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2014 Central African Republic


World Edition

inland to escape the coastal slave trade. The French

BACKGROUND established the area as the Ubangi-Shari territory in 1894 and
united it with Chad in 1906 as the Ubangi-Shari-Chad colony.
Land and Climate In 1910, the colony was united with the Congo and Gabon as
Area (sq. mi.): 240,536
the Federation of French Equatorial Africa. Ubangi-Shari
Area (sq. km.): 622,984
became autonomous in 1958 and independent in 1960.
     Dacko Coup and Republic Restored
The Central African Republic is a little smaller than France or
At independence, the name was changed to Central African
the U.S. state of Texas. Dense rain forests grow in the south,
Republic. The country's first postindependence president,
which forms part of the Congo River Basin. Farther north, the
David Dacko, was overthrown in a 1966 coup led by his
land becomes drier and rises in elevation, but most of the
cousin, Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa. In 1976, the brutal
country is covered by savanna. The Central African Republic
Bokassa created a monarchy and crowned himself Emperor
is landlocked. Only the Oubangui River can be used by large
Bokassa I. Dacko staged a coup in 1979 while Bokassa was
boats during the rainy season. The weather is almost always
out of the country and restored the republic. In 1987, Bokassa
humid. Daytime temperatures are usually hot, but nights cool
returned and was jailed for murder. Released in 1993, he died
off to 55°F (13°C) during November and December, when
in 1996.
cold winds blow off the northern desert. The rainy season
     Kolingba Coup and Elections
(May–November) is shorter in the north than in the south. A
General André Kolingba overthrew Dacko in 1981. The
second rainy season in late February or early March is called
military ran the government until 1985. Kolingba outlawed all
the “mango rains” because it allows growing mangoes to
other political parties and had his term in office extended. By
fatten before the harvest, and storms knock many ripening
the 1990s, however, in a climate of bleak economic
mangoes from the trees. The Central African Republic has
conditions, other parties became active. Ange-Félix Patassé
implemented a variety of conservation projects. Southwestern
was elected in 1993. An inability to meet government payrolls
reserves protect wildlife and rain forests. Although elephant
resulted in army mutinies in 1996, which were countered by
hunting is banned, poaching is still a problem.
French and UN-sponsored African peacekeeping forces. A
truce was reached in June 1997, but continued violence and
History instability prompted the UN to extend its peacekeeping
Early History to French Colony
mission. President Patassé retained his office in a contested
Central Africa has an ancient heritage, but little of it is
election in 1999. UN soldiers left the country in February
recorded. Just prior to French control of the region in 1887, it
2001, but political and social volatility increased in their
was inhabited by the Aka (Pygmy) and peoples migrating


