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Atlas Central African Republic

Country (long form)
Central African Republic
Capital
Bangui
Total Area
240,535.47 sq mi
622,984.00 sq km
Population
3,512,751 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS
Estimated Population in 2050
6,369,257
Languages
French (official), Sangho (lingua franca and national language), Arabic, Hunsa, Swahili
Literacy
60.0% total, 68.5% male, 52.4% female (1995 est.)
Religions
indigenous beliefs 24%, Protestant 25%, Roman Catholic 25%, Muslim 15%, other 11%
Life Expectancy
42.26 male, 45.84 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
republic
Currency
1 Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (CFAF) = 100 centimes
GDP (per capita)
$1,700 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
N/A
Industry
diamond mining, sawmills, breweries, textiles, footwear, assembly of bicycles and motorcycles
Agriculture
cotton, coffee, tobacco, manioc (tapioca), yams, millet, corn, bananas; timber
Arable Land
3%
Exports
diamonds, timber, cotton, coffee, tobacco
Imports
food, textiles, petroleum products, machinery, electrical equipment, motor vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, industrial products
Natural Resources
diamonds, uranium, timber, gold, oil, hydropower
Current Environmental Issues
tap water is not potable; poaching has diminished its reputation as one of the last great wildlife refuges; desertification; deforestation
Telephones (main lines in use)
8,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
79 (1995)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
N/A

History
Archaeological remains indicate that a civilisation existed in the region of modern day CAR before the rise of Egypt. Little is known of that, however, and of the CAR's present inhabitants, pygmies were the first to arrive. More than 1000 years ago people began migrating from Sudan in the east and Cameroon in the west. By 1600, the region was probably part of the Gaoga empire; slavery was the rage and villages were continually raided by Arab conquerors from Chad and Sudan, and via the coast by European slavers. Whole villages in the north were depopulated, and people were still being sold in Cairo slave markets until the late 19th century. The CAR today is one of the most lightly populated countries in Africa.

When the European powers carved up Africa, France was awarded most of the central area. In 1889, a French post was set up in Bangui, although complete control wasn't secured for another 12 years. The French government soon realised it did not have the savoir-faire to exploit the region to the full, so the government broke it down into 17 concessions and dished them out to European companies in exchange for around 15% of profits and a fixed annual payment. The companies weren't particularly enlightened employers; they conscripted the local population into slave-like servitude. Those who refused or deserted were killed or tortured, and thousands died.

During WWII, cotton and diamond exports reached record levels, and the colony had become a favourite ground for big-game hunters. Resistance to French rule faded in the late 1920s under the combined weight of repression, famine and smallpox epidemics, but the practice of corvée, or forced labour, provoked a further series of rebellions during the 1930s. But the region was proving too profitable for France to let go of it easily, and a nationalist movement in anything more than name re-emerged only after WWII.

In 1949 the charismatic leader Barthelemy Boganda founded the first political party, the Mouvement d'Evolution Sociale de l'Afrique Noire, calling for independence. Boganda died in a mysterious plane crash in 1959, however, and his successor, David Dacko, became the country's first president. Dacko's rule quickly became highly repressive and dictatorial, and in 1966, when the country was virtually on its knees, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the army's commander in chief, led a successful coup.

Bokassa was a leader poured into virtually the same mould as Idi Amin of Uganda. He personally supervised and sometimes participated in the public clubbing to death of prisoners, took over the most important government portfolios, and attempted to wipe out all opposition. France, coveting the uranium deposits at Bakouma and the exclusive big-game hunting grounds near the Sudanese border (patronised by former French president Giscard d'Estaing) continued to indulge Bokassa and bail out his economy. Bokassa squandered foreign loans on prestige projects, and his most outrageous fantasy was to have himself crowned emperor in a renamed Central African Empire. The French picked up most of the tab for the 1977 event, about US$20 million, or nearly the equivalent of the CAR's annual GDP.

Bokassa's downfall came in 1979, when he flew to Libya with a request for aid. The French engineered a little musical chairs and flew former president Dacko back into the country. But he proved unpopular and General André Kolingba, head of the army, seized power in 1981. He promised to return to civilian rule, but progress toward that was excruciatingly slow. That year Bokassa flew back to the CAR, believing that Kolingba wouldn't dare impeach him. He was convicted of treason, murder and cannibalism and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life imprisonment. His death in 1996 passed almost without comment from the local press.

Kolingba dragged his heels and postponed the elections until 1993, when he was finally defeated by civilian Ange-Félix Patassé in October. A new age could have been ushered in, but the light of the new dawn turned out to be cold and blue, as Patassé stacked the government with his fellow tribesmen. The harsh realities of a nation with its finances and much of its infrastructure in a shambles hit hard, and in 1996 dissident elements of the armed forces came out shooting no fewer than four times. Violence between the government and rebel military and civilian groups continued over pay issues, living conditions, and lack of political representation. This state of unrest has depleted government coffers, destroyed many local enterprises and partly unwound the CAR's social fabric. The government's expulsion of a journalist in January 1999 indicates that it is still struggling with the concept of a free press.

In May 2001, there was a coup attempt in Bangui. While the situation has been diffused, and the alleged ringleader, General Bozize, was granted an amnesty, tensions within the country remain. The situation is particularly volatile near the border with Chad, where many of Bozize's supporters remain and sporadic fighting continues to take place. In addition to this, many state employees have not been paid for over two years, poverty is rife and there are bandits patrolling some parts of the countryside.

In January 2002, the UN Security Council expressed deep concern over the mounting problems in the CAR. The Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has criticised the CAR government's human rights record, focusing in particular on the behaviour of the country's armed forces.

On October 25, 2002, the renegade former army chief-of-staff, General Francois Bozize, led ex-soldiers in an unsuccessful coup attempt. Civil war resumed. Bozize soon gained control of areas in the north and south. People were forced to flee their homes, villages and even the country. Tens of thousands fled over CAR's five borders as life became unbearable: women and young girls were raped by fighters allied to the government from neighbouring Congo (Zaïre), and towns that were held captive by government or rebel forces were cut off from outside supplies. In March 2003, Bozize finally toppled Patasse, though this has brought little respite from years of chaos.