This week the world must celebrate the election of Catherine Samba-Panza, the first female president of the Central African Republic.
Beating her nearest rival Désiré Kolingba, son of a former CAR president, her election brings hope to a country becoming so seeped in the blood of its own people. In her victory speech, Ms Samba-Panza urged Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, and Muslim fighters in the ex-Seleka rebel movement to end the bloodshed.
Africa has proven that women working in peace resolution have been efficient and always find solutions when the situation has become too intricate. NGOs such as FAS (Femme Africa Solidarité www.fasngo.org) have focused on programmes such as "Women, Peace and Security" which is aimed at mobilising the power of women to forge peace and drive prosperity in Africa. This three year programme is based on two strategic pillars. 1. To empower African women to assume a leadership role in building peace 2. To promote gender parity and mainstreaming in Africa. The FAS programme will put particular emphasis on building the capacity of women and the youth to strengthen their role and involvement in conflict resolution, prevention of conflict and post conflict reconstruction.
In this way Africa is also showing the rest of the world that the solution is to give voice and power to their female politicians who are becoming a useful key to handling both peace and the economy - two of the elements that so disrupt many countries. You will not achieve peace when an economy is on its knees, equally you cannot have a healthy economy within a conflict.
"I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka - they should not have fear. I don't want to hear any more talk of murders and killings,'' said Ms Samba-Panza on her victory. The President immediately took a mother and child motif to her rhetoric. According to news reports cheers and singing broke out within the National Transitional Council which has been serving as an interim Parliament.
Why should this woman give us and her people such hope? We hope Catherine Samba-Panza takes her lead from the only other female president in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from Liberia. I met Ellen when we went to Liberia to celebrate the women's political movement that succeeded in ousting the dictator Charles Taylor and to celebrate the great work of Sirleaf Johnson. She has shown us how much work was done to create a real place for women in the economy and the politics of Liberia and in acknowledgment of her incredible work we presented her with a Gender Equality Award. Her intelligence, wit and political acumen has put Liberia back on the political and economic map. I hope that the President of Liberia proves to be an inspiration to the President of CAR and I urge the two women to share their experiences. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf managed to pull Liberia, a sick and broken war-torn country back from the brink of destruction and to repair the deep-rooted scars left by civil war. She managed to put the warring factions around a table to create a peace within which her country could begin to thrive once again. The mother of Liberia healed her children and we hope that the mother of CAR can do the same.
Catherine Samba-Panza said of her incredible victory, that she is the "daughter, mother and sister of the Central African Republic." Acknowledging her Presidency to be a truly historic event, another female politician at the election said of her colleague's victory: "Men have all failed: it is time that a woman tries. Women are more pragmatic, they are more energetic. They have hope. "
The new leader of the Central African Republic needs to grab her victory with both hands and hold on tight to make a difference. Raised a Christian, she has been vocal about remaining impartial. Previously the mayor of the capital Bangui she has in the past been accepted by both the Seleka rebels and their counter-parts. Surely this is the crucial element - a woman doesn't see being peace-maker as a negative thing. She will do what she has to do, without fear of losing her masculine pride. Peace will never be achieved unless the moderator is someone who is trusted and respected by both parties and is prepared to put peace before personal advancement or face-saving.
"From today, I am the president of all Central Africans, without exclusion."
Our thoughts and hopes are now with this amazing woman and we hope that she can follow a path that will bring peace to her homeland. On Monday EU Foreign Ministers agreed to send 500 more troops to the areas where 4,000 African troops and 1,600 French troops are already in place, attempting to help end the violence. Since former President Mr Djotodia seized power in a rebellion last March thousands have died. About 1,000 people were killed in December alone and more mindless murders have followed: a Christian mob killed two Muslims and set their bodies alight at a busy traffic roundabout in the capital. Fresh inter-communal violence has flared up in north and north-western areas of the country and Red Cross workers discovered a further 50 buried bodies. This must stop.
There will be opposition to Catherine Samba-Panza who is the seventh president of the CAR since independence in 1960 (only the second CAR Head of State to have been voted for by a democratic process after Ange-Félix Patassé in 1993, all the others having come to power by a coup). People will say that the assembly that voted for her had no legtimacy and the vote was conducted under too close a supervision from the international community, especially France. We hope however that this woman, with her strong personality, her experience in business (as head of the Central African subsidiaries of several French insurance companies) her knowledge of the Arabic language and her spirit will prove her to be the answer for a country that is being ripped apart.
Bravo Catherine!Suggest a correction