CultureGrams Central African Republic

     Bozizé Coup and Rule Population: 5,166,510
In March 2003, rebel troops under former army general Population Growth Rate: 2.14%
François Bozizé seized Bangui when Patassé was out of the Urban Population: 39%
country, took over the presidency, and engineered new
elections to take place. In May 2005, Bozizé defeated 10 More than 80 ethnic groups inhabit the Central African
other presidential candidates to remain in office. Most Republic, but two form a majority: the Gbaya (33 percent)
observers declared the elections to be fair, though several and Banda (27 percent). Smaller groups include the Mandjia
losing candidates accused Bozizé of fraud. (13), Sara (10), Mboum (7), M'Baka (4), Sango, and others. A
     Beginning in mid-2005, rebel activity in northern Central significant Aka population lives along the southwest border.
African Republic forced more than 300,000 people to flee The Mbororo, descendants of the Fulbé (or Fulani), are
their homes, often for refugee camps in neighboring Chad and migratory herders who do not consider themselves Central
Cameroon. Both rebel forces and government troops were Africans. Others also recognize the Mbororo (Peul in French)
accused of targeting civilians. The spillover of conflicts in as distinctly different, even though they are active in society
Chad and Sudan worsened the instability in the region. and government. A number of Portuguese, Greek, and Arab
     The rebel group People's Democratic Front (FDPC) took merchants live in urban areas. Tens of thousands of refugees
control of the town of Birao and other parts of the country's from Sudan, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the
north in October 2006, but a government counteroffensive Congo also live in the Central African Republic.
ended with a peace deal between the government and the      More than 700,000 people live in and around Bangui. Over
FDPC. In 2008, other rebel groups were brought into the half of the nation's population lives in small towns and
peace process. The negotiated agreements included plans for villages, but urban areas are growing rapidly. About 41
a national unity government and fresh elections. After percent of the population is younger than age 15.
numerous delays, elections were held in January 2011 and
awarded Bozizé another term in office. Language
     Seleka Coup Sango and French are the two main languages, but each
In March 2013, Michel Djotodia led a coalition of five rebel ethnic group also has its own language. Sango (a Bantu
groups, called Seleka, to overtake the capital, forcing tongue) is the national language. It was spread years ago as a
François Bozizé to flee the country. Djotodia suspended the trade language. French is the official language but is used
constitution, dissolved parliament, and stated his intention to mostly in government. Most people are fluent in their own
rule by decree, though he pledged to keep the sitting prime tongue and Sango. French is spoken only by the more
minister in office as part of a power-sharing government. educated.
Djotodia said he would head the interim government for three      The government promotes Sango because the language
years, until credible and transparent elections are held. The reinforces national identity. Many official speeches are made
Central African Republic faces many challenges, including a in Sango rather than French, especially if the audience is
weak healthcare system and economy and continued armed primarily Central African. The national radio, Radio
conflict. Centrafrique, broadcasts in both Sango and French.
     Recent Events and Trends
• President disbands rebel group: In September 2013, Religion
President Michel Djotodia dissolved the rebel group Seleka, Several religions are practiced in the Central African
which overthrew the country's former leader and brought Republic. Around half of the population is Christian, about
Djotodia to power in the March 2013 coup. Seleka rebels evenly split between Catholics and Protestants. About 15
have become increasingly violent, and the United Nations percent of the population is Muslim. Other Central Africans
has called for the government to take urgent measures to halt practice local religions. Even Christians and Muslims
the group's crimes. The country's security situation remains maintain traditional beliefs or combine local practices with
weak. Christianity or Islam. For example, funerals may be less
• UN approves resolution: In October 2013, the UN Security Catholic and more African. A belief in magic and witchcraft
Council approved a resolution supporting a new African is widespread. People also seek the services of local charmers
Union (AU) peacekeeping force in the Central African for guidance.
Republic and calling for elections in less than 18 months.
• Increased fighting: In December 2013, sectarian fighting General Attitudes
between the mainly Muslim Seleka and the mostly Christian Central Africans are friendly, gentle, and generous. Strangers
armed group Anti-Balaka left some one thousand people are greeted with smiles. There is a strong sense of community
dead, and President Djotodia admitted he did not have full among the people, including a deep commitment to the family
control of his country. The AU and France are increasing and loyalty to one's ethnic group. Young people attending
their numbers of troops in the area. school away from home can expect to live with relatives, no
matter how distant the relationship.
     Central Africans tend to live in the present. With many
THE PEOPLE immediate daily concerns and limited resources, they spend
money when they get it. Those with money left over are
Population expected to share it; one employed family member often


