Touadera: the maths professor now taking on C. Africa chaos

Christian Panika
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Former maths teacher Faustin-Archange Touadera, 58, was the surprise winner of February's run-off election in the Central African Republic

Former maths teacher Faustin-Archange Touadera, 58, was the surprise winner of February's run-off election in the Central African Republic (AFP Photo/Issouf Sanogo)

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - The new president of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadera, dubbed the "People's candidate" is a former maths teacher now tasked with restoring stability to a dirt-poor country wracked by sectarian violence.

The 58-year-old, who was sworn in on Wednesday, was the last prime minister under Francois Bozize, whose overthrow in 2013 plunged the country into violent chaos.

Touadera, a former rector of the University of Bangui, stood as an independent candidate and took almost 20 percent of the votes in the first round of a contest among 30 contenders.

The second round on February 14 pitted him against Anicet Georges Dologuele, a banker and former prime minister who was seen as the likely victor until Touadera surprisingly won the vote with a comfortable 62.7 percent.

In the country's west with regions that had been strongholds of loyalists to Bozize -- a general who took power in a 2003 coup -- Touadera was dubbed "the candidate of the people", though Bozize's party had urged people to vote for his rival.

Observers noted that Bozize's last prime minister (2008-2013) was highly regarded for ending decades of repeated delays in paying the wages of state employees, which plunged many deep into debt.

"He'll remain known as the one who paid the civil servants and he is much appreciated for that," a diplomatic source in Bangui told AFP.

Dologuele, sometimes dubbed "Mr Clean" for his firm management of the government under President Ange-Felix Patasse in 1999-2001, levelled allegations of "organised fraud" and "intimidation by leaders of armed militias" after he lost the election.

A key challenge facing Touadera is tackling the militias, undisciplined soldiers and other armed bands active in parts of the country.

Aboout one million people in a population of 4.8 million fled villages and urban homes because of the atrocities perpetrated by mainly Muslim rebels who ousted Bozize and the ruthless vengeance of Christian vigilantes.

- 'A vast construction site' -

As prime minister, Touadera was successful in bringing about talks between the authorities, the political opposition, rebel movements and civil society, which led to the signing of several peace agreements.

However no pacts could prevent renewed violence, which saw about 12,000 troops and police deployed in the CAR by the United Nations, alongside French soldiers and an African Union military force that was incorporated into the UN mission.

Without questioning Touadera's integrity, some wonder whether he can deal with unruly armed bands prone to attacking civilians and illegally exploiting the country's gold production.

"Nothing entitles us to say today that he has the clout to stand up to these soldiers who sowed terror and hatred under Bozize to the point of plunging the country into crisis. The same men are surrounding him and making themselves his personal guard," Bangui University student Euloge Ngate Linzonzo said.

While Touadera has yet to prove his mettle, many traditional supporters of Bozize's KNK party threw their weight behind him and he is renowned for hard work. Even while he was prime minister, he went on taking classes at the university.

As a pure mathematician, the new leader faces a complex equation in restoring the wrecked economy of a mostly rural country where the administration has vanished in entire regions roamed by armed groups.

As president-elect, Touadera vowed to "turn our country into a vast construction site offering vast employment opportunities for young people, creating wealth that can be redistributed fairly."

"He didn't run into politics," said a friend who knows Touadera well. "It was rather politics that turned to him to take advantage of his qualities."