Central African Republic // 54-project

I'm embarking on a 54-week project wherein I study one Africa country each week. Except, I haven't exactly stuck to the one week rule... No rules or limits on what I study or seek to learn, just trying my best to learn more about each country. I feel that in African studies the focus is usually placed on certain countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, etc) or certain events (colonialism, the Rwandan genocide, apartheid, etc), so that people interested in Africa might know a lot about a specific region or time, but not have thorough knowledge of the continent. I am hoping to remedy this situation, that I have at least found in myself, by means of this project.

So...it's been a while. A two month hiatus and I'm only in the C's....looks like this is going to take me a lot longer than a year! I've been so busy with thesis work, interviews, trying to get my travel blog up and running, and applying for internships and jobs! I graduate in May, so working to get all of that prepared...

Starting off with the flag, the Central African Republic is represented with 5 horizontal bars: blue, white, green, yellow, and red. The colors represent the pan-Africanist movement, as we've seen in a lot of countries so far, but with a blend of the French flag colors. It's bordered by six countries: our friend from "last week", Cameroon, along with Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, DRC, and the Republic of Congo. Two thirds of CAR resides on the Oubangui river basin, which is the largest right-bank tributary of the Congo River and a defining part of the boundary between DRC and CAR. The capital city is Bangui, which is located on the Ouabangui. It is connected by a 1,800 km river-and-rail transport system that extends from Pointe-Noire to Brazzaville, passing through Bangui. 

Transport in CAR is difficult as less than 8% of the roads are paved. Complete isolation is not uncommon, due to the roads and how the land is structured: it's the most heavily forested country in Africa. Thankfully, a lot of it is still untouched, leaving it over 30 main rivers, 3,600 species of plants documented, but maybe up to 5000. In the Dzanga-Sangha National Park there is a ton of rare wildlife -- it's actually has one of the densest concentrations of rare wildlife in the world! -- like this guy (photo from the African Wildlife Foundation): 

Besides beautiful striped bongos, the CAR has the largest concentration of lowland gorillas and forest elephants than any other country in Africa. As you can start to guess, with all of this wildlife and untouched land, the night sky is supposedly breathtaking: it's one of the least light-polluted countries in the world, making it a top destination for astronomers. 

And the really crazy thing about this part of the earth is something called the “Bangui magnetic anomaly”. The Republic sits right in the midst of this strange geological phenomenon that scientists cannot figure out. If you’re hiking trekking through the parks, don’t except to use a compass because it goes absolutely haywire. 

Okay….let’s move on to culture and language! Ethnicity wise, the Gbaya/Mandjia make up 46% of the population, the Banda 23%, the M’baka/Sara 13%, and the remaining is split between the others. The official languages are French (it was a French colony and is still part of the CFR, which we will touch on further down) and Sangho. Sangho is one of the only African-language-based African creoles on the continent — most are based off of English or French. It’s based off the local Ngbandi language. And having it as one of the official languages makes CAR a member of the small group of African countries that have a local language as one of the official languages. Sangho is a tonal language, with three different tones, low, mid, and high. The other confusing part of Sangho, for English speakers, is the rule regarding double consonants. Double consonants cannot be split, so the word “bambari” would be pronounced as “ba-mba-ri”, not “bam-ba-ri”. I think I would mess this up a lot and end up sounding extremely robotic! :D

The Central African Republic is consistently ranked as one of the poorest nations in the world, always in the bottom ten. According to statistics, the GDP per capita is around $350 per year. Around half of the republic’s export revenue is concentrated around diamonds and precious metal commodities. In Europe, the CAR’s biggest important partners are the Dutch and their biggest export partners are the Belgians. In Asia, South Korea is their largest import partner, and a close ally. 

They currency is backed by the French treasury and they use the CFA franc. Simon Allison explains the CFA franc, “The CFA franc was created in 1945, ostensibly as a noble gesture to protect France’s African colonies from a devaluation of the French franc. Under this carefully-considered control mechanism, participating countries were required to deposit most of their foreign currency reserves with the French Treasury, which in turn dictated monetary policy and mandated when and how governments could access the money. The currency was pegged to the French franc, with France alone able to determine the exchange rate.” One of the stipulations of being in the CFA franc is that members must “pool together a minimum of 65% of their international reserves, corresponding to 20% of the monetary base of each central bank, into an operations account at the French Treasury”. Of course, this is an extremely controversial arrangement, with most arguing that it is a strong example of French neocolonialism in Africa. 

The citizens of the CAR haven’t fared too well politically, either. The CAR has some of the most coup d’etat’s in Africa, leading to a very long political history for a country that is not very old. The most infamous period of CAR’s history is the 60s and 70s when Bokassa, one of most notorious dictators in the world, took over in a coup. He overthrew his own cousin, proclaimed himself emperor of the CAR, and spent almost a THIRD of the national budget on his coronation (the Guardian reports that is was the entire GDP). His crown alone costs 5 million US dollars. During his brutish rule, he supervised judicial beating, executions, and massacres, including schoolchildren — because they refused to buy uniforms from a company owned by one of his wives. It was rumored that he was a cannibal and would feed his guests human flesh, without their knowledge. During his reign, the French government supported him, calling him a close friend and ally. The French president at the time was an avid hunter and used to travel around the CAR with Bokassa, killing elephants. The beating of the schoolchildren is what finally pushed the French government over the edge and he was disposed of. 

Sadly, the political situation in the CAR still remains rough. Starting about three years ago, and referred to by those in the CAR as “The Crisis”, the country descended into deep violence that many labelled as a potential genocide. It’s currently listed as one of, or the, most dangerous country in the world, due to daily attacks. The reasons surrounding the violence I haven’t fully grasped, I’m somewhat confused on the timeline and causes of certain events (for a country that is reported to be on the verge of genocide, or in one, there is scarce reporting on the conflict..I think it’s safe to assume most people in the US do not know of the conflict, nor the country), but from what I have gathered, the Seleka, who are Muslim rebels from CAR along with Chad and Sudan, were against the previous government and against sectarianism. (There is a majority Christian population in the CAR). In March of 2013, these rebels seized the country from President Bozizé (who had become president through a coup also) and appointed their own commander as president (Djotodia). There were many reports of the Seleka bludgeoning people and even reports of them throwing citizens into crocodile-infested waters. 

So, as has been happening on a lesser scale in Nigeria, villages rose up together to form their own counter-militia against the rebel government. The UN sent in troops and France sent in 1000 additional soldiers for support, yet, this mission became covered in scandal as opposed to helping the situation — there were reports of sexual assault on countless people by the UN troops (which the UN still hasn’t acted upon). Presidential and legislative elections were held last year, but instead of bringing stabilization, it has seen an increase in violence, spread throughout the country now. =

The conflicts did not begin out of religion — which is, of course, how it is often portrayed when you have a Muslim rebel group — it started due to a long history of conflict and coup’s in a country, where a group of rebels thought they could take over. If you have a strong stomach and want to see documentation of the violence, Marcus Bleasdale has been photographing and videoing the violence for the Human Rights Watch and NatGeo since it began in 2013. I’m warning you, it’s expected, but it is absolutely heart wrenching to look at. 

Unfortunately, I have nothing less to say, so we have to end this on an extremely sad note. Hopefully mediation attempts work in the future and we can see some light given to the people of the CAR.