DAKAR, Senegal — A rebel leader whose fighters seized the capital of Central African Republic over the weekend has taken to the airwaves to make his first declaration, announcing he has dissolved the country’s constitution and will stay in power for three years, according to excerpts from the broadcast carried on French radio.
Michel Djotodia (pictured), one of the leaders of the Seleka rebel coalition, said late Monday that he plans to stay in power until 2016, the length of time left in the term of the president he and his soldiers overthrew.
Ousted President Francois Bozize fled the presidential palace over the weekend, resurfacing Monday in the neighboring nation of Cameroon, where the government issued a statement saying he had sought “temporary exile” on their soil.
The Seleka rebel leader justified his coup d’etat, saying Bozize had veered in to dictatorship during his 10 years in power.
“Through us, it was the entire population of Central African Republic that rose up as a single man against the president,” Djotodia said, according to Radio France Internationale.
“To this effect, we have decided to guide the destiny of the people of the Central African Republic during this transitional period of three years, in keeping with the spirit of the accords signed in Libreville in January 11, 2013 … As a result, I have decided that it is, therefore, necessary to dissolve the constitution of Dec. 27, 2004, as well as the parliament and the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, French forces protecting Bangui’s main airport opened fire on three cars that were speeding toward a security checkpoint, said the French Defense Ministry.
The cars, carrying Indian and Chadian citizens, continued despite warning shots. Two Indian citizens were killed, and the wounded Indian and Chadian passengers were taken for medical care, the defense minister said in the statement Monday.
France is investigating in to the shooting, the statement said.
Pillaging, meanwhile, continued in the capital, Bangui, days after the Seleka rebels took the city. The rebels’ advance started last week when they pushed past Damara, a town 75 kilometers (47 miles) to the northeast, which had marked the line of control drawn by regional forces in January, following an accord signed in Libreville, the capital of neighboring Gabon.
The rebels broke that accord last week, claiming that Bozize’s government had failed to make good on a series of promises, including sending back the South African troops guarding the capital. The South African troops came under an onslaught of fire from the Seleka rebels, who shot and killed 13 South African soldiers over the weekend, in their fight to take the capital.
Seleka is a loose coalition of fighters, many of whom fought in previous rebellions. They joined forces last fall, beginning their advance toward the capital in December.
The developments mirrored a similar rebellion in eastern Congo by the M23 rebels, who took the provincial capital of Goma, pressing the government which then agreed to enter into talks with them. Seleka seemed to be taking a page from the Congolese rebels’ playbook as they advanced to less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the capital.
The Seleka fighters benefited from the growing dissatisfaction with Bozize, who came to power in 2003, at the helm of a column of a different rebel group which also invaded the capital and toppled the former leader.
Bozize is accused of growing cronyism, and in the last election in 2011, around 20 of Bozize’s family members and close associates including former mistresses, won posts in the government, according to Louisa Lombard, a postdoctoral fellow in geography at the University of California, Berkeley.
“There was the sense that governing was being carried out by a tighter and tighter circle of people around Bozize,” says Lombard, who has been travelling to Central African Republic for the past 10 years for research.
“And although all sorts of technocratic procedures were in place to make the government more inclusive, it was in fact less and less inclusive. The more technocratic people got sidelined. Those who held positions of power did not have much education, much background in their chosen field. There was a disregard for any kind of merit in governing.”
Lombard cautions, however, that the Seleka coalition is very loosely held together. Already on Monday, a different rebel leader, 26-year-old Nelson N’Djadder who is based in Paris, said that he does not recognize Djotodia as their new president.
“Seleka is a very heterogeneous group. That is something we noticed since the beginning, when it first emerged,” said Lombard. “Holding it together will be a big problem.”