6 crazy facts about the rebel leader who just took over the Central African Republic

A January photo shows Seleka rebel coalition chief Michel Djotodia arriving for peace talks in Libreville. (Steve Jordan/AFP/Getty Images)

Meet Michel Djotodia. He is the new head of state in the Central African Republic, by virtue of the fact that he led some rebels into the capital, sent the president fleeing, dissolved the government and appointed himself the new leader. Congrats Michel!

Let's get to know the latest unelected leader of this long-troubled country. Here are a few facts about Djotodia, drawn from BBC reports and, more significantly, from the scholarship of Louisa Lombard, who specializes in the Central African Republic.

1) He is a civil servant and a "serial rebel," as the BBC puts it. He has alternated between mid-level bureaucratic government jobs and armed rebellion, a dual-career track that seems particular to the Central African Republic. Djotodia first rebelled against the government in 2005, when he was working for that same government as a diplomat in neighboring Sudan. He used his time abroad to cultivate alliances with foreign rebel groups, which is definitely not what diplomats are usually supposed to do.

2) He lived in the Soviet Union for 10 years. He went to study economics and ended up staying, getting married and having two kids. It's not clear if his wife is Russian or even still with him.

3) He was actually the national defense minister until earlier this month. It seems Djotodia didn't do a very good job at stopping himself from rebelling. He was given the post in January as part of an emergency peace deal, largely to stop he and his fellow rebels from sacking the capital. He quit earlier in March and relaunched the rebellion. What do you know, the country's military wasn't ready.

4) He's 64 years old, maybe, according to a single report in a Cameroonian newspaper.

5) He is said by Central Africans to hold 10 diplomas from Soviet universities and speaks a number of languages. According to a story that Lombard recounts, he once surprised a group of Russian tourists who were visiting the Central African Republic by speaking Russian to them. Delighted, they invited him to join their vacation.

6) He is known as "a prolific practitioner of extraversion" and someone with "political aspirations, [which] he pursued fervently," according to Lombard. He doesn't appear to have been so successful at politics within the Central African Republic, having tried several times to climb up the political ladder and always ending up either rebelling or in prison. But he does look to have been more successful abroad, apparently recruiting rebels from neighboring Chad and Sudan to fight, successfully, alongside him.

If you want to understand what's going on in this corner of the world, here are the answers to nine questions about the Central African Republic that you were too embarrassed to ask.



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Max Fisher · March 26, 2013