The Central African Republic finds itself at a crucial moment in its history. This year, the country celebrated sixty years of independence from France, though its journey has seldom been straightforward. Religious and political violence will be the main focus of the general election, having defined the country in world news since the 2003 coup led by François Bozizé.
“I was born in 1977,” Mr Kalambani said. “Growing up, there was not always water and there was not always electricity in some parts of the country. Today it is the same.
“I entered the competition for presidency this year because we see the repetition of the same problems since independence in 1960. It is the same people running the country. It is not a matter of bad politics but of ego. Developed countries form a system to move forward. They may move slowly or quickly, but they improve. Where there is ego, you are always trying to pull somebody else down.”
This year, Mr Kalambani will be up against a number of familiar faces, including Mr Bozizé and current president Faustin-Archange Touadera. The winner of the general election in December will have to wrestle with several pressing issues exacerbated by COVID-19, including widespread hunger, illiteracy and corruption. Still, Mr Kalambani is optimistic.
“I studied Business at City and Islington College and I am pleased because I had a good education there. I am now able to do what I am doing because CANDI gave me that base. I have learnt that when a company is not doing well, the board must look at the strategy and make a change. When you change the strategy several times and the company is still not doing well, you think about changing the CEO to bring in somebody with new ideas.
“For the Central African Republic, we know it is time to adapt the company and make some reforms. Today, the branding is not working. It is the right time for reform.”
One of the major challenges facing whoever wins in December will be education. According to UNESCO, the literacy rate in the Central African Republic among 15-24 year olds is 38.3%, though young people are steadily becoming more literate than their parents. The most recent data available showed that the country spends 7.8% of its governmental expenditure on education – roughly half of what the UK manages.
Education has seemingly always played a role in Mr Kalambani’s idea of structural and personal development. After graduating from CANDI, he moved to Scotland and set up educational charity Scotland CARES, which stands for Central African Republic of Education and Sport, to coincide with the rebel overthrow of Bozizé in 2013.
“I think that the education system is one of the most important things. In the Central African Republic, 70% of the population is under 35. That’s enormous. Without proper schools, universities and a proper system, it is difficult because young people do not understand what is going on. You have to create the basis for young people to have a vision of the future. Without that vision, people end up trying to have an easy life with no work, but that guarantees you will have trouble.
“CANDI helped me get to the right places. I wanted to learn how to run my own business. But only after completing my course was I able to go on and try to run a business. Schools are one third of the solution. You have to like to learn as well. The aim of Scotland CARES is to help children who do not have the resources, computers and materials to go on and learn themselves. It is very important to have a teacher in the first place to help develop that aspiration to achieve, but after that it is important that people innovate and create goals for themselves.
“Our priority is to put the old generation aside and to bring in a new generation with a new vision who want to move forward together. It is about becoming credible in the eyes of the world.”
Should Mr Kalambani win in December, he will be in the prime position to negotiate ongoing peace talks with the 14 rebel factions warring across the country. Since 2013, talks have taken place eight times with limited lasting success. This year, the general election has been tainted by talk of political violence and intimidation. Speaking to The Herald, Mr Kalambani stressed that challenging corruption, fostering positivity and creating a fairer economic system would underlie his “new approach” to reforming the country and ending sectarian violence.
Behind Mr Kalambani’s system, though, is a broader message of focus and persistence. He urges that should he lose the campaign this is only the beginning of the journey to help “transform” the country.
“We are learning day by day. We are making a disturbance, which gives me the power to continue. If I were to advise CANDI students anything, it would be: ‘don’t be scared and try things out. Whatever you want to do, if it does not work, continue to try and to learn. When things go wrong, take a step back and keep learning.’”
Mr Kalambani is optimistic for the future of his country. Next year, the Central African Republic is set to run its first local elections since 1988. The City and Islington College alum feels that citizens recognise the “inefficiency” of in-fighting and that this is the right time to move forward together. The story of the Central African Republic has long been reported as a tragedy. Edgard Kalambani offers himself as the new face of hope.
Learn more about the campaign at Edgard’s campaign page on Facebook.