For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Area: 622,984 sq. km. (242,000 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Texas.
Cities: Capital--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).
Terrain: Rolling plain 600 meters-700 meters (1,980 ft.-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 (July 2009 est.): 4,511,488.
Annual growth rate (2009 est.): 1.491%.
Ethnic groups: More than 80; Baya 33%, Banda 27%, Sara 10%, Mandja 13%, Mboum 7%, M'baka 4%, Yakoma 4%, other 2%.
Religions: Protestant 25%, Roman Catholic 25%, Muslim 15%, indigenous beliefs 35%.
Languages: French (official), Sango (national).
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%.
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.
GDP (2009): $2.006 billion.
Annual real GDP growth rate (2009 .): 2.4%.
Per capita income (2009, PPP): $750.
Avg. inflation rate: (2009): 3.5%.,
Natural resources: Diamonds, uranium, timber, gold, oil, coffee.
Agriculture (2009, 55% of GDP): Products--Timber, cotton, coffee, tobacco, food crops, livestock. Arable land-3.1%.
Industry (2009, 15% of GDP): Types--Diamond mining, sawmills, breweries, textiles, footwear, assembly of bicycles and motorcycles, and soap.
Services (2009): 30% of GDP.
Trade (2009): Exports--$290 million ; timber and diamonds, with some exports of coffee, cotton, and tobacco. Major markets--Belgium, Indonesia, China, Morocco, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Imports--$ 449 million ;, petroleum products, items to support public sector investment programme Major suppliers--France, United States, Cameroon, Netherlands, Republic of Korea.
Central government budget (2009): $431.03 million.
Defense (2009): 1.8% of GDP Fiscal year: Calendar year.
There are more than 80 ethnic groups in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), each with its own language. About 75% are M’Baka-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.). Sango, 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, Bouar, 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 European traders. Population migration in the 18th and 19th centuries brought new migrants into the area, including the Zande, Banda, and M’Baka-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. One rebel group, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) continues to operate around Ndele in the northeast. The CPJP is responsible for considerable violations against the civilian population, and the group has attacked the Central African Army on numerous occasions, including in November 2010 when they briefly captured the town of Birao. The government continues to make modest, and unsuccessful, efforts at peace with the group.
Implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Accord, particularly its provisions granting amnesty for former fighters, furthered an Inclusive Political Dialogue (IPD) 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. As of December2010, the implementation of the results of the IPD remains incomplete.
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.
In early 2010, President Bozize twice delayed constitutionally mandated elections scheduled for April and May due to a poorly functioning Independent Electoral Commission and bickering between the CAR’s political class. In July 2010, the President decreed elections for January 2011, with the caveat that there must be sufficient progress made in the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration process promised by the Comprehensive Peace Accord, and that the security situation in the country allow for credible elections.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
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 103 members elected by popular vote to serve 5-year terms. Legislative elections were last held in spring 2005. Parties aligned with President Bozize control 81 of 103 seats.
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 18.
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 very weak civil society with its various actors struggling for funding and sustainability in an impoverished country. ..
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 States--Stanislas Moussa-Kembe
Ambassador to the United Nations--Fernand Poukre-Kono
The Central African Republic maintains an embassy in the United States at 1618-22nd Street, NW, Washington, DC (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 a 2009 annual per capita income of $750 (purchasing power parity). Sparsely populated and landlocked, the nation is overwhelmingly agrarian, with the vast bulk of the population engaged in subsistence farming; 55% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) came from agriculture (including timber) in 2009. Principal crops include cotton, food crops (cassava, yams, bananas, maize), coffee, and tobacco. From 2002 - 2007, timber accounted for an average of 48% of export receipts. More than 4,000 Central Africans work in the forestry sector, more than in any other private sector. 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 2009, with artisanal diamond mining, breweries, and sawmills making up the bulk of the sector. Services accounted for about 30% of GDP in 2009, 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 Bangui’s limited electrical supply, with towns in the rest of the country relying on diesel generators to provide electricity. 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 just over 700 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. Eighteen 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 IMF recognized the C.A.R’s achievements in these domains by certifying its attainment of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) completion point in 2009. 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.
