Central African Republic -- Geography --
Official Name: Central African Republic
Capital City: Bangui (pop. 690,000). Other cities--Berberati (56,867), Bouar (39,676), Bambari (32,603), Bangassou (24,450), Bossangoa (31,723), Mbaiki (16,901), and Carnot (31,324).
Official Languages: Sangho (national), French (official)
Currency: Central African CFA frank
Religions: Protestant 25%, Roman Catholic 25%, Muslim 15%, indigenous beliefs 35%.
Population: 4.722 million
Education: Years compulsory--6. Enrollment--primary school 55% (2007 est.). Literacy--48.6% (2006 est.)
Health: Infant mortality rate--80.62 deaths/1,000 (2009 est.). Life expectancy--44.47 yrs. (2009 est.).
Work force (approx. 53% of pop.): Agriculture--75%; industry--6%; commerce and services--4%; government--15%.
Land Area: 622, 984sq km
Landforms: The Central African Republic is a land-locked nation within the interior of the African continent. It is bordered by the countries of Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo. Much of the country consists of flat, or rolling plateau savanna, typically about 500 m above sea level. In the northeast are the Fertit Hills, and there are scattered hills in southwest part of the country. To the northwest is the Yade Massif, a granite plateau with an altitude of 1,143 m.
At 622,941 km2, the Central African Republic is the world's 43rd-largest country. It is comparable in size to Ukraine, and is somewhat smaller than the US state of 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.
Central African Republic -- History --
The C.A.R. appears to have been settled from at least 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. Population migration in the 18th and 19th centuries brought new migrants into the area, including the Zande, Banda, and Baya-Mandjia.
In 1875 the Egyptian sultan Rabah governed Upper-Oubangui, which included present-day C.A.R. Europeans, primarily the French, German, and Belgians, arrived in the area in 1885. The French consolidated their legal claim to the area through an 1887 convention with Congo Free State, which granted France possession of the right bank of the Oubangui River. 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 after having defeated the forces of the Egyptian sultan Rabah and established colonial administration throughout the territory. In 1906, the Oubangui-Chari territory was united with the Chad colony; in 1910, it became one of the four territories of the Federation of French Equatorial Africa (A.E.F.), along with Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), and Gabon. The next 30 years were marked by small-scale revolts against French rule and the development of a plantation-style economy.
In August 1940, the territory responded, with the rest of the A.E.F., 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. In 1946, all A.E.F. inhabitants were granted French citizenship and allowed to establish local assemblies. The assembly in C.A.R. was led by Barthelemy Boganda, a Catholic priest who also was known for his forthright statements in the French Assembly on the need for African emancipation. In 1956 French legislation eliminated certain voting inequalities and provided for the creation of some organs of self-government in each territory. The French constitutional referendum of September 1958 dissolved the A.E.F., and on December 1 of the same year the Assembly declared the birth of the Central African Republic with Boganda as head of government. Boganda ruled until his death in a March 1959 plane crash. His cousin, David Dacko, replaced him, governing the country until 1965 and overseeing the country's declaration of independence on August 13, 1960.
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 of 1959, 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 with the promulgation of the imperial constitution and the proclamation of the president as Emperor Bokassa I. His regime was characterized by numerous human rights atrocities.
Following 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, he in turn was overthrown in a bloodless coup by Gen. Andre Kolingba. For 4 years, Kolingba led the country as head of the Military Committee for National Recovery (CRMN). In 1985 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 referendum. General 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.
Salary arrears, labor unrest, and unequal treatment of military officers from different ethnic groups led to three mutinies against the Patasse government in 1996 and 1997. The French succeeded in quelling the disturbances, and an African peacekeeping force (MISAB) occupied Bangui until 1998 when they were relieved by a UN peacekeeping mission (MINURCA). Economic difficulties caused by the looting and destruction during the 1996 and 1997 mutinies, energy crises, and government mismanagement continued to trouble Patasse's government through 2000. In March 2000 the last of the MINURCA forces departed Bangui. In May 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 C.A.R.-Chad border.
In October 2002, former Army Chief of Staff Francois Bozize launched a coup attempt that culminated in the March 15, 2003 overthrow of President Patasse and the takeover of the capital. General Bozize declared himself President, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the National Assembly. Since seizing power, President Francois Bozize has made significant progress in restoring order to Bangui and parts of the country, and professed a desire to promote national reconciliation, strengthen the economy, and improve the human rights situation. A new constitution was passed by referendum in December 2004. In spring 2005, the country held its first elections since the March 2003 coup. The first 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 Minister. Following a countrywide strike, Elie Dote resigned on January 18, 2008.
In September 2006, rebel activity in the northwestern and northeastern part of the country intensified, resulting in the government losing control over parts of its territory. The subsequent fighting between government troops and rebels displaced nearly 300,000 citizens. In January 2007, the Libyan Government brokered a peace agreement between the government and the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FPDC), a rebel group operating in the northeastern part of the country headed by Abdoulaye Miskine. Other rebels disavowed the peace agreement, but by May 2008, most rebel groups had either entered into a peace agreement with the government--the peace agreement with the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD) being the most significant--or declared a cease-fire. In June 2008, the government signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord with the APRD and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), led by Zakaria Damane, in Libreville, Gabon.
Implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Accord, particularly its provisions granting amnesty for former fighters, furthered an Inclusive Political Dialogue intended to help end instability in C.A.R. In December 2008, the Inclusive Political Dialogue formally convened and issued its recommendations, which included, among other items, the establishment of a government of national unity and of an independent electoral commission in advance of the 2010 elections.
In January 2009, a new coalition government was appointed. While there was little change in the government’s composition, with key ministers allied with the President remaining in place, some members of the political opposition and rebel groups obtained ministerial portfolios.
Central African Republic -- Economy --
The Central African Republic is classified as one of the world's least developed countries, with a 2008 annual per capita income of $700 (purchasing power parity). Sparsely populated and landlocked, the nation is overwhelmingly agrarian, with the vast bulk of the population engaged in subsistence farming; 56% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) came from agriculture in 2006. Principal crops include cotton, food crops (cassava, yams, bananas, maize), coffee, and tobacco. In 2002, timber accounted for about 30% of export earnings. The country also has rich but largely unexploited natural resources in the form of diamonds, gold, uranium, and other minerals. There may be oil deposits along the country's northern border with Chad. Diamonds are the only of these mineral resources currently being developed; in 2002, diamond exports made up close to 50% of the C.A.R.'s export earnings. Industry contributed only about 15% of the country's GDP in 2006, with artesian diamond mining, breweries, and sawmills making up the bulk of the sector. Services accounted for about 29% of GDP in 2006, largely because of the oversized government bureaucracy and high transportation costs arising from the country's landlocked position.
Hydroelectric plants based in Boali provide much of the country's limited electrical supply. Fuel supplies must be barged in via the Ubangui River or trucked overland through Cameroon, resulting in frequent shortages of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. The C.A.R.'s transportation and communication network is limited. The country has only 650 kilometers of paved road, limited international and no domestic air service (except charters), and does not possess a railroad. Commercial traffic on the Ubangui River is impossible from December to May or June, and conflict in the region has sometimes prevented shipments from moving between Kinshasa and Bangui. The telephone system functions, albeit imperfectly. Four radio stations currently operate in the C.A.R., as well as one television station. Numerous newspapers and pamphlets are published on a regular basis, and at least one company has begun providing Internet service.
In the more than 40 years since independence, the C.A.R. has made slow progress toward economic development. Economic mismanagement, poor infrastructure, a limited tax base, scarce private investment, and adverse external conditions have led to deficits in both its budget and external trade. The country saw a 30-year decline in per capita gross national product (GNP), and its debt burden is considerable. Structural adjustment programs with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and interest-free credits to support investments in the agriculture, livestock, and transportation sectors have had limited impact. The World Bank and IMF are now encouraging the government to concentrate exclusively on implementing much-needed economic reforms to jumpstart the economy and defining its fundamental priorities with the aim of alleviating poverty. As a result, many of the state-owned business entities have been privatized and limited efforts have been made to standardize and simplify labor and investment codes and to address problems of corruption. The C.A.R. Government has adopted the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) Charter of Investment, and is in the process of adopting a new labor code.
GDP (2009, nominal): $3.239 billion.
Annual real GDP growth rate (2008 est.): -3.5%.
Per capita income (2008, PPP): $700.
Avg. inflation rate: (2007): 0.9%.
Natural resources: Diamonds, uranium, timber, gold, oil.
Agriculture (2006, 56% of GDP): Products--Timber, cotton, coffee, tobacco, food crops, livestock. Arable land--3.1%.
Industry (2006, 15% of GDP): Types--Diamond mining, sawmills, breweries, textiles, footwear, assembly of bicycles and motorcycles, and soap.
Services (2006): 29% of GDP.
Trade (2007): Exports--$146.7 million f.o.b.; diamonds, coffee, cotton, timber, tobacco.
Major markets--Belgium, Italy, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Egypt, Spain, and Cote d'Ivoire.
Imports--$237.3 million f.o.b.; food, textiles, petroleum products, machinery, electrical equipment, motor vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, industrial products.
Major suppliers--France, United States, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Germany, Japan.
Central government budget (2007): $250 million.
Defense (2006): 1.1% of GDP.
Fiscal year: Calendar year.
Central African Republic -- Culture --
There are more than 80 ethnic groups in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), each with its own language. About 75% are Baya-Mandjia and Banda (40% largely located in the northern and central parts of the country), and 4% are M'Baka (southwestern corner of the C.A.R.). Sangho, the language of a small group along the Oubangui River, is the national language spoken by the majority of Central Africans. Only a small part of the population has more than an elementary knowledge of French, the official language.
More than 55% 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.
