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Diplomacy in Action

Central African Republic (07/01)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Central African Republic

Area: 622,984 sq. km. (242,000 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Texas.
Cities: Capital--Bangui (Pop. 690,000). Other cities--Berberati (41,891), Bouar (39,676), Bambari (38,633), Bangassou (24,450), Bossangoa (31,502), Mbaiki (16,901), and Carnot (31,324).
Terrain: Rolling plain 600-700 meters (1,980-2,310 ft.) above sea level; scattered hills in northeast and southwest.
Climate: Tropical, ranging from humid equatorial in the south to Sahelo-Sudanese in the north; hot, dry winters with mild to hot, wet summers.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Central African(s).
Population (1999): 3.5 million.
Annual growth rate: 1.7%.
Ethnic groups: More than 80; Baya 34%, Banda 28%, Sara 10%, Mandja 9%, Mboum 9%, M'baka 7%.
Religions: Protestant 25%, Roman Catholic 25%, Muslim 15%, indigenous beliefs.
Languages: French (official), Sangho (national).
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--primary school 46%, secondary school 19.4%, higher education--1.1%. Literacy--45%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--106.69 deaths/1,000. Life expectancy--avg. 44 yrs.
Work force (approx. 53% of pop): Agriculture--75%; industry--6%; commerce and services--4%; government--15%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: August 13, 1960.
Constitution: Passed by referendum December 29, 1994; adopted January 1995.
Branches: Executive--president, prime minister and Council of Ministers. Legislative--Unicameral National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Court and regional courts.
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.
Flag: Blue, white, green and yellow horizontal bands from top to bottom, vertical red band in center; yellow star at upper left on the blue band. Central African Republic flag


GDP (2000): $975,142,857.00; est. 2001: $1.052 billion.
Annual growth rate: 5.44% from 1999.
Per capita income (2000): $278.00; est. 2001, $300.57.
Avg. inflation rate (2000): 6.4%.
Natural resources: Diamonds, uranium, timber, gold, oil.
Agriculture (1999, 55.1% of GDP): Products--Timber, cotton, coffee, tobacco, foodcrops, livestock. Cultivated land--unavailable.
Industry (1999, 19.6% of GDP): Types--Diamond mining, sawmills, breweries, textiles, footwear, assembly of bicycles and motorcyles and soap. Services (1999): 25.3% of GDP.
Trade (1999): Exports--$195 million; diamonds, coffee, cotton, timber, tobacco. Major markets--Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Egypt, Spain, and Cote d'Ivoire. Imports--$170 million; food, textiles, petroleum products, machinery, electrical equipment, motor vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, industrial products. Major suppliers--France, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Germany, Japan.
Central government budget (2001): $170 million.
Defense (2001, 5.7% of budget): $9.7 million.
Fiscal year: Calendar year.
U.S. aid received (1999): $575,000 development assistance.

There are more than 80 ethnic groups in the C.A.R., each with its own language. About 50% are Baya-Mandjia and Banda--40% largely located in the northern and central parts of the country), and 7% are M'Baka (southwestern corner of the CAR. 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 elemental 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.

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 the Europeans. 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 smallscale 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 20, 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 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 United Nations 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.

The government is a republic comprised of a strong executive branch (President, Prime Minister and Council of Ministers), and weaker legislative branch (unicameral National Assembly) and judicial branch. Government and opposition party members, as well as civil society and the military are represented in the three branches, although the President appoints the Prime Minister, members of the cabinet (Council of Ministers), top military officials and managers of national parastatals. 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. Heads of these administrative units, called "prefets" and "sous-prefets" are currently appointed by the President.

The National Assembly is made up of 109 members elected by popular vote to serve 5-year terms. The last legislative elections were held in 1998; in contested results, the government's MLPC won just over 50% control of the legislative body. Recent hotly contested debates and motions for censure demonstrate the National Assembly's slowly growing independence from executive control. Local elections held in mid-1988 created 176 municipal councils, each headed by a mayor appointed by the president. Suffrage is universal over the age of 21.

The judicial sector encompasses the Constitutional Court, Criminal Court, Court of Appeals and Juvenile Court, although several of these courts have insufficient resources and trained personnel to operate on a regular basis. 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 no 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, extrajudicial killings. Journalists have occasionally been threatened, and prison conditions remain harsh.

Principal Government Officials
President of the Republic, Head of State--Ange-Felix Patasse
Prime Minister, Head of Government--Martin Ziguele
President of the National Assembly--Luc Apolinaire Dondon Konamabaye

Other Ministers
Minister of State--Michel Gbezera-Bria
Minister of State for Communication, Telecommunications, Culture and Francophonie--Gabriel Koyambounou
Minister of State for Finance--Eric Sorongope
Minister of Defense--Jean-Jacques Demafouth
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Francophone Issues--Agba Otikpo
Minister of Interior--Theodore Biko
Minister of Commerce, Industry and Private Sector Promotion--Jacob Mbaitadjim
Minister of Mines and Energy--Andre Nalke

Ambassador to the United States--Emmanuel Touaboy
Ambassador to the United Nations--Eduardo Fernandes

The Central African Republic maintains an embassy in the United States at 1618-22nd Street, NW, Washington, D.C. (tel: 202-483-7800/01, fax: 202-332-9893).