Under military restructuring plans formulated 1999-2000, the civilian Minister of Defense controlled and directed all armed forces, including the Presidential Security Unit (UPS), which had previously been seen as a militia supporting the president. This distinction has become somewhat burred in recent years as President Bozize holds the title of Minister of Defense and President and his son, Jean Francis Bozize, is the Deputy Minister of Defense. As of August 2009, the C.A.R. armed forces numbered about 10,000, including army, navy, air force, gendarmerie, national police, Presidential Security Unit, and local police personnel.
Following the 2003 coup, Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC-Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l'Afrique Centrale) and C.A.R. armed forces assumed responsibility for securing the capital city. The Economic Community of Central African States (known by its French acronym, CEEAC) took over the CEMAC forces in 2008 and established the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX). MICOPAX forces currently total approximately 500 soldiers and are supported by an additional 250 French soldiers. The C.A.R. armed forces number approximately 5,500. 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.
In 2007, the United Nations and the European Union authorized the deployment of a multidimensional security and police presence in eastern Chad and northeastern C.A.R. with a civilian and humanitarian protection mandate. The UN component of the mission (MINURCAT) consisted of police deployed to Chad only and a multi-dimensional liaison office deployed in Chad and C.A.R. The Security Council’s resolution 1861, which authorized the deployment of a military component of MINURCAT to follow up EUFOR in both Chad and the Central African Republic, extended MINURCAT’s mandate for a period of 12 months after its current mandate expired in March 2009. The UN took over EUFOR’s military role in the region on March 15, 2009. The UN mission’s multidimensional presence in Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) is authorized to establish a presence in Birao in northeastern Central African Republic to create a more secure environment, protect civilians and humanitarian workers in danger; and to protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its staff and United Nations and associated personnel. At the behest of the Chadian government, MINURCAT departed Chad, and as a result the CAR, in late 2010.
The Central African Republic is an active member in several Central African organizations, including the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC), 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. The C.A.R. is a participant in the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), and the African Union. China, Libya and, to a lesser degree, Turkey and Sudan have shown increased interest in cooperation with the C.A.R. over the last years.
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 the majority of 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, China, and the United States--are significant development partners for the C.A.R.
Fourteen countries have resident diplomatic representatives in Bangui and the C.A.R. maintains approximately the same number of missions abroad . Approximately double this number of countries have honorary consuls present in Bangui. Many large countries cover the CAR from neighboring states like Chad, Cameroon or the Democratic Republic of Congo. 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.
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 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Peace Corps missions previously operating in Bangui did not return. The American Embassy in Bangui again temporarily suspended operations on November 2, 2002 in response to security concerns raised by the October 2002 launch of Francois Bozize's 2003 military coup.
The Embassy reopened in January 2005 and a resident Ambassador was appointed in June 2007; however, there currently is limited U.S. diplomatic/consular representation in the C.A.R. As a result, the ability of the Embassy to provide services to American citizens remains extremely limited. Restrictions on U.S. aid that were imposed after the 2003 military coup were lifted in 2005.
In international fora, the United States has supported the mandates of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA; formerly the UN Peace-building Office in the Central African Republic--BONUCA) and of the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in Central African Republic (MICOPAX) in order to promote stability in C.A.R. Both BINUCA and MICOPAX, while constrained by their small sizes and budgets, have contributed to the pursuit of peace in C.A.R. The U.S. also supported C.A.R.'s national dialogue, in hopes that the C.A.R. Government, the political opposition, and the armed opposition would be better able to reach peace and move toward security in the countryside and in Bangui.
The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to the Central African Republic. Americans in the C.A.R. are urged to exercise caution and maintain security awareness at all times. U.S. citizens who travel to or remain in the Central African Republic and need emergency assistance should contact the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon at telephone (237) 2220 15 00, fax (237) 2220 16 20, and (237) 2220 16 03 (Consular). Americans may also contact the American Embassy in N'djamena, Chad at telephone (235) 51-70-09, 51-92-33 or 51-90-52 and fax (235) 51-56-54. As noted above, since the United States has a limited diplomatic presence in the Central African Republic, the ability to provide services to U.S. citizens in the C.A.R. is extremely limited.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Tim L. Smith
Management Officer--Cheryl Casebeer
Political/Economic/Consular Officer--David Wisner
Public Affairs Officer – Elizabeth Ategou
General Services Officer – Michelle Kayser
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).