw: he can be rigid, and does not take well to being contradicted when he has made his mind up," he said.
Two years later, Djotodia went to Benin to join forces with another Central African rebel leader, Abakar Sabone of the Movement of Centrafrican Liberators for Justice (MLCJ).
Arrested by the Benin authorities at the behest of Bozize's regime, he spent several weeks in jail.
While abroad, Djotodia lost control of the UFDR but upon his return in 2011 and 2012 he succeeded in rallying former supporters and helped found Seleka.
Less than a year on he was named president of the Central African Republic – only to preside over a new descent into violence in the chronically volatile country. – Sapa-AFP
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