Edinburgh businessman: My bid to be president of Central African Republic

Edgard Kalambani is bidding to become the next President of the Central African Republic (CAR),

To his friends and neighbours in the Tollcross area of Edinburgh, he’s a quietly successful businessman who’s often seen taking his three little girls to school and carrying bags of groceries into his modest family flat.

But soon life could be very different for Edgard Kalambani, who is bidding to become the next President of the Central African Republic (CAR), one of the continent’s most corrupt countries and among the poorest on earth.

The 43-year-old former holiday chalet manager, who is married to a Scottish charity worker, has declared his candidacy for December’s presidential elections.

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He is hoping to oust its current leader, Faustin-Archange Touadera, who came to power in 2016 in the nation’s first democratic election following a coup by muslim rebels three years earlier, that sparked a prolonged period of sectarian violence.

While Mr Kalambani can walk the streets of Edinburgh unrecognised, he’s a celebrity in his native country which he represented as an international basketball player.

As well as supporting several charities linked to the CAR, he also claims to have raised millions of pounds in investment for the country through his role as an international business consultant.

Success in December’s election would mean Mr Kalambani uprooting his wife, Elspeth and their three daughters — aged seven, five and two — and moving them to a strange and unfamiliar culture more than 5,000 miles away.

The couple met while he was studying for a business qualification at City and Islington College and they moved to Edinburgh seven years ago when they were expecting their first child.

Elspeth, who works as an enterprise manager for a Scottish pressure group, now faces the prospect of becoming First Lady of a country she has never visited.

However, Mr Kalambani insists she is backing him all the way to the Renaissance Palace, the official residence of the President in the nation’s capital Bangui.

He said: “My wife was born in Scotland and you know the character of Scottish women. They are strong and determined and the number one reason why I’m doing this is because she supports me.

“She was born here, and she has never been to Africa, but she supports me because she knows that what I’m doing is right. She’s the type of person who is always campaigning for equality.”

The couple were living in Finsbury Park, North London when Elspeth became pregnant with their first child.

He said: “I had just lost my dad and I wanted to have the time and the space to be a good father and London was a little bit too busy for me at that time.

“Elspeth speaks French, but she wasn’t confident enough to move there. My father, before passing away, said “you know Scotland could be good for you”. And I thought “Scotland, why not? I like whisky and I like shortbread, so why not?

“Initially, we planned to have our first child and move to France but then we had two others and we’re still here.

“For me, Scotland is like home. I like Scotland — it has a different way of thinking, it’s not perfect, but the country is growing and changing in a good way and adapting to what’s going on across the world.”

To win December’s election Mr Kalambani will have to defeat the deposed ex-President, Francois Bozize — who was overthrown in the 2013 rebellion — as well as the sitting President, who was formerly Bozize’s Prime Minister.

The sub-Saharan former French colony is, by some measures, the poorest country in the world.

Despite being rich in mineral deposits, including uranium, crude oil, gold, diamonds, and cobalt, it has the world’s lowest income-per-head and the second lowest level of human development. It’s 4.6million population is also the world’s unhealthiest.

According to Transparency International, the CAR is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries on its Perceptions of Corruption index.

Mr Kalambani is seeking to raise a minimum of £75,000 to fund his election campaign and, already, he has received some large donations.

While he has no previous experience in frontline politics, he believes that his background in business and aid development can help him to achieve his goal.

“One of my main policies is to tackle corruption. Along with the international community, I want to tackle discrimination and corruption and to help with the country’s development. I am working with young people and with those members of the older generation who want to change.

“Because I was an international basketball player, the younger generation knows me really well because of what I did for the country. It’s like playing for Team GB, when you have a good performance and you have a position, there is respect for what you achieve. They see me as a bright and honest person who can help them.”

The CAR has been unstable since 2013 when President Bozize – a former armed forces chief who had seized power 10 years earlier — was overthrown by Seleka, a muslim faction, prompting violent reprisals from mostly Christian militia that forced 600,000 people to flee their homes.

Following the coup Bozize fled and the Seleka leader, Michel Djotodia, installed himself as President prompting more fighting between Christian and Muslim armed groups, eventually forcing the intervention of France, the former colonial power, under a UN mandate.

Earlier this year, the country made its eighth attempt to seal a lasting peace when Touadera’s government signed an agreement with 14 rebel groups who control most of the country’s territory.

Mr Kalambani said tensions remain between sectarian factions and that the current generation of political leaders has failed to forge a permanent peace. He believes a new approach is necessary to end the fighting and to allow his native country to flourish.

He said: “The CAR sits right at the heart of Africa. It is home to an incredible diversity of cultures. The people are strong, resilient, and caring. It is home to amazing biodiversity of plants and animals. It has abundant natural resources, including uranium, diamonds, cobalt, and gold.

“Despite all these blessings, it is also one of the poorest countries in the world, having suffered from years of fighting, corruption, and poor governance, all of which have prevented the vast majority of people from benefiting from the wealth of the country.

“With my team and supporters, many of them young citizens, I am desperate for a change. I can present a dynamic, positive vision for the future of the country, to challenge corruption, reform governance policies and introduce a fairer economic system so that wealth generated by the country’s natural resources can benefit all people.”

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