The Central African Republic is classified as one of the world's least developed countries, with an annual per capita income of $310 (2000). Sparsely populated and landlocked, the nation is overwhelmingly agrarian, with the vast bulk of the population engaged in subsistence farming and 55% of the country's GDP arising from agriculture. Principal crops include cotton, food crops (cassava, yams, bananas, maize), coffee, and tobacco. Timber accounts for about 16% 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; reported sales of largely uncut diamonds make up close to 60% of the CAR's export earnings. Industry contributes less than 20% of the country's GDP, with artesian diamond mining, breweries, and sawmills making up the bulk of the sector. Services currently account for 25% of GDP, largely because of the oversized government bureaucracy and high transportation costs arising from the country's landlocked position.

Much of the country's limited electrical supply is provided by hydroelectric plants based in Boali. 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 429 kilometers of paved road, limited international, and no domestic air service, and does not possess a railroad. River traffic on the Ubangui River is impossible from April to July, 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 one company has begun providing internet service.

In the 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. Its debt burden is considerable, and the country has seen a decline in per capita GNP over the last 30 years. Structural adjustment programs with the World Bank and 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 jump-start 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 Central African Government is currently in the process of adopting new labor and investment codes.

The Central African Republic is an active member in several Central African organizations, including the Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC), the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) Central African Peace and Security Council (COPAX--still under formation), and the Central Bank of Central African States (BEAC). Standardization of tax, customs, and security arrangements between the Central African states is a major foreign policy objective of the C.A.R. Government. President Patasse also has manifested considerable interest in mediating conflicts in the region. The C.A.R. is a participant in the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Libya and, to a lesser degree, Sudan have shown increased interest in cooperation with the C.A.R. over the last year.

Outside of Africa, the C.A.R. maintains fairly close ties to France, albeit considerably reduced from previous years. In the late 1990s, France withdrew its forces stationed in the C.A.R.; drops in its external assistance budget have reduced French military and social development aid to the country. Other multilateral organizations--including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, UN agencies, European Union, and the African Development Bank--and bilateral donors--including Germany, Japan, the European Union, and the United States--are significant development partners for the C.A.R.

Nineteen countries have resident diplomatic representatives in Bangui, and the C.A.R. maintains approximately the same number of missions abroad. Since early 1989 the government recognizes both Israel and the Palestinian state. The C.A.R. also maintains diplomatic relations with China. The C.A.R. generally joins other African and developing country states in consensus positions on major policy issues.

As of December 1999, C.A.R. armed forces numbered between 4,000-4,500, including the gendarmerie (army and navy), National Police, Presidential Guard, and local police personnel. Under military restructuring plans formulated 1999-2000, the civilian Minister of Defense now controls and directs all armed forces, including the Presidential Security Unit (UPS), which had previously been seen as a militia supporting the President. Working with the French, the C.A.R. military is attempting to provide professional training and decentralize its troops in an effort to combat road bandits, thievery, and poaching throughout the C.A.R. territory. There also are plans underway to encourage some voluntary demobilization and recruitment of more capable and ethnically balanced personnel.

The U.S. and C.A.R. enjoy generally good relations, although concerns over the pace of political and economic liberalization and human rights have affected the degree of support provided by the U.S. to the country. The U.S. Embassy in Bangui was briefly closed as a result of the 1996-97 mutinies. It reopened in 1998 with limited staff, but USAID and Peace Corps missions previously operating in Bangui have not returned. The U.S. cultural center is currently open, and operates a library, various public diplomacy programs, and an English-language teaching program. Encouraging U.S. investment to the C.A.R. has been a major objective of the embassy.

U.S. assistance to the Central African Republic is limited to small development assistance projects, and support for democratization and demobilization programs. The U.S. also contributes substantial funding to the World Bank, IMF, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and African Development Bank, which provide financial and other assistance to the C.A.R. Some indirect assistance also has been provided to environmental conservation projects in C.A.R.'s national parks.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Robert C. Perry
Deputy Chief of Mission--Judith Francis
Administrative Officer--Mark Biedlingmaier
Political/Economic/Consular Officer--Darryn Martin

The U.S. Embassy in Bangui is located on Blvd David Dacko, Bangui (tel: 236-61-02-00, fax: 61-44-94, B.P. 924, Bangui). The U.S. mailing address is American Embassy Bangui, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20521-2060.

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