U.S. Department of State Background Note
Central African Republic
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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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jun. 2007