Famous in the Central African Republic

by Kai Schnier

Poorest nation, richest nation (Issue III+IV/2018)

1. Idylle Mamba     

She is “the voice of the Central African Republic”. The youngest daughter in a family with 16 children, Lydia Natacha Mamba Danga came early to music. As a member of the group, Focus Masseka, which made experimental music with the likes of kitchen utensils, she was already taking part in local music festivals aged 14. Mamba sings in her mother tongue, Sango, and in French, under the artist name, Idylle – it is an anagram of her first name. She describes her music, a mixture of African rhythms, blues and jazz, as “tradi-modern”.  In 2014, she recorded the hit, One Africa, together with well-known Senegalese singer, Youssou N’Dour. The song calls for a peaceful pan-African future. 

2. Catherine Samba-Panza

If there is one woman that almost everyone in the Central African Republic knows, it is Catherine Samba-Panza. Between 2014 and 2016 she was the country’s interim president, following the former leader Michel Djotodia who came to power by a coup in 2013 and later resigned after pressure from the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC). For many in the Central African Republic, Samba-Panza is still seen as the “mother of the nation”. She is particularly admired for her service as the mayor of the capital, Bangui, an office she took up shortly after civil war broke out in 2013. She mediated between the different parties to the conflict and promoted communal dialogue. For this she was nicknamed “the brave mayor”.  In fact, Samba-Panza was so popular with voters that many would have liked to see her stay in the job after 2016 - but the country’s Constitution prohibited it. 

3. Romain Sato
Basketball player

In the Central African Republic, basketball is one of the most popular sports. So maybe it’s no wonder that Romain Sato is one of the best known athletes here. And that is even though the 37-year-old has not spent that much of his playing career at home. After talent scouts spotted him, he moved to the USA in 1999 where he played for the Xavier University team in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2004, he was signed by the San Antonio Spurs. However an ongoing injury put him out of action. He eventually switched to play in the second Italian league and then later for Spanish, Greek and Turkish teams. His greatest victory at home in Africa was when he took the Central African national team to fifth place at the African championships in 2003. 

Compiled by Gundula Haage and Kai Schnier

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