Central African Republic, republic in central Africa, bordered on the north by Chad, on the east by Sudan, on the south by Zaire and the Republic of the Congo, and on the west by Cameroon. The landlocked nation has an area of 622,436 sq km (about 240,323 sq mi). Bangui is the capital and largest city.
Land and Resources
The Central African Republic is situated on the northern edge of the Congo River Basin. Most of the land is a plateau that ranges in elevation from about 610 to 790 m (about 2000 to 2600 ft). Two ranges of hills in the north and northeast rise to maximum heights of about 1400 m (about 4600 ft). Most of the country has a savanna vegetationa grassland interspersed with trees. Open grassland is found in the extreme north, and a dense rain forest covers the major part of the southwestern area. The country is drained by two major river systems, the Chari (Shari) in the north and the Ubangi (a tributary of the Congo) in the south.
The climate of the Central African Republic is hot and humid; the average annual temperature is about 26° C (about 79° F). Tornadoes and floods are common at the onset of the rainy season, which lasts from June to November. Annual rainfall varies from about 1800 mm (about 70 in) in the Ubangi River valley to about 200 mm (about 8 in) in the semiarid north.
The mineral resources of this primarily agricultural country are relatively undeveloped. Diamonds are the dominant exploited mineral. Deposits of uranium exist, as well as iron ore, gold, lime, zinc, copper, and tin. Commercially valuable trees include the sapele mahogany and the obeche. Almost every animal of the African Tropics is found in the country.
The main ethnic groups of the Central African Republic are the Baya, Banda, Sara, Mandjia, Mboum, and M'Baka. About 49 percent of the population inhabits small villages, living and working according to traditional customs.
The population of the Central African Republic was determined by the census of 1975 to be 2,054,610; the 1995 estimated population was 3,429,000. Most of the population is concentrated in the western half of the country, where Bangui (population, 1988 estimate, 451,690), the capital and chief city, is located.
Religion and Language
An estimated 60 percent of the total population follow traditional religions, about 35 percent are Christian and 5 percent are Muslim. French is the official language, but Sango, an African language, is the most commonly spoken. Numerous other African languages are also spoken.
While officially compulsory, only an estimated 56 percent of the eligible children of the Central African Republic receive primary education. Secondary and higher education facilities are limited. Only about 38 percent of the population is literate. In the early 1990s about 308,400 pupils annually attended primary schools, and about 47,200 students were enrolled in secondary and technical institutions. The country's one university, the University of Bangui (1970), has an enrollment of about 3500 students.
The Central African Republic is one of the most underdeveloped areas in Africa. Growth of the export economy is hindered by the difficulty of transporting goods to a seaport. About 60 percent of the population earns its livelihood by farming. The agricultural output is fairly evenly balanced between subsistence and export crops. The principal sources of revenue are diamonds, coffee, tobacco, cotton, and timber exports. The annual national budget in the early 1990s showed revenues at $175 million and expenditures at $312 million.
Agriculture and Forestry
About 3 percent of the total land area is suitable for crops. Basic food crops include cassava, plantains, corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and millet. In order to increase the wage-earning power of the peasant farmer, the government has organized agricultural cooperatives, placing primary emphasis on introducing new crops that are expected to produce a higher income. The cultivation of tobacco, sesame, and rice is encouraged by the government. The most important cash crop traditionally has been coffee, once grown mostly on European-owned plantations, but now produced largely on smaller African-owned farms. But production declined along with market prices in the early 1990s, with the amount grown dropping to 13,000 metric tons from the 22,000 tons grown in the late 1980s. Cotton, which is widely cultivated, is now the leading cash crop and represents 23 percent of export earnings.
Exploitation of forest reserves was slow to develop but has increased in importance, and by the early 1990s some 3.4 million cu m (about 120 million cu ft) of roundwood were produced. Timber accounts for about 8 percent of export revenues.
