Michel Djotodia, the president of the Central African Republic, abruptly resigned today in a statement released by the Economic Community of Central African States. Djotodia, along with all 135 parliamentarians in the country’s National Transitional Council, was in neighboring Chad for a two-day summit with other African leaders to address the continuing anarchic violence that has plagued the CAR.
Reuters, who broke rumors of the resignation earlier this week, reported that Djotodia had recently fallen out of favor with Chadian President Idriss Deby, a powerful player in the region who was widely perceived to be Djotodia’s benefactor. Deby and other African leaders are said to have lost patience with Djotodia’s inability to stop the recent bout of sectarian violence in the country, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced close to 1 million people since it erupted in early December.
Djotodia’s reign as president was short-lived. He took power in March, when his mainly Muslim rebel alliance known as the Seleka overthrew former president Francois Bozize. In later months, Djotodia declared himself president even as he admitted that he had lost control of many of his former rebel soldiers, whom he had tried to integrate into the national army. Instead, many former rebels used Djotodia’s victory as a license to loot, murder, and rape throughout CAR. Eventually, the mostly Christian population formed self-defense units known as the anti-balaka, and sectarian strife engulfed the country.
“From the beginning, Djotodia proved unwilling to rein in the forces that brought him into power, and to prevent CAR from erupting into the sectarian blood bath that we’ve seen,” said Evan Cinq-Mars, a research analyst focusing on the CAR at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
In the capital city of Bangui today, thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate the news of Djotodia’s resignation.
Last month, while walking the streets of Bangui, visiting internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, and spending time at anti-balaka bases, VICE News heard the same refrain over and over: Djotodia must go. Many civilians in Bangui told us that things would return to normal the moment he stepped down. Similarly, anti-balaka soldiers and commanders, camped out on the perimeter of the city near Bangui M’Poko International Airport, told us they would immediately drop their weapons and return to their normal lives.
It’s unclear, however, when Bangui will see an end to the fighting. For starters, there’s no telling how the former rebels will react. Former Seleka General Abder Kadher Kalil told us in mid-December that if Djotodia were removed from office, 5,000 armed soldiers would take to the bush to start a new rebellion.
In addition, anti-balaka forces could react to Djotodia’s resignation by continuing to attack Muslim civilians across the country. The Muslim minority there say they have not received adequate protection from African Union and French troops, and have been suffering indiscriminate revenge attacks.
“Time will tell if it’s a step in the right direction,” Cinq-Mars said. “The risk is still very high for civilians—both Christian and Muslim.”