History of the Central African Republic

Early History

10,000 – 6,000 BCE Desertification forced hunter-gatherer societies south into the Sahel regions of northern Central Africa, where some groups settled. (1)

3500 – 2700 BCE The Bouar Megaliths in the western region of the country indicate an advanced level of habitation dating back to the very late Neolithic Era. “The cooperation necessary to make and position these monuments suggests that they were built by fairly large social units. “(2)

The Ubangian people settled along the Ubangi River in what is today Central and East Central African Republic while some Bantu peoples migrated from the southwest from Cameroon.

16th–19th century

1600 Arabic speaking traders come to the area and seize local people to sell them in the slave trade to places to the north like Egypt and Turkey. In the mid 19th century, the Bobangi people became major slave traders and sold their captives to the Americas using the Ubangi river to reach the coast.

In exchange for captives, the slave traders received arms, which allowed them to continue to raid for more slaves. Though these raids largely ended by the end of the century, they continued in the north until 1912 when Dar al-Kuti fell. The slave trade disrupted the societies in its wake and depopulated the region. It also created lasting tensions between ethnic groups. The ruling elite is still resented today by many in Central Africa because they tend to come from riverine groups akin to the Bobangi. (2)

1700 Bandia-Nzakara Azande peoples established the Bangassou Kingdom along the Ubangi River.

The Sultan of Bangassou and his wives, 1906. Cr. Wikimedia Commons

French Colonial Period

Because of of its remote location to the sea, the area of the Central African Republic experienced a “late” arrival of Europeans and colonialism.

1880-1900 During the last two decades of the 19th century, Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, and France competed for control of equatorial Africa. Belgium, Germany, and France each wanted the region that would eventually become the Central African Republic.

1880 France takes control of the area.

1889 France establishes the city of Bangui. (3)

1903 France officially names the territory Oubangui-Chari, with Bangui as its capital.

1906-1090 Baram-Bakie leads the Vridi people in a revolt against eh French colonists.

1910 France establishes French Equatorial Africa (AEF), which includes Oubangui-Chari, Gabon, Congo and Chad.

Cr. zebratigerfish.blogspot.com

The French government leased large tracts of land to private European companies in order to avoid paying for the development of its Central African possessions. It also placed few controls on their activities. In exchange for an annual rent, these firms exploited the land and dominated the people. Company overseers forced both men and women to gather wild rubber, hunt for ivory and animal skins, and work on plantations. (2)

Scholars estimate that the population dropped by one third between the 1890’s and the 1930’s. (4)

Unable to cultivate their own fields because of the labour demands from European companies, they experienced food shortages and famine. Because they were forced to work in new environments where they were exposed to sleeping sickness, new strains of malaria, and other diseases, the death rate substantially increased. (2)

1920 The French government forces thousands of men from Oubanqui-Chari to work on the Congo-Ocean Railroad, hundred of miles from their homes. (1)

1928–31 There was a wide-spread anti-colonial rebellion called the Kongo-Wara. It was short lived and its leaders were imprisoned and executed and populations of Central Africans were forced to relocate to colonially designated villages where they could be supervised.

1939-1945 World War II rages in Europe, Asia and North Africa. Soldiers from Oubangui-Cari fight in support of the French. Members of the regions different ethnic groups fight sides by side and develop a national identity that results in an independent movement. (1)

After the war, French citizenship was granted to all Africans in French colonies.

1946 Barthélemy Boganda becomes the first , Central African elected to the French National Assembly.

Barthélemy Boganda Cr. alchetron. com
Barthélemy Boganda with Charles De Gaulle. Cr. alchetron. com

1956 A law grants equal rights in colonial elections. Boganda becomes the First President of the Assembly with his party, the Social Evolution of Black Africa (MESAN).

1958 With a rush towards independence in much of Francophone Africa, Boganda calls for independence of Oubangui-Chari.

Boganda envisioned Oubangui-Chari not as an independent country, but as part of a larger, more economically viable United States of Latin Africa that would include the present-day states of Angola , Cameroon, both Congos, Chad, Gabon, Rwanda, and Burundi. He creates the current CAR flag for this dream of the United States of Latin Africa.

But differences among the nationalist leadership in the various colonies soon made such a federation impossible, and later that year Boganda accepted a constitution covering only Oubangui-Chari, renamed the Central African Republic. (4)

1959 On february 16th, the Assembly adopts a Democratic constitution. On March 29th, Boganda is mysteriously killed in a plane crash. Dr. Goumba takes charge as an interim president.

Boganda is considered to this day not only a hero and father to his nation but also one of the great leaders in the decolonization of Africa.

