WASHINGTON  Central African Republic interim President Catherine Samba-Panza said Tuesday her country has a pressing need to restore a positive image, weeks after it elected its first president since civil war erupted three years ago.

In a visit to George Washington University on Tuesday, Samba-Panza  who is Africa’s third female head of state  said the new president-elect must continue the effort to disarm the militias in the Central African Republic. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes due to sectarian violence.

“Violence has been inscribed on the minds and hearts of our population for many years,” said SambaPanza, translated from French. “As long as these groups did not feel safe, they were not going to separate from their arms (weapons).”

The country was thrust into civil war in 2013 when a Muslim rebel group overthrew the president, prompting prolonged fighting between the rebels and a Christian militia.  

Samba-Panza, the former mayor of the country’s capital of Bangui, became president in September 2014 after the previous interim leader stepped down.  

“The first year directed by a man was catastrophic,” she said. “My next two years were much better.”

Faustin Archange Tousadera, a former prime minister and a mathematics professor, won February’s run-off elections for president, after the first round of voting in December prompted hundreds of corruption complaints. His opponent Anicet-Georges Dologuele, who won in the December election, conceded the run-off despite calling the second wave of voting a “massive fraud,” according to Reuters.

Fiona Mangan, who is stationed in the country with the U.S. Institute of Peace,
said Tousadera won on his reputation of being a “humble man of the people,appealing to more than one religious group.  Tousadera was prime minister in the administration of ousted president Francois Bozize, but he apparently overcame that connection.    

When the day of Tousadera’s election happened to coincide with the subtropical country’s first rainfall since November, the people called it a “sign from God,” Fiona Mangan said in a phone interview from the Central African Republic.

Although Tousadera has gained the favor of the people, Mangan said he has a challenge in establishing a parliamentary base and negotiating peace between warring militias.

“Balancing those dynamics may be a challenge for him in his initial days as president,” she said  As a college math professor, Samba-Panza said she thinks Tousadera emphases on education and agriculture will help alleviate the country’s economic woes.

 “The population is tired of violence. They are tired of conflict,” she said. “The population is starting, itself, to reject conflict and violence.”