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A History of the Wildest State in Africa

cental african republic


The Central African Republic lies in the heart of the dark continent bordering the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Sudan, and Cameroon. There are riches to be found in the earth but its inland position complicates the trade. Their most important export is the most valuable one: Diamonds. Unfortunately, this has not made the inhabitants rich, for more than 30 % of all the country’s diamond production gets exported illegally.


The First Settlements in the Central African Republic

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Map of Africa by Ptolemy, 1482, via the National Library of Israel


The settlement of the African inland date back tens of thousands of years. As the desserts grew, people were driven to move further South. Research shows that farming and essential agricultural technologies were discovered around three thousand years ago in this area. For many African nations, yam is an important crop. This kind of sweet potato is so typical for the region that it has a specific place in the regional culture. Yams are the center of all things. Producing yam in his fields is every man’s first responsibility. Learning how to harvest yams is an essential skill young men learn.


Around the time when Central African people discovered agriculture, they also learned another distinct activity of human beings — drunkenness. Every culture knows how to create alcohol and drugs, and the Central African nations are no exception. They got their spirits from fermenting bananas. Other products exported from this region include: copper, salt, textile, and dried fish. Thus, life went on for thousands of years until the colonists came in the 19th century.


The Dark Ages: The Slave Trade

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The Central African Republican village, by Brice Blondel, 2008, via Flickr


When Western civilization finally understood that Europeans were not alone on Earth in the 16th century, adventurers went to various African islands. But only rarely. Until the 18th century, the people of the future Central African Republic lived happily overlooked by the colonists. But things changed when the slave trade reached its limits, and no enslaved people were to be found near the shores of Africa. Then the slave hunters came closer and closer until the hell they caused reached the Central regions as well. Europeans were not alone in the blood and tears they cause. Arabs came here to hunt for enslaved people as well. The only difference was that the Europeans preferred strong men for hard labor, while the Arabs hunted for beautiful and fertile women.

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Slave-hunting destroyed the Central African region entirely until the end of the 19th century. The population to the East of the future Central African Republic ceased to exist. In these parts, even today, the population density remains at one inhabitant per square kilometer (0.38 miles), despite natural resources being far from scarce here and the Central African Republic’s population growing four times yearly. After the hunters, the colonists came, and then an absolute hell began.


The Race for Africa Begins

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The Panorama of Congo, by Paul Mathieu, 1913, via Wikipedia Commons


Every state wanted its colonies at the end of the 19th century. And some superpowers — Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy — came late to participate in the world’s partition. Only a little was left to colonize. The First World War was primarily fought as a desperate attempt to reorganize the new world. The British, the French, and the Portuguese had some experience ruling new worlds, but the worst cruelties were behind them. The newcomers — Belgium, Germany, and Italy — wanted to get as much as possible out of their new colonies in the fastest possible way. The result was terror. The governments entrusted private companies with pillaging the natural resources of the colonies, and there were no boundaries to what humans could inflict on another human. Concentration camps, terrible punishments for the slightest disobedience, famine, horrible hygiene, you name it. In his novel The Heart of Darkness, British author of Polish origin, Joseph Conrad, described the horror under Belgian rule in Congo.


The Origins of the Central African Republic

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From Bangui to Syria: towards the first operation of the Oubangui-Chari Marching Battalion, 1940, Unknown Author, via Image Defense


The superpowers divided African land on maps on the table and then came and took that land. Thus today, the borders of many African states are straight as a ruler. The future Central African Republic was part of a French colony named French Equatorial Africa, and 1920s French politicians decided that the newly formed administration would be responsible for cotton production.


Because the treatment of workers was state-supervised, terrible excesses did not happen often. Only now, after more than 300 years, the colonizers began to treat the African people like human beings. Missionaries came, literacy grew, and sanitation grew better. Western medicine tried to limit the death toll from Sleeping fever that killed locals and French alike. But the locals paid the price when the government decided to build a railway. The railways finally diminished export expenses for the colonists, but the locals were forced to build it in terrible working conditions, working long hours for minimal wages.


