Central African Republic
Video Source: Youtube
Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
The Central African Republic was first settled around the turn of the first millennium by the Adamawa and Bantu peoples, who lived in almost pure isolation until the 19th century, when Muslim traders began to pass through the region. It quickly became a hub for the slave trade, and to this day the eastern part of the country, whose population was forcibly sent to the New World, remains virtually uninhabited. By 1894 the region had come under French control as part of the Congo Free State, a territory that would become infamous to Europeans thanks to Joseph Conrad’s portrayal in his 1899 novel Heart of Darkness.
After receiving independence, in 1960, the Central African Republic remained under the sway of various military dictators. Attempts at democracy, sponsored by foreign governments and the United Nations, have been mostly futile, and in 2003, General François Bozizé overthrew the democratica
lly elected government of Ange-Felix Patasse. Strikes by government workers led to a total collapse of public services in 2008, however, and after the strikes a new prime minister was named. It remains to be seen whether the Central African Republic’s governance will improve in the short and medium term.
The Top 5: Local Advice
1. The Central African Republic uses the Central African CFA franc, which can also be used in Chad, Cameroon, and several other central African countries. Do not confuse this with the West African CFA franc, which looks similar but is accepted only in West Africa. There are no ATMs in the Central African Republic, and you will not be able to use any type of credit card; banks in Bangui (the capital city) and Berbérati (another major city) are the only places where you can exchange your money.
2. Christianity and Islam, along with indigenous beliefs, are widespread in the Central African Republic. Especially in Muslim areas, it will behoove travelers to dress conservatively, covering their legs and shoulders. In homes and small restaurants in rural areas, people eat with their hands; make sure to use only your right hand, as it is seen as unclean to use your left hand.
3. Internet access is scanty, even in Bangui. Because of the high price of newspapers and the prevalence of illiteracy in the Central African Republic, most news is spread by radio broadcasts. Fifteen French-language newspapers, three of which are state owned, can be found in the capital and provide a good way to stay abreast of the country’s politics.
4. Malaria is a serious problem in the Central African Republic, and the strains that exist there are resistant to some treatments. Use insect repellent liberally, take a mosquito net with you, and drink only bottled water. If you do feel sick, you may be able to visit a doctor in Bangui. We do not recommend swimming in most lakes, rivers, or other bodies of water (unless you are with a guide who can vouch for cleanliness), as a risk exists of contracting a parasite known as schistosomiasis, which can cause skin infections and fevers.
5. The Central African Republic is inhabited by seven major ethnic groups, each with its own language. Sangho serves as the lingua franca, although most people in the cities speak enough French to communicate with foreigners. Learn a few phrases; it’s not enough to rely on English here, though some may be able to speak with you.