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Catherine Samba-Panza
Catherine Samba-Panza 2014-09-26.jpg
Samba-Panza in 2014
Transitional President of the Central African Republic
In office
23 January 2014 – 30 March 2016
Prime Minister André Nzapayeké
Mahamat Kamoun
Preceded by Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet (Acting)
Succeeded by Faustin-Archange Touadéra
Mayor of Bangui
In office
14 June 2013 – 23 January 2014
Preceded by Nazaire Yalanga Nganaféï
Succeeded by Hyacinthe Wodobodé
Personal details
Born (1954-06-26) 26 June 1954 (age 69)
Fort Lamy, French Equatorial Africa (present-day N'Djamena, Chad)
Political party Independent
Spouse Cyriaque Samba-Panza
Children 3
Alma mater Panthéon-Assas University

Catherine Samba-Panza (née Souga; born 26 June 1954) is a Central African politician who served as Transitional President of the Central African Republic from 2014 to 2016. She is the first woman to serve as head of state in the Central African Republic. Prior to her tenure as acting president, she was the Mayor of Bangui from 2013 to 2014.

Samba-Panza began her career operating an insurance brokerage and working as a women's rights advocate. She was chosen in 2003 to serve as the vice president of a national reconciliation conference, and she was then chosen as president of the subsequent committee to implement the conference's recommendations. She was appointed mayor of Bangui in 2013 after the city was devastated by the Central African Republic Civil War. She was then appointed to serve as transitional president of the Central African Republic in 2014. She was tasked with restoring stability to the nation by disarming militant groups, and she emphasized the nation's economic recovery through employment and foreign aid. Her term ended in 2016. She was a presidential candidate in the 2020–21 election, but she was unsuccessful.

Early life and education

Samba-Panza was born on 26 June 1954 in Fort Lamy, Chad, to a mother from the Central African Republic (CAR) and a Cameroonian father. Prior to politics, she was a businesswoman and corporate lawyer. She moved to the CAR at the age of 18. She studied corporate law in Bangui, and was trained in law at Panthé University. When she returned to the CAR after her studies in France, she founded a firm of insurance brokers, but unfortunately found that doing business and attracting investment had become a difficult task due to prevailing climate of graft.

Mayor of Bangui

Samba-Panza was appointed mayor of Bangui in May 2013 by the government of Michel Djotodia after he seized power in a coup. She took office on 14 June 2013. Though she was a Christian, her appointment was accepted by both the Muslim Séléka and the Christian Anti-balaka factions due to her reputation for neutrality and incorruptibility. While serving as mayor, she insisted that she would step down as soon as elections were held.

As the interim mayor, Samba-Panza was tasked with rebuilding the city following the Central African Republic Civil War. All of the city's funds and supplies had been looted, and much of its infrastructure had been destroyed. Her strategy to address the city's funding problem included raising taxes and courting foreign aid. She was succeeded as mayor by Hyacinthe Wodobodé.

Transitional president

Taking office

Cérémonie au camp Mpoko 2014 1
Samba-Panza with African Union soldiers in 2014

Following an escalation of the conflict in the CAR, Djotodia stepped down after nine months in power. Samba-Panza was chosen as the interim president, replacing acting president Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet. She was chosen from a list of eight candidates who had to prove they had no links to either the Séléka or the Anti-balaka. Her call for talks between both sides to the conflict was welcomed by the parties.

Samba-Panza was sworn in as President on 23 January 2014, with a mandate to serve until the next election, which was scheduled for 2015. On the day of her inauguration, civil conflict killed an estimated sixteen people within the capital's suburbs. Her appointment as president was seen as a positive change by observers and foreign investors, as she was chosen for popular support rather than taking power by force.

Samba-Panza took office during a period of lawlessness in which religious violence took place between Christian and Muslims and the government had collapsed. She suggested poverty and a failure of governance were the causes of the conflict. Upon taking office, Samba-Panza was the first woman to become the country's president, and she was one of three female heads of state in Africa, after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia and Joyce Banda in Malawi. Samba-Panza has spoken of Johnson Sirleaf as a role model. Her status as a female leader in a time of crisis was seen as symbolic among citizens, who felt that a woman and mother may be better equipped to bring peace between warring factions. For this reason, she was nicknamed Mother Courage.


Secretary Kerry Shakes Hands With CAR Transitional President Samba-Panza After They Addressed Reporters in Washington
Samba-Panza with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2016

As president, Samba-Panza declared that her first priorities were to restore security and employment. She believed the two to be connected, as it was necessary for militants to find occupation to prevent them from relying on violence. Samba-Panza described her intentions during her tenure as being "to bring back peace and stability, to boost the economy and to gradually restore the rule of law". Samba-Panza has argued that she does not have a political bias because her experience is in civil society, and she has likewise taken on an anti-corruption platform because of her experiences in the private sector.

As the CAR had no funds of its own, Samba-Panza's government relied entirely on foreign aid. Samba-Panza welcomed the intervention by French soldiers in the CAR, describing it as an act of reciprocation for when soldiers from the CAR assisted France in World War II. She weighed this against crimes committed by some soldiers, saying that they made up a small number and had to be held responsible individually.

André Nzapayeké, a Christian, was appointed as Prime Minister to serve during her tenure. Samba-Panza then replaced him with Mahamat Kamoun, a Muslim, in August 2014. As Séléka had no ties to Kamoun, it threatened to boycott the government and withdraw from the ceasefire. Samba-Panza authorized the creation of a Special Criminal Court in June 2015 to prosecute "grave international crimes committed since 2003" in conjunction with the United Nations. A surge of violence in September 2015 caused hundreds of protesters to demand Samba-Panza's resignation, and Human Rights Watch determined by the end of the year that Samba-Panza's administration had "struggled to establish security". Critics of her presidency feel that it did not meet the hopeful expectations that it set.

The 2015 general election was scheduled for February 2015, and Samba-Panza was ineligible to serve while she was interim president. It was then postponed several times. The election was held in December 2015, but irregularities necessitated a new election, which was held in February 2016. By the end of her tenure, she considered several objectives unfinished. These included disarmament and reintegration of militants, security reform, humanitarianism, and national reconciliation. During the disarmament process, Samba-Panza dismissed the idea of using force against those who did not turn in their weapons. Samba-Panza served as president until 30 March 2016, when Faustin-Archange Touadéra was sworn in as her successor.

2020 presidential campaign

Samba-Panza 2020 campaign logo
Presidential campaign logo

On 28 August, Samba-Panza announced that she would be running in the 2020 presidential election. She justified her campaign by saying that "many appealed from all sides of the political spectrum" for her to run, and she touted her willingness to step down in 2016 as a reason to trust her. She was unsuccessful, and Touadéra won another term as president.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Catherine Samba-Panza para niños

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