You're likely to hear modern African music on the radio, most of which comes from the two Congos. Some of its exponents have become world famous, and while traditional African music influenced the music of the USA, the Caribbean and Latin America, modern African music has in turn been influenced by jazz, rock and Latin rhythms. Traditional African music is not generally particularly accessible to the Western ear, and although it's full of complex rhythms and harmonies, it is not melodic and may sound as if very little is going on. The log xylophone is one of the most common instruments, and it consists of two long banana tree trunks supporting about five logs that are struck with sticks. The tiny sanza or thumb piano consists of a soundbox of wood with bamboo or metal keys played with the thumbs. If you encounter any pygmies you will probably hear some of their music, because they accompany all of their daily activities with music.
Africans generally place great emphasis on clothing, and a trip to the CAR is a treat to see the quality of people's dress. Women often wear a loose top and a length of cloth (pagne) around the waist as a skirt. Men's casual clothes - which look like pyjamas - are in the same distinctively 'African' designs, but most of the cloth is imported from the Netherlands. The most authentic cloths are the handmade, designed fabrics, such as woodblock prints and batiks and tie-dyed cloths. Dress is normally conservative and shorts are frowned upon, and the standards are usually tougher for women than men.
French is the official language, but Sango is the national language and is widely used on radio and in official situations. Sango is related to Lingala, one of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's main languages. There are pockets of Islam in the north, and Christians and animists are in roughly equal numbers throughout the country. Many Christians still maintain at least some animist practices, and because every ethnic group has its own religion there are hundreds of religions in the country. Good and bad magic and spirits play a significant role in local religions, and religious men can read fortunes, give advice on avoiding danger and hand out charms. Much of the life in CAR centres around special events like baptisms, weddings, village celebrations (fêtes), funerals and holidays. There will usually be dancing at all of them except funerals.
In the villages and in African-style homes in the larger towns, people eat with their hands, although visitors will normally be offered a spoon. Always use your right hand, as the left is reserved for the toilet; you will cause significant offence if you do not observe this rule. The best African food you'll find will be in someone's home, but the second best is often on the streets. Generally, the more varied the ingredients the better, and variety is part of what makes the food so interesting. Many dishes are made with okra (gombo) which is very slimy, and because it's commonly used on the streets it's easy to get the impression that there's little else. Meals typically consist of a staple (rice, fermented cassava - another very sticky sensation - or bananas) with some kind of sauce.
Central African republic -- Political system, law and government --
The government is a republic comprised of a strong executive branch (president, vice president, prime minister, and council of ministers), and weak legislative and judicial branches. Government and opposition party members, as well as civil society and the military are represented in the three branches, although the president appoints the vice president, prime minister, members of the cabinet (Council of Ministers), top military officials, and managers of national parastatals.
The National Assembly is made up of 109 members elected by popular vote to serve 5-year terms. Legislative elections were held in 1998; in contested results, the government's Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC) won just over 50% control of the legislative body. Legislative elections were last held in spring 2005.
For administration purposes, the country is divided into 16 prefectures that are further divided into over 60 subprefectures; the commune of Bangui is administered separately. The president currently appoints heads of these administrative units, called "prefets" and "sous-prefets". There are 174 communes, each headed by a mayor and council appointed by the president. Suffrage is universal over the age of 21.
The judicial sector encompasses the Constitutional Court, Court of Cassation, Court of Appeals, criminal and civil courts, Labor Court, and Juvenile Court, although several of these courts have insufficient resources and trained personnel to operate on a regular basis. The Criminal Court of Bangui sits once or twice a year, usually for 1 or 2 months each session. Judges are appointed by the president; executive influence often impedes transparent handling of judicial affairs. Military courts exist but are currently only used to try military personnel for crimes committed in the course of duty. There are a limited number of formal courts currently functioning outside Bangui; traditional arbitration and negotiation play a major role in administering domestic, property, and probate law.
The Central African Republic has a vibrant civil society, with numerous professional, labor, and local development associations actively carrying out campaigns and gaining greater local and international credibility.
The C.A.R. Government's human rights record remains flawed. There are continued reports of arbitrary detainment, torture and, to a lesser degree, extra judicial killings. Journalists have occasionally been threatened, and prison conditions remain harsh.
Principal Government Officials:
President of the Republic, Head of State: Francois Bozize
Prime Minister: Faustin Archange Touadéra
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and Francophone World: Antoine Gambi
Minister of Finance and Budget: Albert Besse
Ambassador to the United Nations: Fernand Poukre-Kono
Independence: August 13, 1960.
Constitution: Passed by referendum December 29, 1994; adopted January 1995. Suspended by decree in March 2003. New constitution passed by referendum December 5, 2004.
Branches: Executive--president, prime minister, and Council of Ministers. Legislative--unicameral National Assembly. Judicial--Constitutional Court, inferior courts, criminal courts, Court of Appeals.
Administrative subdivisions: 16 prefectures, commune of Bangui.
Political parties: Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP), Central African Democratic Assembly (RDC), Civic Forum (FC), Democratic Forum (FODEM), Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), Movement for Democracy and Development (MDD), Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC), Patriotic Front for Progress (FPP), People's Union for the Republic (UPR), National Unity Party (PUN), and Social Democratic Party (PSD).
Suffrage: Universal over 21.