Independence (1960 – present)

1960 On August 13, the Central African Republic becomes independent. David Dacko, a family member and close confidant of the popular Boganda is elected by the National Assembly as the CAR’s first president. Dr. Goumba’s opposition party movement MEDAC ( Movement pour l’evolution Démocratique de l’Afrique Centrale) achieves relative success in the partial elections of the National Assembly. (3)

Dacko’s greatest success was probably in education—the number of children attending school doubled during his presidency. (4)

December 24, Dr. Goumba and personalities of MEDAC arrested after they demnstrate against the laws.

1962 Creation of a Central African national army. Dacko dissolves all political parties other than MESAN. He creates a single union.

1964 Election of a single candidate, Dacko as president of the Republic for 7 years.

1965 Sango joins French as a national language of the CAR.

Bokassa and the Central African Empire (1965–1979)

1965 On December 31st, Jean Bedel Bokassa leads a nearly bloodless coup, taking control of the CAR and dissolves the National Assembly.

1976 President Bokassa declared himself President for Life in 1972 and named himself Emperor Bokassa I of the Central African Empire (as the country was renamed) on 4 December 1976. This is a video that showcases this day and his influence in the country even 40 years after:

Jean-Bedel Bokassa arriving at the coronation ceremony. Cr. rarehistoricalphotos. com
Jean-Bedel Bokassa arriving at the coronation ceremony. Cr. rarehistoricalphotos. com

French corporations retained control of most of the country’s diamond exports, timber concessions, agricultural estates, and import-export trade. Bokassa, meanwhile, diverted income from these firms for his own enrichment. In the 1970s, exports to and imports from France accounted for over 60 percent of the country’s trade, and almost 90 percent of the CAR’s aid came from France. But the country’s development came to a standstill as Bokassa pocketed much of the aid, or used it for unnecessary and unsuccessful projects. (4)

1976 Bokassa appoints Elisabeth Domitien as the nation’s prime minister, making her the first female prime minister in an African nation. (1)

Elisabeth Domitien Cr. emca.co. za

1977 The president-for-life crowned himself Emperor Bokassa in an elaborate coronation ceremony modeled after Napoleon’s, complete with a diamond-studded crown. The coronation reportedly cost one-third of the government’s annual revenue, though France underwrote much of the expense. Bokassa also enthroned several relatives, including his wife as empress, and created an imperial court near his hometown. (4)

1979 The Children’s Massacre at Bangui takes place. 100 schoolchildren were murdered as they protested the requirement that they purchase uniforms from a factory owned by Bokassa’s wife. International outcry ensued, and the French, concluding that Bokassa had outlived his usefulness, sent troops to oust him. They reinstated Dacko as president and backed him financially. (4)

André Kolingba Government (1981-1993)

1981 General André Kolingba leads a coup that removes unpopular Dacko from office.

General André Kolingba Cr. Amazon. ca

1981-1985 Kolingba suspended the constitution and ruled with a military junta.

1986 Under International pressure, Kolingba reforms the National Assembly.

1987-1988 Semi-free elections to parliament were held, but Kolingba’s two major political opponents, Abel Goumba and Ange-Félix Patassé, were not allowed to participate.

Kolingba’s repressive rule and his enforcement of the economic austerity measures required by foreign lenders sparked strikes and riots in the capital.

1993  Facing growing internal unrest and international pressure, Kolingba agrees to hold open presidential and legislative elections. Both Kolingba and Dacko ran; however, opposition candidate Patassé and his party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People, won the elections on a platform promising to pay the back salaries of soldiers and civil servants.

Ange-Félix Patassé. Cr. Republique Togolaise

Ange-Félix Patassé government (1993–2003)

1996 The CAR’s disastrous finances made full repayment impossible. Angry over unpaid wages, soldiers loot and riot in Bangui. Patassé called upon the French to suppress the revolt. The Peace Corps evacuated all its volunteers to neighboring Cameroon. To date, the Peace Corps has not returned to the Central African Republic.

1997 The Bangui Agreements, signed in January 1997, provided for the deployment of an inter-African military mission, to the Central African Republic and re-entry of ex-mutineers into the government on 7 April 1997. The inter-African military mission was later replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force (MINURCA). Since 1997, the country has hosted almost a dozen peacekeeping interventions, earning it the title of “world champion of peacekeeping”. (5)

1999 Patassé is reelected with an overwhelming majority of votes.

2001 Rebels stormed strategic buildings in Bangui in an unsuccessful coup attempt. The army chief of staff, Abel Abrou, and General François N’Djadder Bedaya were killed, but Patassé regained the upper hand by bringing in at least 300 troops of the Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and Libyan soldiers. (5)

2003 Francois Bozizé launched a surprise attack against Patassé, who was out of the country. Libyan troops and some 1,000 soldiers of Bemba’s Congolese rebel organization failed to stop the rebels and Bozizé’s forces succeeded in overthrowing Patassé.

