CAR President: I’m Not Resigning! UPDATE: He Resigned!

Update (January 10): In spite of yesterday’s official press release (copied below), claiming that he was not resigning, President Michel Djotodia – as well as Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye – has officially tendered his resignation during a regional summit in Chad. A transitional government is supposed to be selected within 15 days. 

The crisis in the Central African Republic is not showing any signs of improvement. And any hopes of a new, potentially more competent leadership in Bangui seem to be vanishing.

Rumors began swirling yesterday that interim President Michel Djotodia was going to step down during the course of a regional meeting of heads of state in Chad. That apparently will not happen.

Djotodia rose to power during the March 2013 coup that sent the country into an ever worsening tailspin of violence. He has been widely criticized for not being able to control the forces that brought him to power. Indeed, the continuing strife between the Seleka – the Muslim group which led the rebellion that led to the toppling of the regime – and the Christian anti-balaka (anti-“machete”) militia has only increased in intensity since the coup. He has been unable to control former members of his alliance, which have unleashed ethnic attacks on supposed enemy populations, and he is unable to use state power to protect civilians caught in conflict. State services have all but vanished.  “The state has disappeared“, an unnamed CAR diplomat told French media RFI.

Alas, any hopes that CAR would be granted a reprieve Djotodia seem to have been short-lived.  The rumors of his resignation were denied forcefully this morning in an official presidential press release. In the press release, signed by the presidential spokesman, the government “outright denies” the “destabilizing” allegations.

In this context of ever increasing violence and instability, the EU announced yesterday that is considering sending a small force (between 700 and 1000 troops) to support the efforts of the AU mission (MISCA) and the French operation (Sangaris). So far, the international military presence seems to have had only limited success in quelling the violence.

While the crisis continues to unfold, whether Michel Djotodia will or should step down remains an unanswered question. Would a new transitional leader do a better job? What kind of mandate and legitimacy would this potential head of state have that Djotodia doesn’t? Would replacing Djotodia lead to further destabilization, or would it create space for negotiations?

These are key questions, but by far the most pressing issue facing the Central African Republic today is how to avert a disastrous humanitarian situation. On January 7, the World Food Program was able to resume providing food aid to the tens of thousands of people who had sought refuge at the country’s main airport in the capital, Bangui – prior to that it had been three weeks since aid had been delivered. As is stands now, the WFP says it will be 90% depleted of food by February. The UN estimates that $152 million will be required to provide life saving assistance in the Central African Republic over the next hundred days.

This is a crucial time for the people of CAR. We should know in the next few weeks whether or not the political crisis in Bangui can be resolved and whether or not a humanitarian crisis will be averted.