Central African Republic

Capital

Bangui

Population

4.6 million

Languages

French, Sango

Year of Independence

1960

Global Peace Index Rank

158 of 162

Population without Access to Clean Water

10%

History

Central African Republic (CAR) has a history of sectarian violence, political instability and underdevelopment. In 1958, CAR achieved independence and Barthelemy Boganda was elected as prime minister. Following the prime minister’s death, David Dacko was elected as the first president of CAR in 1960, only to be removed in a coup five years later by former army general Jean-Bédel Bokassa. Bokassa declared himself president and emperor for life. His reign ended in 1988 and he was sentenced to life in prison for murder, corruption, and embezzlement.

1993 marked the end of military rule and the beginning of political parties under the newly elected President Ange-Felix Patasse. Coups, strikes, riots and mutinies by former presidents, soldiers, and civil servants erupted between 1993 – 2002. President Patasse was overthrown in 2003 by rebel leader Francois Bozize who seized the capital, Bangui, declared himself president, and disbanded parliament. From 2008 to 2009, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, raided CAR and more than a million people were affected. In November of 2012, a new rebel coalition, called Séléka, overran the north and center of the country.

President Bozize fled and Séléka rebel leader Michel Djotodia suspended the constitution, dissolved the parliament and was sworn in as president. This was the eighth coup since CAR’s independence from France. After Djotodia’s rise to power, opposition militias called the Anti-Balaka formed and quickly became identified as a Christian rebel group. Early 2014 marked a turning point; hardened by war and massacres, the Anti-Balaka committed multiple atrocities. In 2014, Amnesty International reported several massacres committed by Anti-Balaka against predominantly Muslim civilians, forcing thousands of Muslims to flee the country.

Current Conflict

For the past several years, CAR has been in a crisis state with weakened rule of law, major public health concerns and extensive violence. Daily violent clashes continued to displace thousands already living in dire conditions. As opposing factions controlled vast areas and armed groups splintered, the situation is increasingly complex and unpredictable. Armed groups fight to preserve their villages from being plundered, others are motivated by the promise of economic opportunity, while others are trying to restore peace and order.

The United Nations refugee agency described the situation as “a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions.” Since December 2013, approximately 25% of CAR’s population has been internally displaced by the conflict, which has divided the country along ethno-religious lines. At the peak of the unrest in early 2014, more than 930,000 people were displaced. More than half of the population is still in need of humanitarian assistance. Simultaneously, this conflict has had a regional impact, with more than 190,000 refugees having fled to neighboring countries since December 2013. As of August 2014, approximately 508,000 people remained internally displaced in CAR – a decrease from previous figures.

Following interim President Michel Djotoda’s resignation in January 2014, Catherine Samba-Panza took over as interim president, one of three women presidents on the African continent at the time. Peacekeeping forces were deployed to quell the violence, with around 12,000 troops in the country as of September 2015. The presence of peacekeeping troops has been fraught with issues. Disturbingly high numbers of cases of sexual abuse by peacekeepers have been reported, with 108 new cases coming to light, mostly with child victims.

Communal clashes broke out in Bangui after a Muslim taxi-driver was attacked in September of 2015. The Pope’s visit in November of that year brought calls for peace between Muslims and Christians and in December the new constitution was approved in a referendum. Parliamentary and presidential elections progressed peacefully, but constitutional court annulled the results of parliamentary elections citing irregularities. In February 2016, former prime minister Faustin Archange Touadera won the presidency in the country’s run-off elections, with 63% of the vote. The relative peace that accompanied the elections is a victory for the entire country, and although the wounds of the bitter conflict have not healed just yet, the democratically-elected regime is a significant step towards reconciliation and peace.