Manufacturing and Mining
Manufacturing activity in the Central African Republic is very limited. Products include cottonseed, peanut, and sesame oils; textiles; leather goods; tobacco products; soap; flour; bricks; and paint. The annual output of electricity is about 96 million kilowatt-hours, approximately 69 percent of which is generated in hydroelectric installations. Gem diamonds account for nearly all the country's mineral output and 63 percent of its export revenue. Production was about 415,000 carats a year in the early 1990s. Uranium was discovered in the eastern part of the country in 1966, but production is awaiting improvement in international prices. A small amount of gold is mined, mostly by individual prospectors.
Currency, Commerce, and Trade
The unit of currency is the CFA franc, consisting of 100 centimes (284.6 CFA francs equal U.S.$1; 1993). An exchange rate of 1 French franc equal to 50 CFA francs remained in force from 1948 to January 1994, when the CFA franc was officially devalued by 50 percent.
The country's principal exports are diamonds, timber, cotton, and coffee. France and Belgium are by far the leading trade partners, and some commerce is also carried on with the nearby nations of Cameroon, Congo, and Gabon, with which the Central African Republic is joined in the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa. In the early 1990s annual exports earned about $138 million while imports cost $205 million.
Transportation and Communication
The country has no railroads. The Ubangi River and the Chari and Logone river systems are important arteries of transportation. Exports are shipped on the Ubangi and Congo rivers to Brazzaville, Congo, and then by rail to the seaport of Pointe-Noire. The country has about 23,738 km (about 14,750 mi) of roads, about 2 percent of which are paved. An international airport is located at Bangui.
One daily newspaper and several other periodicals are published in Bangui. The national radio and television broadcasting service is government owned and provides programs in French and Sango. In the early 1990s about 210,000 radios, 14,000 television sets, and 5700 telephones were in use.
In 1981 army officers overthrew the government of the Central African Republic, and suspended a constitution that had been approved earlier that year. A new constitution calling for a single-party republic was approved by referendum in November 1986. Under this constitution, executive authority is held by a president and the Council of Ministers, which the president heads; the president is popularly elected to a six-year term. Legislative authority is held by the National Assembly, the 85 members of which are popularly elected to five-year terms. In 1992 the constitution was revised to allow for a multiparty system. Today the Central African Democratic Rally is the leading political party.
Most of the ethnic groups inhabiting the present-day Central African Republic entered the region in the 19th century to escape Fulani armies or to avoid slave traders operating in the Congo River Basin and modern Sudan. In the 1880s the French annexed the area, and in 1894 it was organized as the territory of Ubangi-Chari. In 1910 the dependency became part of the Federation of French Equatorial Africa. Economic development was dominated by European concessionaires. This system led to abuses of the black Africans, who staged several violent protests, notably between 1928 and 1930.
From 1946 to 1958 the territory had its own elected legislature and was represented in the French National Assembly. In 1958 the dependency gained autonomy as the Central African Republic; it became fully independent on August 13, 1960, with David Dacko as president. In 1966, charging Dacko's government with corruption, his cousin, army chief Colonel Jean Bédel Bokassa, seized power. He abrogated the constitution and established an authoritarian regime. In late 1976 a new constitution was issued, reorganizing the nation as the Central African Empire. Bokassa became Emperor Bokassa I; he was crowned in a lavish ceremony in December 1977.
Bokassa's regime began to fall apart in January 1979, when an order that schoolchildren wear expensive uniforms made in his own factory prompted widespread protest demonstrations. The army was called in, and many children were put in prison, where they were massacred by the imperial guard. A committee of African judges later concluded that Bokassa had personally participated in the killings. In September 1979 he was overthrown in a French-backed coup led by former president Dacko, who then resumed power. Bokassa went into exile, and Dacko was confirmed in office by the electorate in March 1981. He was deposed six months later in a coup led by the army commander, General André Kolingba. Bokassa returned to the country in October 1986 and was tried and convicted for ordering the murders of political opponents while he was in power. In November Kolingba was confirmed by popular referendum for a six-year term as head of state. Multiparty presidential and legislative elections, held in October 1992, were annulled by the republic's supreme court, which cited widespread irregularities. Elections were held again in September 1993, and Ange-Felix Patasse was elected president. One of the last acts of his predecessor, General Kolingba, was to grant amnesty and an immediate release from prison to Bokassa.