Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) – The Central African Republic named its first Muslim prime minister on Sunday as part of an effort to create a more inclusive government and end more than a year of sectarian violence.
Mahamat Kamoun, a former special advisor to interim president Catherine Samba-Panza, will lead a transitional government that is seeking to implement a precarious ceasefire signed late last month.
He was appointed by presidential decree, according to an announcement on state radio by a presidential spokesman.
An expert in finance, Kamoun was the director general of the treasury under former president Francois Bozize, in power from 2003 to March 2013.
He is the first Muslim to serve as prime minister in the Central African Republic since it gained independence from France in 1960.
Together with Samba-Panza, a Christian, Kamoun faces the difficult task of revitalising a delicate political transition aimed at ending deadly sectarian violence and disarming militias in one of Africa’s poorest countries.
The latest unrest in the CAR began in March 2013 when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition toppled the ruling regime and put Michel Djotodia — the country’s first Muslim president — in power.
Djotodia stepped down in January under strong international pressure for his failure to rein in rogue ex-rebels, who relentlessly murdered, raped and looted civilians.
In response, largely Christian communities formed “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) vigilante forces who hunted down Muslims in revenge attacks.
Thousands have died and around a quarter of the country’s 4.5 million population have been displaced in the conflict. Much of the country’s Muslim community have fled their homes, with others sheltering in camps.
Representatives of the Seleka coalition and anti-balaka forces signed a tentative ceasefire at talks in neighbouring Congo in July aimed at ending violence in the country.
Following the talks, the technocrat government of premier Andre Nzapayeke resigned at the request of Samba-Panza, who promised a more inclusive government.
– Long road ahead –
Despite the appointment of a new prime minister many hurdles remain on the CAR’s path to peace, with the inclusion of armed groups in a future government one of the main sticking points of ongoing discussions.
The Seleka and anti-balaka militias both stand accused of serious abuses and are considered to be the main cause of the country’s current crisis. Many of the groups’ leaders are also the subject of UN and US sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans.
There are signs, however, that Kamoun’s appointment may go some way to reducing tensions.
The Seleka coalition today is weak and fragmented, divided between supporters of dialogue and an extremist fringe that refuses to make any concessions, calling instead for the partition of the country.
Seen as something of a technocrat, Kamoun is not formally a member of the Seleka, but he is deemed to have an influence on some of its leaders.
His appointment is likely to reassure the Muslim minority community, many of whom are treated with suspicion by the CAR’s majority Christian population following the Seleka takeover.
The appointment may also ease tensions between the government and former Seleka coalition members, and undercut support for those pushing for partition, according to the analysis of one political expert.
Although Kamoun’s appointment will be viewed as a sign of progress, the ceasefire signed in Brazzaville remains extremely fragile.
After weeks of relative quiet in the capital Bangui, clashes erupted on Friday and Saturday between two rival factions of the anti-balaka militia, forcing the intervention of international peacekeepers in the country.
The confrontations came just days after dozens of Seleka fighters attacked French peacekeepers patrolling the northern town of Batangafo. Two French troops were injured in the clashes.