The Central African Republic, a landlocked country, borders Sudan to the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo to the south, Cameroon to the west, and Chad to the north. Its land area is 240,000 sq. mi. The capital is Bangui.

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The country is mostly savannas, but includes a Sahelo-Sudanian zone in the north and a southern equatorial forest. Two thirds of the CAR sits in the Ubangi River basin, which flows into the Congo River. This, in turn, flows into Lake Chad.

France named the colony containing the CAR Ubangi-Chari. In 1958, it became a semi-autonomous French Community. On August 13, 1960, it became independent. The CAR was ruled for its first three decades by presidents not democratically chosen. International pressure reinforced local discontent after the Cold War ended.

In 1993, multi-party elections were first held. This occurred due to donors and help from the United Nations Office for Electoral Affairs. The election resulted in Ange-Felix Parasse being brought to power. During his presidency, he lost popularity. In 2003, General Francois Bozize, backed by France, overthrew him. Bozize won election in May 2005. In 2007, workers in the public sector went on strike to protest lack of pay.

One of the poorest world countries, the CAR is also one of Africa’s poorest.

Central African Republic: History

Early History

Adamawa-Eastern speakers settled in the CAR’s territory between 1,000 BD and 1,000 AD. Bantu speaking people settled in southwestern CAR. Along the Oubangi, Sudanic speaking populations also settled the area.

Most who live in the CAR speak Adamawa-Easter or Bantu languages. A minority speak Sudanic languages.

Until the 19th century, people in the CAR had little contact with Abrahamic religions due to them living beyond Africa’s Sudanic zone. During the early 1800s, Muslim traders began to penetrate the area and developed relationships with local leaders for trade purposes.

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This arrival was peaceful. After 1850, well-armed soldiers and slave traders arrived, mostly from Sudan, Cameroon, Chad, Dar al-Kuti, and Nzakara. Much of eastern CAR’s population was “exported” and the area is still sparsely populated.

French Colonialism

During the so-called Scramble for Africa in the late 1800s, Europeans arrived in the CAR’s territory. Count Savorgnan de Brazza established the French Congo. The territory’s headquarters, Brazzaville, was named after him. He sought to expand French territorial claims by sending expeditions up the Ubangi River. Germany, Belgium, and the U.K. all competed for the territory.

The French established a Ubangi River post at Bangui in 1889. De Brazza sent additional expeditions up the Sangha River in 1890 and also up the Ubangi basin toward Lake Chad and east toward the Nile. The French wanted to expand the borders of the French Congo to meet other French colonies in West Africa, North Africa, and East Africa.

In 1894, diplomatic agreements between German Cameroon and Belgium’s Congo Free State fixed the French Congo’s borders. In 1899, France was left without a Nile outlet when the French Congo’s border with Sudan was settled.

With the borders established, the French needed to determine how to pay for the colony’s governance. The success of Belgian concessionary companies in the Congo Free State led the French to grant 17 companies concessions in the Ubangi-Shari area in 1899. These companies promised to pay rent in return for the right to exploit the land. European and African agents employed by these companies used brutal tactics to secure forced labor from the locals. The French also forced Central Africans to provide free labor and pay taxes. The companies and the French often found their interests aligned, but they also separated at times.

When abuses by the companies or colonial officials were reported, convictions rarely occurred. When news of these incidents reached France, investigations occurred but little changed in the Ubangi-Shari on the ground.

During the first 10 years of French rule, African states in the region increased raids to obtain slaves. They also increased their sales to companies and the French state. Treaties with the French allowed these kingdoms to obtain more weapons which in turn allowed them to capture more slaves. Much of the eastern modern day CAR was depopulated as a result. Those who could not resist the African slave raiders or the Europeans led miserable lives.

During colonial rule’s second decade from 1910-1920, the brutal methods employed by companies and the government continued. Slave raiding did diminish when local rulers lost their power. An agreement with Germany in 1911 ceded the Sangha and Lobaye basins. This gave France more authority in Morocco. Thus, western Ubangi-Shari came under German rule. During World War I, France, using CAR based troops, retook the territory.

A transitional period occurred during the third decade (1920-1930). Road networks were built, health services were formed, and cash crops were promoted. Protestant missions were also established. Forced labor continued and many Ubangians conscripted to work on the Congo-Ocean Railway died.

Andre Gide, a French writer, published Voyage au Congo in 1925 in which he described conscription’s consequences and exposed atrocities. A rebellion occurred in 1928, the Kongo-Wara, in the western Ubangi-Shari and went on for several years. This was possibly the largest rebellion in Africa but was kept from the French people.

