THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (C.A.R.)
Former French Colony Struggles to Maintain its Equilibrium
By Liz Goldner
Central African Republic is a sea of disharmony, corruption,
poverty and disease. The C.A.R. is classified as one of the
world's least developed countries in the world with a 2002
annual per capita income of $260.
the United Nations estimates that approximately 11 percent
of the population, ages 15 to 49 is HIV positive. Only percent
of the country has antiretroviral therapy available, compared
to 17 percent coverage in neighboring Chad and the Republic
of the Congo.
is entirely land-locked, about 500 miles north of the equator.
Cameroon, Chad, the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the
Congo, and the Republic of Congo border the country. The Ubangi
and the Shari are the largest of many rivers. Much of the
country consists of flat, or rolling plateau savanna, about
1,640 feet above sea level. There are scattered hills throughout
the country, while to the northwest is the Yade Massif, a
granite plateau with an altitude of 3,750 feet.
C.A.R. is comparable in size to the Ukraine, and is somewhat
smaller than Texas. Much of the southern border is formed
by tributaries of the Congo River, with the Mbomou River in
the east merging with the Uele River to form the Ubangi River.
In the west, the Sangha River flows through part of the country.
The eastern border lies along the edge of the Nile River watershed.
are more than 80 ethnic groups in the Central African Republic,
each with its own language. Only a small part of the population
has more than an elementary knowledge of French, the official
is overwhelmingly agrarian, with most of the population engaged
in subsistence farming and 55 percent of the country's gross
domestic product arising from agriculture. Principal crops
include cotton, food crops (cassava, yams, bananas, maize),
coffee, and tobacco. In 2002, timber accounted for about 30
percent of export earnings. The country has rich but largely
unexploited natural resources in the form of diamonds, gold,
uranium, and other minerals. In 2002, diamond exports comprised
nearly 50 percent of the C.A.R.'s export earnings.
than 55 percent of the population of the C.A.R. lives in rural
areas. The chief agricultural areas are around the Bossangoa
and Bambari. Bangui, Berberati, Bangassou, and Bossangoa are
the most densely populated urban centers.
has had a large variety of wildlife. Among these are forest
elephants, leopards, lions and rhinos. However the population
of wildlife has severely diminished over the past 20 years
due to poaching, particularly from neighboring Sudan.
of the C.A.R. has tripled since achieving independence. In
1960, the population was 1,232,000; the current population
is at 4,303,356. However, high mortality due to AIDS and infant
deaths make for variable population rates.
of the C.A.R. is generally tropical The northern deforested,
desert areas are subject to harmattan winds, which are hot,
dry, and carry dust. The remainder of the country is prone
to flooding from nearby rivers.
to Western rock and pop music, native music continues to be
popular. This includes Pygmy music, the trumpet-based music
of the Bandas, which has a jazzy structure.
appears to have been settled from the 7th century on by overlapping
empires, including the Kanem-Bornou, Ouaddai, Baguirmi, and
Dafour groups based in Lake Chad and the Upper Nile. Later,
various sultanates claimed present-day C.A.R., using the entire
Oubangui region as a slave reservoir, from which slaves were
traded north across the Sahara and to West Africa for export
by European traders.
the Egyptian sultan Rabah governed Upper-Oubangui, which included
present-day C.A.R. Europeans, primarily the French, German,
and Belgians, arrived in 1885. The French consolidated their
legal claim to the area through an 1887 convention with Congo
Free State. Two years later, the French established an outpost
at Bangui, and in 1894, Oubangui-Chari became a French territory.
However, the French did not consolidate their control over
the area until 1903.
1940, the territory responded to the call from Gen. Charles
de Gaulle to fight for Free France. After World War II, the
French Constitution of 1946 inaugurated the first of a series
of reforms that led eventually to complete independence for
all French territories in western and equatorial Africa.
country achieved a modicum of independence in the 1950’s,
thanks to various provisions by France, including elimination
of some voting inequalities and provisions for the creation
of some organs of self-government in each territory. But on
January 1, 1966, following a swift and almost bloodless coup,
Col. Jean-Bedel Bokassa assumed power as President of the
Republic. Bokassa abolished the constitution, dissolved the
National Assembly, and issued a decree that placed all legislative
and executive powers in the hands of the President. On December
4, 1976, the republic became a monarchy.
riots in Bangui and the murder of between 50 and 200 schoolchildren,
former President Dacko led a successful French-backed coup
against Bokassa on September 20, 1979. Dacko's efforts to
promote economic and political reforms proved ineffectual,
and on September 1, 1981, Gen. Andre Kolingba overthrew him
in a bloodless coup. For four years, Kolingba led the country
as head of the Military Committee for National Recovery (CRMN).
the CRMN was dissolved, and Kolingba named a new cabinet with
increased civilian participation, signaling the start of a
return to civilian rule. The process of democratization quickened
in 1986 with the creation of a new political party, the Rassemblement
Democratique Centrafricain (RDC), and the drafting of a new
constitution that subsequently was ratified in a national
Kolingba was sworn in as constitutional President on November
29, 1986. The constitution established a National Assembly
made up of 52 elected deputies, elected in July 1987. Due
to mounting political pressure, in 1991 President Kolingba
announced the creation of a national commission to rewrite
the constitution to provide for a multi-party system. Multi-party
presidential elections were conducted in 1992 but were later
cancelled due to serious logistical and other irregularities.
Ange Felix Patasse won a second-round victory in rescheduled
elections held in October 1993, and was re-elected for another
6-year term in September 1999.
2001 rebel forces within the C.A.R. military, led by former
President and Army General Andre Kolingba, attempted a military
coup. After several days of heavy fighting, forces loyal to
the government, aided by a small number of troops from Libya
and the Congolese rebel Movement for the Liberation of the
Congo (MLC), were able to put down the coup attempt. In November
2001, there were several days of sporadic gunfire between
members of the Presidential Security Unit and soldiers defending
sacked Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Francois Bozize,
who fled to Chad. In mid-2002 there were skirmishes on the
round of presidential and legislative elections were held
in March 2005, and in May, President Bozize defeated former
Prime Minister Martin Ziguele in a second-round runoff. On
June 13, Bozize named Elie Dote, an agricultural engineer
who had worked at the African Development Bank, his new Prime
maintains fairly close ties to France. In the late 1990s,
France withdrew forces stationed in the C.A.R. Multilateral
organizations, including the World Bank, International Monetary
Fund, UN agencies, European Union, and the African Development
Bank, as well as bilateral donors, including Germany, Japan,
the European Union, China, and the United States, are significant
development partners for the C.A.R.