Firmin Ngrebada, prime minister of the Central African Republic (CAR), has resigned along with the entire cabinet in the latest political crisis to hit the troubled country.
The development on Thursday came during a turbulent week after France announced it was suspending military operations with its former colony.
Ngrebada said on Twitter he handed over his and the government’s resignation to President Faustin Archange Touadera but a presidential spokesman revealed the prime minister could be tapped to lead a refreshed administration.
A former chief of staff to Touadera, Ngrebada had been in post since early 2019 when he helped craft a February 2019 peace deal signed with rebel groups in Khartoum that now appears on the verge of collapse.
The CAR has seen waves of deadly intercommunal fighting since 2013 that have killed thousands of people and displaced many more. Violence flared up again last year after the constitutional court rejected former President Francois Bozize’s bid to run in December’s presidential election.
Touadera was eventually re-elected on a turnout of fewer than one in three voters. The ballot was hampered by armed groups that at the time controlled about two-thirds of the country and a Bozize-aligned rebel coalition mounted an offensive on the capital Bangui in the run-up to the polling day.
Legislative elections have since left Touadera’s United Hearts Movement short of a parliamentary majority but observers say that in key votes he can count on the backing of large numbers of independent MPs, many formerly associated with the party.
Critics had been calling for Ngrebada’s departure since March when Touadera was sworn in for another five-year term with some raising concern about the prime minister’s apparent ties to Russia whose influence in the CAR is growing.
In Bangui, some felt Ngrebada had done the best he could given the growing presence of armed groups in vital sectors of the country’s economy.
“Nevertheless, he maintained the balance by paying salaries, pensions and speaking truth to the armed groups who chose him to be prime minister,” Eric Kpari, a student at the University of Bangui told the press.
Earlier this week, about 160 French soldiers who were providing operational support while also training Central African forces, suspended their mission. The decision did not affect the approximately 100 French soldiers involved in the United Nations peacekeeping forces and the European Union training forces in the country.
French officials have accused authorities in Bangui of failing to fight anti-French disinformation campaigns online notably targeting the country’s ambassador and defense attache. They have also cited the government’s treatment of political opposition.