On Sunday, Central African Republic (C.A.R.) President Catherine Samba Panza appointed Mahamat Kamoun as the country’s new prime minister. Kamoun, the first Muslim to hold the post, will be tasked with overseeing a delicate transition as the C.A.R. attempts to rebound from over a year of unrest and political instability. The first step: implement a ceasefire with rebels signed this July.
Here, Kamoun’s background is critical, though the prime minister has downplayed the importance of his religious affiliation. The coalition of Séléka rebels, which includes fighters from Chad, Uganda and Sudan, is predominantly Muslim. Following the ouster of President François Bozizé in March 2013, the insurgency has taken on sectarian overtones, pitting vigilante Christian militias against not only rebels but also members of the country’s Muslim minority assumed to be loyal to Séléka. Thousands have died in the fighting, and over a million people have been displaced, including hundreds of thousands of Muslim residents that fled the predominantly Christian south for northern C.A.R.
Séléka’s position has weakened considerable since the arrival of French troops last year, and the subsequent resignation of President Michel Djotodia, the former Séléka leader, in January. Yet reconciliation between the C.A.R.’s warring sides has stalled, as has the ceasefire signed on July 23 to end religious violence. Now, Panza is looking to Kamoun not only to enforce the ceasefire but also to oversee the thankless task of incorporating former rebels into a future administration – a condition of the July accord that has ignited much controversy.
Beyond the symbolic gesture of appointing a Muslim prime minister, Panza is no doubt banking on Kamoun’s links to the Séléka rebels. But while the new premier served as cabinet chief in Djotodia’s administration, his reported ties to the coalition look to be fairly tenuous. Indeed, Séléka leadership wasted no time in speaking out against Kamoun’s nomination. According to spokesman Abou Mal Mal Hissène, the coalition was not involved in the appointment process and only learned about the new prime minister via foreign media. As a result, “Séléka will not participate in the next government.” The rebels aren’t the only ones dissatisfied with Panza’s choice. The international community financing the C.A.R.’s rehabilitation is reportedly uneasy with the appointment of a relative unknown. Kamoun’s uphill battle just got that much harder.