From 1930-1940, coffee, cotton, and tea became cash crops. Mining for diamonds and gold also began. Large companies were given monopolies and went on to fix prices for cotton.

From 1940-1950, the policies and reforms were shaped by World War II. French officers took control of the colony in September 1940.

Independence

Ubangi-Shari gained autonomy on December 1, 1958 and took the name the Central African Republic. The president of the Conseil de Gouvernement and founding father, Barthelemy Boganda, died in a 1959 plane accident. The Central African Republic gained its formal independence on August 13, 1960. Two of Boganda’s allies, David Dacko and Abel Goumba, struggled for power. Dacko, backed by the French, took power and arrested Goumba. Dacko established a one party state by 1962.

A coup led by Colonel Jeal-Bedel Bokassa overthrew Dacko on December 31, 1965. Bokassa dissolved the National Assembly and suspended the constitution. In 1972, he declared himself President for life and on December 4, 1976, made himself Emporer Bokassa I of the Central African Empire. His crowning ceremony was lavish and ridiculed by most of the world. France overthrew Bokassa in 1979 and brought Dacko back to power. On September 1, 1981, he was overthrown in a coup by General Andre Kolingba. He ruled with a military junta until 1985. In 1986, he introduced a new constitution which was adopted. His party, the Rassemblement Democratique Centrafricain (RDC), had voluntary membership. Elections were held in 1987 for parliament and for municipalities in 1988. Kolingba’s major opponents, Ange-Felix Parasse and Abel Goumba, were not allowed to participate and boycotted the elections.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, pro-democracy movements became active. International pressure, including France, the U.S., Germany, Japan, and the U.N., forced Kolingba to hold free elections in October of 1992. Kolingba used the pretext of irregularities to suspend the election results. He then came under great international pressure to set up a commission to include representative of all political parties.

After 1993 elections, Ange-Felix Patasse led the first voting round. Abel Goumba came in second, David Dacko in third, and Kolingba came in fourth. In the second round, Patasse won a majority at 53 percent over Goumba’s 45.6 percent. Patasse’s party, the Mouvement pour la Liberation de Peuple Centrafricain (MPLC) gained a simple majority in parliament.

The new president, Patasse removed Kolingba from his military post and charged many of his ministers with crimes. He removed other Yakoma from posts, including 200 from the presidential guard.

A new constitution was instituted on January 14, 1995, but it did not have a significant impact on politics. Ethnic tension and mutinies against the government occurred from 1996-1997 due to a lack of confidence. The Bangui Pace Accords were signed in 1997. This allowed for an African military mission. Amadou Toure, Mali’s former president, served as a mediator. He formulated a deal to allow ex-mutineers to participate in the government on April 7, 1997. A U.N. peacekeeping force later replaced the African mission.

Parliamentary elections in 1998 allowed Kolingba’s RDC party to make a comeback, winning 20 of 109 seats. Patasse still won elections in 1999 for a second term as President.

An unsuccessful coup attempt took place on May 28, 2001 when rebels attacked buildings in Banggui. The attacked left the chief of staff for the army, Abel Abrou, and General Francois N’Djadder Bedaya shot. Patasse brought in additional troops and gained the upper hand.

Those loyal to Parasse sought revenge against rebels in the capital. Homes were burned and opponents were murdered. After being suspected of planning another coup, General Francois Bozize fled to Chad with troops loyal to him. In March, 2003, he launched a surprise attack against Patasse while he was out of the country. Despite the support of Libyan and Congolese rebel troops, Patasse was overthrown.

Bozize suspended the constitution again and formed a new cabinet out of the opposition parties. Goumba was named vice-president. A National Transition Council was established to draft a new constitution. Bozize announced he would step down and run for president once the new constitution was in place. Bozize won a fair election to become president in May 2005.

Central African Republic: Humanitarian Aid and Development

The CAR depends heavily on foreign aid and NGOs for services. Foreign presence is an important revenue source for the country. While a large part of the population lives at the subsistence level, the country is self-sufficient in food crops. The tsetse fly hinders livestock production.

Due to violence in 2006, 50,000 in the northwestern CAR were at a starvation risk. U.N. support averted a crisis.

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The CAR became the 4th country placed on the U.N. Peacebuilding Commission’s agenda in 2008. The commission was set up in 2005 to help countries just ending conflicts to avoid starting them again.