CultureGrams Central African Republic

supports several unemployed ones. Saving money is Formally, one uses a title alone or with the last name.
considered a sign of greed and is not common. Although the Respected older men may be addressed as baba (Sango for
future seems uncertain for many Central Africans, they feel “father”) and women as mama (mother). Informally, one may
they have no control over it and so do not dwell on it. Instead, use first or last names, nicknames, or family affiliation
they genuinely appreciate and enjoy the present. (brother, sister, cousin). A very close friend may be called ita
     Though class divisions are strong, ethnic groups and clans (“brother” or “sister”) or cousin (cousin). Each person in a
have strong internal bonds and often have identifying small group is greeted individually. To greet a larger group,
characteristics such as specific trades, customs, or facial one might raise both hands, palms facing the group, and say
features (which include tattoos, scars, and henna leaf Bara ala kwé (Sango for “Greetings, everyone”).
Personal Appearance People beckon by extending the hand, fingers out and palm
Central Africans take pride in being clean and well dressed. down, and waving the fingers inward. During conversation,
Wealthier urban men may wear a shirt and slacks or a one can indicate “yes” by raising the eyebrows. This gesture
Western-style suit. A complet, also popular, consists of pants is sometimes accompanied by a quick inhalation or a glottal
and a matching shirt jacket that buttons to the collar. A clicking sound. One might ask “What?” or even “How are
common traditional outfit consists of pants and a matching you?” by holding the hand out next to the body, palm open
boubou made from bright fabric. A boubou may be cut as a and down with the fingers relaxed, and flipping the hand over.
pullover-style shirt, but a grand boubou is more like a robe Surprise or shock may be expressed by slapping the forehead
that reaches the man's knees or feet. Embroidery on the front with an open hand, sometimes saying Aye! or Mama! A
is popular. Urban women commonly wear traditional styles. hissing sound may be used to attract attention. Children often
One outfit is a tight-fitting, short-sleeved blouse with a cross their arms over their stomachs as a sign of respect when
matching pagne (long wraparound skirt). Wealthier women speaking to a person of authority. Pointing with one finger is
might wear a short and a long pagne at the same time. The impolite. Forming a circle with the thumb and index finger
way a woman ties her pagne and allows the cloth to drape means “zero.” One may show respect when shaking hands by
over her body conveys a number of unspoken messages, such supporting the right wrist with the left hand and bowing
as marital status. Women usually wear some sort of head slightly. Young friends of the same age and sex often hold
wrap; they must wear a scarf to enter a church. Gold jewelry hands while walking and talking.
is a status symbol. Hairstyles can be elaborate, and wigs are
common. Central African girls learn at an early age to braid Visiting
and weave hair. Visiting is a popular way for people to spend free time; it is
     Rural people and the urban poor dress modestly. They common for a person to “drop in” uninvited at a friend's
often wear secondhand Western clothing or a combination of home. After greeting those present, the visitor is offered a
local styles with Western T-shirts. Villagers often go barefoot chair or a stool (barambo) and something to drink. Hosts may
to save their shoes for special occasions. ask visitors to sit inside the home, but it is more common to
sit outside on the porch or in the shade of a nearby tree. The
visitor usually is given the nicest place to sit. During the visit,
CUSTOMS AND COURTESIES everyone might talk or listen to the radio. Sometimes very
little is said and everyone just relaxes. Visitors arriving at
Greetings mealtime are asked to share the meal. It is impolite to refuse
A handshake is used in formal and social settings, along with offers of food, drink, or a seat. Invited guests are not
verbal greetings. If close friends meet informally, they might necessarily expected to be prompt. Hosts are patient with late
begin a greeting by slapping right hands together. Then, each guests and accommodating of those who arrive early. The
would grasp the other person's middle finger with the thumb host will often accompany a departing guest for a short
and middle finger and “snap.” Another common greeting distance.
involves gently knocking the upper part of one's head against
another's head, once on the left side and twice on the right Eating
while shaking hands or holding arms. Women sometimes kiss At mealtime, people (especially children) may sit on the
each other on alternating cheeks. After these physical ground or on low stools around the food, which may be on a
gestures, inquiries about one's health, family, and crops mat or a low table. Townspeople often have Western-style
usually follow. This is true even when people meet by tables and chairs. While people might use plates and utensils,
chance; just a passing “Hello” to a friend or coworker is not they generally use their hands to eat food from a common
considered polite. A common Sango greeting is Bara ala or bowl. The right hand is used unless the type of food requires
Bala mo (Greetings to you), followed by Tonga na nyen? both hands. Before and after the meal, soap and water are
(How is it going?) or Ala yeke senge? or Mo yeke? (Are you passed around to wash the hands. In villages, men and boys
okay?). French greetings include Bonjour (Good day) or Salut eat together. Girls and young boys eat near their mother by
(Greetings), followed by Ça va? (Everything okay?). French the cooking fire. The mother eats last because she usually is
is not used in villages. still preparing food while others are eating. If guests are
     How one addresses a person depends on the situation. present, they receive the best meat. It is impolite for children


CultureGrams Central African Republic

to eat a large portion of meat or to talk during the meal. she has repaid him the amount of the bride-price. Wedding
     Central Africans generally snack throughout the day. parties can last for days.
Popular snack foods include peanuts, small pieces of grilled      Because of ther expense, many couples live together as
meat, makala (fried dough), fried sweet potatoes, hard-boiled husband and wife without formally marrying. Men are
eggs, kanda (meat, fish, fruit, or termites wrapped in a leaf allowed, by custom, to have relationships outside of marriage,
and steamed), and mangbele (cassava dough wrapped and but women are not. Polygamy is common but less so than in
boiled in leaves). The average person rarely eats at a the past. The poorest can afford only one wife. A woman is
restaurant. Among those who do eat out, hosts pay for anyone often considered part of her deceased husband's inheritance,
they invite. Friends who decide together to eat out pay for meaning she is given to her husband's father or brother as an
their own meals. additional wife, though the practice is banned by law.