The Colonial World Falls Apart

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The city center of Bangui, 2014, via Wikimedia Commons


However, colonial enthusiasm was slowly evaporating in the first half of the 20th century. Europeans realized that colonies were getting more expensive. They did not want to invest in education and infrastructure because that would make the African nations more independent. And without these investments, extracting natural resources became too costly.


The First World War also changed the game. The colonial nations helped win the war and the nationalist sentiments that created many small countries within Europe after the war also resonated on other continents. Europe was weaker after the war — economically and morally. Upheavals and calls for independence became louder, the public became more sensitive, and state finances were depleted. In the second half of the 20th century, most colonies gained independence. The Central African Republic among them — with little trouble, it became an independent state in 1960. Its colonial masters in France were exhausted by the Algerian War and could not afford another one. French Equatorial Africa was undeveloped and lost money. Nobody moved a finger in Paris when the African nations in this region proclaimed independence.


Central African Republic Becomes an Empire.

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Emperor Bokassa, via the Irish Times


In 1965 a new president was elected. His name was Jean-Bedél Bokassa. He was an eccentric figure and decided to name himself an emperor in a lavish ceremony. Bokassa ruled the Central African Empire with a firm hand. More than that, his administration was not short on excessive demonstrations of power. In the last of them, hundreds of young people and children died.


Students rebelled against the duty to wear uniforms produced in a factory owned by one of Bokassa’s wives. The revolt was crushed without mercy, and the French government stepped in and helped overthrow the African emperor. But the new government did not last long without French support. And thus, it went on; One by one, new administrations fell, usually through a military coup.


The Central African Republic Today

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Bayaka people in the Dzanga Sangha Ndoki reserve, 2014, via Wikipedia Commons


Since 2004, the people of the Central African Republic have lived in the agony of permanent civil war. Foreign powers usually stay away, so we only read about it in Western media occasionally. Few people understand the situation, although sometimes France steps in.


In 2007, government officials asked their former colonial masters for help to defeat rebels. France answered and bombarded the positions of the rebels. But it did not change much. The last official intervention took place in 2014. French President Holland asked the UN to send a peace mission. He succeeded, and 11,000 (primarily French) soldiers went to the Central African Republic only to give the power swing a little push again. The last election in CAR took place in 2020. But in some regions, militant groups prevented civilians from participating in the election.


The self-proclaimed president, Faustin Archange Touadéra, has no authority in most of the country but the Central African Republic is not exceptional among its African neighbors. Many smaller African states have suffered similarly throughout history. They might have had different colonial masters or different histories of foreign intervention, but the result is the same. Only in the case of the Central African Republic, the situation is the worst according to all measures.


The Central African Republic and Russia

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Vladimir Putin meeting the President of the Central African Republic Faustin Archange Touadera, Mikhail Metzel, 2019, via Wikimedia Commons


Lately, former colonial powers have been reluctant to intervene. The public usually disagrees, and Europe has had enough of its problems. Thus, it happened that another powerful player stepped on the chessboard. After the intervention of the UN troops in 2014 failed, the UN declared an embargo on the importation of weapons to the Central African Republic. UN troops were supposed to keep peace in the capital, yet, there were too few; they needed help from the army of another state. France said its final no. Its former colony cost the French too much.


Yet, in Moscow, they raised their hands and offered help. Thus, Russia gained permission to import weapons to the Central African Republic and train its troops. But more importantly, the Russian-supported government permitted to mine and exploit any natural riches the country offered, including diamonds. This government rules one-fifth of the country; the rest lies in complete chaos. But the people in the capital express their gratitude to the new “colonial” ruler and for the relative peace they have experienced lately. Whatever we might think about their sentiments, the country has seen worse, and the suffering of the nation (if it is a nation at all) is far from over.

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