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    Drive behind leader’s rise to top in Central African Republic

    Seleka rebels left the presidential palace of the ousted leader in Bangui, Central African Republic on Thursday.
    SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images
    Seleka rebels left the presidential palace of the ousted leader in Bangui, Central African Republic on Thursday.

    DAKAR, Senegal — Michel Djotodia showed up for peace talks a few months ago in camouflage and a turban as the face of Central African Republic’s rebel movement. Now he has traded the fatigues for a suit as the nation’s new self-declared leader after ousting the president of a decade.

    Djotodia, whose diverse resume includes studying in the former Soviet Union and work as a consul in Sudan’s region of Darfur, initially signed on in January to serve as the defense minister in a unity government with his longtime foe, then-President Francois Bozize.

    But that power-sharing deal fell apart. Only two months later, Djotodia’s forces invaded the capital, and he declared himself president of the impoverished but mineral-rich country for at least the next three years.


    Although Djotodia emerged as the dominant leader of the alliance of rag-tag fighters known as Seleka, which means alliance in the local Sango language, some of his colleagues are already saying they never intended for him to single-handedly lead the country after Bozize’s ouster.

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    ‘‘We didn’t battle to get rid of one dictator only to have another,’’ says Nelson N’Djadder, a rebel leader now threatening to fight Djotodia for leadership of a nation plagued by coups and rebellions.

    Djotodia, a 60-something longtime rebel, was once a civil servant under Bozize’s predecessor and worked at the Central African Republic’s consulate in Nyala, in Sudan’s South Darfur state. Recent developments come as little surprise to some observers.

    ‘‘He has single-mindedly always wanted to be president of Central African Republic. He has been a tremendously ambitious man,’’ said Alex Vines, of Chatham House, a London-based institute on world affairs.

    ‘‘In the end he had one vision, which was to take power and he has done that unconstitutionally now,’’ Vines added.


    Among potential rebel leaders, he managed to position himself front and center, said Louisa Lombard, of the University of California Berkeley, who has been traveling to Central African Republic for the past 10 years for research.

    ‘‘I think he’s mostly been successful through his diplomacy and negotiating alliances with different people and getting them on his side,’’ she said.

    Lombard predicts: ‘‘I think it’s likely that we’ll see some struggles for control and power in the weeks to come.’’