Life Cycle
LIFESTYLE Rituals related to the initiation into adulthood vary by ethnic
group. For young boys they often include a series of
Family (sometimes dangerous) tests and the transmission of
The extended family is the basic social unit; it includes the important knowledge. They may coincide with entrance into a
mother, father, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and secret society. Among the Gbaya, the process usually starts at
cousins. They may live together in one home, and great age seven and may last several years. The Sara gather teenage
emphasis is placed on taking care of elderly relatives. Adults boys once every ten years to live in the forest for a month,
often consider nieces and nephews as daughters and sons. after which they are trusted with more responsibilities.
Families are relatively large and can seem larger because Though illegal, female circumcision still plays a role in most
men may have more than one wife (or girlfriend). Each wife initiation rituals for young girls. Discussion about pregnancy
or girlfriend lives apart from the others. Women are is taboo. For example, asking when a baby is due is thought to
responsible for raising their children and providing the family risk bringing bad luck to mother and child. Central Africans
with food. The man provides money for school, clothing, and will travel great distances to attend the funeral of a relative or
the home. close friend. The family of the deceased must lodge, feed, and
     Special pride is taken in introducing someone as, for pay the return trip for all such visitors. Funeral events can last
example, mon frère, même mère, même père (my brother, from a customary three days to a month depending on the
same mother, same father). Un frère (a brother) might be a importance of the deceased. Newborns who die are buried as
half brother or other relation. Un cousin (a cousin) could be a soon as possible to encourage their quick “return” in the form
very distant relative. Ita ti mbi (in Sango) can mean “brother,” of another baby.
“sister,” “half brother,” “cousin,” or even “close friend.”
Housing Lunch is the main meal of the day; dinner consists of
Homes may be made of mud or cement bricks, a dirt or leftovers or fruit. A traditional meal is ngunza with gozo.
cement floor, and a thatched or tin roof. The kitchen may be a Ngunza is a thick sauce made from ground cassava leaves,
thatched hut away from the home, where women cook over tomato paste, and peanut butter. A kpu (similar to a giant
an open fire; outhouses are also located away from the home. mortar and pestle) is used to grind the leaves and prepare
The wealthy might have a kitchen and bathroom attached to many other foods. Gozo is a thick paste made by soaking
their homes. People spend little time at home because they are cassava root in water, drying it in the sun, grinding it into
busy with daily activities. Houses in Bangui have electricity flour, and boiling it. Gozo is then formed into concave balls to
and running water, though these services are often scoop up ngunza. Meals may also include sauces with fish or
interrupted. Outside of the capital, there is no electricity. meat (beef, chicken, goat, sheep, gazelle, monkey, snake, and
Water sources may include a well or spring, which is even elephant).
sometimes located far from the house. Contaminated water is      Catepillars are considered a gourmet dish, available only
a problem. during the rainy season. The country produces a variety of
fruits and vegetables, including sweet potatoes, tomatoes,
Dating and Marriage avocados, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, pineapples, guavas,
Rural inhabitants follow traditional courtship customs. papaya and mangoes. Imports include powdered milk, flour,
Parents sometimes arrange a marriage, and older men rice, and noodles. Banana and palm wine are common drinks.
sometimes take young women as wives. In larger urban areas,
men and women usually choose their own spouse. Although Recreation
illegal, the practice of paying a bride-price to the bride's Because girls and women do household work, tend the fields,
family is common. Depending on the groom's financial status and do the shopping, recreation mostly applies to men and
and reputation, the bride-price can be quite high. It consists of boys. They enjoy playing and watching soccer and basketball.
money, clothing, animals, jewelry, household items, food for Amateur teams compete in the capital and in each large town.
the wedding party, and other items. According to tradition, if Older people enjoy playing awale, a strategy game for two.
a woman leaves her husband, all of her children (including Schools provide all students with some recreation. Basketball,
those fathered by another man) belong to her husband until soccer, handball, and track-and-field are popular. Children


CultureGrams Central African Republic

also like to sing and play games at recess. Some schools have mayor. A makunji (village chief) is elected in each village.
other extracurricular activities, such as theater. Church groups The responsibilities of the makunji depend on the strength of
provide social activities, too. the mayor. The voting age is 18.