On January 8, 2008, the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, declared the CAR eligible for assistance from the Peacebuilding Fund in three areas: (1) promotion of good governance, (2) security reform, and (3) community revitalization.

Central African Republic: Politics

The CAR’s president is Francois Bozize. The new constitution was approved on December 5, 2004 and multi-party elections were held in March of 2005. Bozize won the election after a run off.

In northern parts of the CAR in 2006, violence was reported. This caused refugees to flee and there were battles between rebels and the government. Many refugees fled to Chad. The government was suspected of killing men and boys who remained that were suspected of rebel cooperation.

Central African Republic: Administration

There are 14 prefectures in the CAR, 2 economic prefectures, and one commune. There are an additional 71 sub-prefectures. The prefectures are Bamingui-Bangoran, Basse-Kotto, Haute-Kotto, Haut-Mbomou, Kemo, Lobaye, Mabere-Kadei, Mbomou, Nana-Mambere,Ombella-M’Poko, Ouaka, Ouham, Ouham-Pende, and Vakaga.

Central African Republic: Geography

The CAR is land-locked in Africa’s interior. Chad, Sudan, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of the Congo are its bordering countries.

The countryside is typical flat savanna, with some rolling plateaus. The elevation is typically 1,640 ft (500 m) above sea level. The Fertit Hills are in the northeast and the southwestern CAR has scattered hills. Yade Massif is a granite plateau in the northwest which sits at 3,750 feet in elevation.

The CAR’s area is 240,519 sq. mi., making it the 42nd largest country in the world. It is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Texas.

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The Congo River’s tributaries formed much of the southern border. The Mbomou River merges with the Uele River in the east to become the Ubangi River. The Sangha River flows in the west and the eastern border is along the Nile watershed.

Approximately 8 percent of the country is covered by forest. The forests are diverse and included species of Ayous, Sapelli, and Sipo. Lumber poaching is commonplace.

The CAR generally has a tropical climate. Hot, dry, and dusty winds are found in the northern areas. This has subjected the area to desertification. River flooding occurs in the country’s remainder.

Central African Republic: Economy

Growth and sale of food crops like maize, peanuts, millet, sesame, plantain, and cassava dominate the economy. GDP yearly growth rate is over 3 percent. Food crops are more important than exported cash crops. Food crops are exported, despite domestic consumption, in higher numbers than cash crops.

South Korea is the country’s largest import partner. France and Cameroon follow. The CAR’s largest export partner is Japan, followed by Belgium and China.

Food crops are also turned into alcoholic beverages like sorghum beer and liquor. This is a source of considerable income for some. These are often not included in per capita income figures because they are not declared.

The CAR has one of the lowest listed per capita incomes at $300, but this does not take into account unregistered sale of local products. To most Central African’s the informal economy is actually more important.

The CAR’s most important export is diamonds which account for 40-55 percent of exports. It is estimated 30-50 percent of the diamonds that are produced are secretly exported. The CAR’s location away from the coast makes exporting more difficult.

There is the potential for ecotourism in the CAR due to the large population of forest elephants. There is also a rainforest in the southwest, the Dzanga-Sangha National Park. There are other wildlife areas with significant animal populations, but poaching, particularly from neighboring Sudan, has diminished the wildlife population.

The country is part of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA)

In ease of business, the CAR ranks 180 out of 181 countries. This list analyzes a country’s regulations.

Central African Republic: Demographics

Since independence, the population has quadrupled to 4,422,000. U.N. estimates show 11 percent of the population 15-49 is HIV positive, but only 3 percent of the CAR has antiretroviral therapy available. Nearby countries have 17 percent medicinal coverage.

There are over 80 ethnic groups with their own languages. The Baya are the largest at 33 percent, followed by the Banda at 28 percent, the Sara at 10 percent, the Mandjia at 7 percent, and the Mboum at 7 percent. The Yakoma, Fulani, and others make up the remainder. This includes Europeans at 4 percent.

Central African Republic: Religion

50 percent of the population is Christian with 35 percent maintaining indigenous religious beliefs. 15 percent practice Islam. Missionary groups include Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Grace Brethren, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many missionaries have returned to the Central African Republic now that fighting has ended.

Central African Republic: Health

Life expectancy was 48.2 for females and 45.1 for males at birth in 2007. Women have about five births each. The CAR’s government spends about $20 per person on healthcare and there were 8 doctors per every 100,000 people.

Central African Republic: Education

There is free education in the Central African Republic and it is compulsory from 6-14. Half of adults are illiterate. There is one university, the University of Bangui.