Central African Republic - Tips

Central African Republic Bureau of African Affairs
June 2007

Background Note: Central African Republic

A man fishes in a dugout canoe on the
Obangui river, with the city of
Bangui in the background, Central
African Republic. March 9, 2004. [©
AP Images]

Flag of Central African Republic is four equal horizontal bands of blue
(top), white, green, and yellow with a vertical red band in center; there is
a yellow five-pointed star on the hoist side of the blue band.

PROFILE

OFFICIAL NAME:
Central African Republic

Geography
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.

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Central African(s).
Population (July 2007 est.): 4,369,038.
Annual growth rate (2007 est.): 1.505%.
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: Sangho (official), Sangho (national).
Education: Years compulsory--6. Enrollment--primary school 75%.
Literacy--50%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--115 deaths/1,000. Life expectancy--avg. 43
yrs.
Work force (approx. 53% of pop.): Agriculture--75%; industry--6%; commerce
and services--4%; government--15%.

Government
Type: Republic.
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.

Economy
GDP (2006): $1.542 billion.
Annual real GDP growth rate: -7.2% (2003); 0.5% (2004 est.); 3% (2006 est.).
Per capita income (2002): $260.
Avg. inflation rate: 4.2% (2003); 3.2 (2004 est.).
Natural resources: Diamonds, uranium, timber, gold, oil.
Agriculture (2002, 54.8% of GDP): Products--Timber, cotton, coffee, tobacco,
foodcrops, livestock. Cultivated land--unavailable.
Industry (2002, 21.6% of GDP): Types--Diamond mining, sawmills, breweries,
textiles, footwear, assembly of bicycles and motorcycles, and soap.
Services (2002): 23.6% of GDP.
Trade (2004): Exports--$161 million; diamonds, coffee, cotton, timber,
tobacco. Major markets--Belgium, Italy, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Egypt,
Spain, and Cote d'Ivoire. Imports--$119 million; 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 (2002): $226 million.
Defense (2002, 2.4% of budget): $5.4 million.
Fiscal year: Calendar year.

PEOPLE
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.

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.

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 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--Elie Dote
State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and Francophony--Mr.
Jean-Paul NGOUPANDE
Minister of Finance and Budget--Mr. Théodore DABANGA
Ambassador to the United States--Emmanuel Touaboy
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).

ECONOMY
The Central African Republic is classified as one of the world's least
developed countries, with a 2002 annual per capita income of $260. 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 gross domestic product (GDP) arising from agriculture. 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 contributes only about
20% of the country's GDP, with artesian diamond mining, breweries, and
sawmills making up the bulk of the sector. Services currently account for
about 25% of GDP, 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. Its debt burden is considerable, and the country has seen a decline in
per capita gross national product (GNP) over the last 30 years. 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.

DEFENSE
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. In April 2001, the C.A.R. armed forces numbered
about 3,000, including army, navy, air force, gendarmerie, national police,
Presidential Security Unit, and local police personnel. An estimated 1,200
members of the army and gendarmerie fled to the Democratic Republic of the
Congo following the failed coup attempt of May 2001.

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. CEMAC
forces currently total approximately 400 soldiers, which are supported by an
additional 200 French soldiers. The C.A.R. armed forces number approximately
2,000. 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.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
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. The C.A.R. is a participant in the
Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), and the Organization of African
Unity (OAU--now the African Union). 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
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.

Seventeen countries have resident diplomatic or consular 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.

U.S.-C.A.R. RELATIONS
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; 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. The Department of State approved the lifting of Section
508 aid restrictions triggered by the coup; U.S. assistance to the Central
African Republic had been prohibited except in the areas of humanitarian aid
and support for democratization.

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) 223-4014, (237) 223-0512, fax (237) 223-0753, and 223-0581 (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
Charge d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy Bangui--James Panos

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).

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For
additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/
Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens who traveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security
conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://
www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
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