The Arts Economy

Music is important to Central Africans. Popular music such as GDP (PPP) in billions: $3.85
zokela blends traditional and Western music. Congolese GDP (PPP) per capita: $800
music is most popular for entertainment, but folk music
accompanies ceremonies and festivals. Traditional The economy is based on agriculture, and most people are
instruments include banana tree xylophones and sanza, a subsistence farmers. Coffee, cotton, tobacco, bananas, and
thumb piano. Each ethnic group has a distinct style and timber are exported and used locally; food crops and livestock
ensemble of skin drums and log drums. Specific drumming are raised for domestic consumption. Industry usually centers
rhythms are used for certain events. Music is integral to most on food processing. Diamonds and timber account for most
religious events. Oral histories are performed by older export earnings, but corruption in these industries prevents
villagers through a call-and-response progression of songs the profits from significantly improving the country's overall
and chants. economic well-being. France is an important trade partner. It
     Fine artists often incorporate traditional themes, materials, also provides loans and grants to the country. A highly
and images into modern compositions. Contemporary folk unequal distribution of wealth means that the Central African
arts include pottery, basket and mat weaving, and wood Republic's gross domestic product per capita masks the great
carving. Artists carve stools, figurines, masks, and musical poverty among the vast majority of people (e.g., subsistence
instruments. Folk arts and historical artifacts are preserved in farmers) who do not earn an income or do not earn enough to
the Boganda Museum in Bangui. meet basic needs. The nation's currency is the CFA franc
Central Africans observe New Year's Day, Fête du Travail Transportation and Communications
(Labor Day, 1 May), Fête des Mères (Mother's Day, end of Internet Users (per 100 people): 2
May), Independence Day (13 Aug.), and last, the Declaration Cellular Phone Subscriptions (per 100 people): 41
of Independence from France (1 Dec.). The latter is the Paved Roads: NA
biggest holiday, celebrated countrywide with parades and
festivities. Schoolchildren practice for months to perform on The main form of intercity transportation is a small pickup or
this day. For Mother's Day in urban areas, men stay home to van called a taxi brousse (bush-taxi). They are affordable but
cook and women get together to socialize, play sports, and crowded and overloaded with luggage. People also hitchhike,
dance. Christians celebrate Easter and Christmas. Muslims while some have mopeds or bicycles. Short trips (up to 30
have a great feast at the end of Ramadan (the month during miles, or 48 kilometers) are sometimes made on foot. Very
which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown) and for Tabaski few roads are paved.
(Feast of the Sacrifice, which honors Abraham's willingness      A post office in Bangui handles mail to and from other
to sacrifice his son). countries, but elsewhere in the country, postal service is
unavailable. People often send letters with travelers going in
the appropriate direction, or they transmit messages via
SOCIETY national radio. Telephone service is nationalized but very
limited; several private companies provide cellular
Government connections, which are increasing in number despite
Head of State: Pres. Michel Djotodia relatively limited coverage areas.
Head of Government: PM Nicolas Tiangaye
Capital: Bangui Education
Adult Literacy: 56%
In March 2013, Michel Djotodia took overtook the Mean Years of Schooling: 3.5
government of the Central African Republic in a coup. He
suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament. Djotodia Children begin primary school at age seven. Attendance is
has stated that he will head a transitional government (which mandatory, but fewer than half of the eligible students are
will include the sitting prime minister) for three years, after enrolled. Some cannot afford registration fees or do not have
which elections will be held.  enough clothing or food to stay in school. Books are scarce,
     Under the constitution in place when Djotodia took power, so teachers write lessons on the board and students copy them
the president is head of state and has most executive powers. in their notebooks. About 43 percent of boys and 45 percent
The prime minister is head of government. Members of the of girls go on to secondary school. Successful graduates may
105-seat National Assembly are elected to five-year terms. go to the university in Bangui or to a technical school. Some
There is a separate judicial branch that includes both a study abroad.
Supreme Court and a Constitutional Court. The country's 14
prefectures are divided into sub-prefectures. Each town has a Health


CultureGrams Central African Republic

The Central African Republic lacks adequate health care.
Healthcare professionals are often dedicated but underpaid.
Public clinics exist in cities, but equipment is usually
outdated and patients are required to provide their own
anesthetics and medicine (available at pharmacies). Public
facilities are virtually nonexistent in villages. Private clinics
operate in the capital. Missionaries run rural clinics.
Traditional healers in rural areas treat illness with organic
medicine and rituals. If children survive to age six, they have
a good chance of living to adulthood. Women often have
children in their late teens, and many die in childbirth.
Malaria, hepatitis, AIDS, polio, intestinal parasites, and river
blindness are common.

Contact Information
Embassy of the Central African Republic, 1618 22nd Street
NW, Washington, DC 20008; phone (202) 483-7800.

Country and Development Data

Capital Bangui
Population 5,166,510 (rank=117)
Area (sq. mi.) 240,536 (rank=46)
Area (sq. km.) 622,984
Human Development Index 180 of 187 countries
Gender Inequality Index 142 of 148 countries
GDP (PPP) per capita $800
Adult Literacy 69% (male); 43% (female)
Infant Mortality 95.04 per 1,000 births
Life Expectancy 47 (male); 50 (female)
Currency CFA franc


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