Cr. The New York Times

Civil Wars

2005 Bozizé is elected president. Flooding in the Bangui leaves 20,000 people homeless.

2006 Rebels seize the northeatern town of Birao.

2007 In November 2006, Bozizé’s government requested French military support to help them repel rebels who had taken control of towns in the country’s northern regions. Though the initial public details of the agreement pertained to logistics and intelligence, by December the French assistance included airstrikes by Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters against rebel positions. These leaves thousands of Central Africans homeless.

2011 Bozizé is reelected in an election which was widely considered fraudulent.

2012  Séléka, a coalition of rebel groups, took over towns in the northern and central regions of the country. These groups eventually reached a peace deal with the Bozizé’s government in January 2013 involving a power sharing government but this deal broke down and the rebels seized the capital in March 2013 and Bozizé fled the country.

-While in power from 2003 to 2013, President Bozizé attempted to centralise control of diamond extraction and trade, cutting out of the market many northern diamond traders. Bozizé also attempted to gain greater control over the smuggling and trade routes throughout the country, threatening the little access to trade and revenue many in the north had remaining to them. (6)

– According to reports from human rights groups, many of the original commanders of the Séléka coalition were “Big Men” of the northern economy who fought to grow their control of the country’s resources and to keep Bangui out of their existing networks. Some of François Bozizé’s ministers even claimed that the Séléka takeover of the country was “a ‘coup’ by the diamond merchants.” (6)

Séléka rebels Cr.Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

2013-2014 Michel Djotodia took over as president. Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye requested a UN peacekeeping force from the UN Security Council and on the May 31st, former President Bozizé, was indicted for crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide. By the end of the year there were international warnings of a “genocide” and fighting was largely from reprisal attacks on civilians from Seleka’s predominantly Muslim fighters and Christian militias called “anti-balaka.” By August 2013, there were reports of over 200,000 internally displaced persons. 

French President François Hollande called on the UN Security Council and African Union to increase their efforts to stabilize the country.

On 18 February, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the UN Security Council to immediately deploy 3,000 troops to the country, bolstering the 6,000 African Union soldiers and 2,000 French troops already in the country, to combat civilians being murdered in large numbers. The Séléka government was said to be divided.

Djotodia officially disbanded Séléka, but many rebels refused to disarm, becoming known as ex-Séléka, and veered further out of government control. It is argued that the focus of the initial disarmament efforts exclusively on the Séléka inadvertently handed the anti-Balaka the upper hand, leading to the forced displacement of Muslim civilians by anti-Balaka in Bangui and western Central African Republic.

2014 Michael Djotodia and Nicolas Tiengaye resigned as part of a deal negotiated at a regional summit in neighboring Chad.Catherine Samba-Panza was elected as interim president by the National Transitional Council, becoming the first ever female Central African president. 

On July 23rd, following Congolese mediation efforts, Séléka and anti-balaka representatives signed a ceasefire agreement in Brazzaville. By the end of 2014, the country was de facto partitioned with the anti-Balaka in the southwest and ex-Seleka in the northeast. In March 2015, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said 417 of the country’s 436 mosques had been destroyed, and Muslim women were so scared of going out in public they were giving birth in their homes instead of going to the hospital. On 14 December 2015, Séléka rebel leaders declared an independent Republic of Logone.

To this day this country has a civil war led the anti-Balaka and the ex-Seleka.

 Faustin-Archange Touadéra government (2016–)

2016 On February of former Prime Minister Faustin-Archange Touadéra was declared the winner with 63% of the vote, defeating Union for Central African Renewal candidate Anicet-Georges Dologuélé, another former Prime Minister.While the elections suffered from many potential voters being absent as they had taken refuge in other countries, the fears of widespread violence were ultimately unfounded and the African Union regarded the elections as successful.

2020 After the end of Touadéra’s first term, presidential elections were held on the 27th December. As large parts of the country were at the time controlled by armed groups, the election could not be conducted in many areas of the country. Some 800 of the country’s polling stations, 14% of the total, were closed due to violence.Three Burundian peacekeepers were killed and an additional two were wounded during the run-up to the election. President Faustin Archange Touadéra was reelected in the first round of the election in December 2020. Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group have supported President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in the fight against rebels. Russia’s Wagner group has been accused of harassing and intimidating civilians. (1). You can read more about this HERE.

President of the Central African Republic Faustin Archange Touadera at the Russia-Africa summit Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Credits

  1. Book: Central African Republic by Matt Doeden. ©2009 By the Lerner Publishing Group.
  2. Encyclopedia Brittanica
  3. Book: Historical Dictionart of the Central African Republic by Pierre Kalck. ©2005 Scarecrow Press
  4. Oxford African Studies Center. Article by Eric Young
  5. Wikipedia
  6. Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. Article by Emily Mellgard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s