Hello! I know it’s been a while! I took sometime off to be, really be with my family. I feel very well nourished! ^ ^
So… I’m extending my stay in the Central African Republic until September 15th. Today we will travel to its capital Bangui. Ready?
Bangui was established as a French outpost in 1889 by Albert Dolisie and Alfred Uzac. It was named after its location on the northern bank of the Ubangi River (French: Oubangui). ( The Ubangui river was named from the Bobangui word for the “rapids” located beside the settlement, which marked the end of navigable water north from Brazzaville (the capital of the Republic of the Congo).
The majority of the population of the Central African Republic lives in this city and its surroundings. It is estimated at 889,231 in 2020. (1)
The city consists of eight urban districts (arrondissements), 16 groups (groupements) and 205 neighbourhoods (quartiers). As the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui acts as an administrative, trade, and commercial centre. The National Assembly, government buildings, banks, foreign enterprises and embassies, hospitals, hotels, main markets and the Ngaragba Central Prison are all located here. (1)
Here is a map where you can see Bangui and it position respect the Ubangui river.
And these are of the city in general:
And here are some photos of the river:
This one shows the division between the Central African Republic and the Republic of the Congo.
The river port in Bangui handles the overwhelming majority of the country’s international trade and has a cargo handling capacity of 350,000 tons. River ferries sail from the river port at Bangui to Brazzaville and Zongo (Province in the northwestern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo). The river can be navigated most of the year between Bangui and Brazzaville. From Brazzaville, goods are transported by rail to Pointe-Noire (the second largest city in the Republic of the Congo), Congo’s Atlantic port.
At the beginning of this post I thought I’d cover the main buildings in this city, just like I had done with other countries, but the more I read about Bangui, the more I realized I had to cover other aspects of this city like its organization and the condition of the people who live here.
Bangui attracts people from the countryside in the hopes of a better life, to escape rural poverty.
“Rural to urban migration takes place every day: The city swells and accepts more people. The capital suffers from a lack of sanitation with open sewers, poor housing and drainage, and hand-dug wells. The conditions of the kodros are at the same level or below those of rural areas. Despite the poverty and deteriorating conditions, people live lives that include joy. Centrafricans find ways to make livings and have some time to enjoy themselves as well.” (2)
Did you catch the word kodro? Me too, here is what it means:
Kodro means “place of lineage, origin, area or village where one decides. In Bangui it is a kind of neighborhood that developed shortly after the Second World War. For example, a family of a particular ethnic group moved to Bangui and the man became the founding migrant… then his descendants and related group members when they came to Bangui would move to the same area. “This area or village resembles the villages in the rural areas in its use pf space, the kinds of houses it contains, its leadership, its population and even the names used to designate a specific area. ” (2)
KM5, the neighborhood that is five kilometers from the physical center of town, is what many people consider to really be Bangui. The big Notre Dame d’Afrique is in this quarter, as is the city’s largest mosque. It is home to the city’s largest market and many of the foreign merchants who control the trade in luxury goods. People of all ethnic backgrounds live and work in KM5. (2)
Bangui is one of the safest places in this country so many people send their kids to work here. Children as young as 8 years can arrive to this city to try and fend for themselves. They are known as Godové.
Godobé is the term for a child who lives by his or her wits on the streets of Bangui. The greatest number of this complex group come from fragile families in which the parents are struggling greatly and the children need to work; these children spend time with their families on an irregular basis. There is a group that comes from more desperate straits, who have either been abandoned by or have abandoned their families, or at least, have serious conflicts with their kin. These Godobé are not solely the products of economically disadvantaged homes; some have good family ties. Children with physical disabilities are often left to the life of the Godobé because their parents do not have the resources to care for them.
The Godobé make a living by carrying packages for shoppers, watching parked cars, and helping women who run street stalls by fetching water and cleaning the grills. These tasks bring only slight remuneration. The Godobé also sell plastic bags, cigarettes, bottles of gasoline and kerosene, or anything else that they can procure. As these young people spend more time on the streets, they turn to begging, thievery, prostitution, and drugs. Marijuana is the drug of choice for most of these youth, but sniffing is also popular: glue, gasoline, and other solvents. Also, antimalarials are crushed and snorted, and some of these children have graduated to opium or cocaine. But not all are criminals or drug users.
Some say that this is the most dangerous place for children in the world. It is not only poverty in the rural areas or disabilities that has brought this children to Bangui but the unrelenting civil war that has plagued this country since 2012. This ongoing conflict has led to at least 2.6 million Central African people, including 1.2 million children, being in need of urgent assistance and 1 million being forcibly displaced (Haynes, 2019; UNICEF, 2020). The under-five mortality rate of children in the Central African Republic is the sixth highest in the world, with 116 of every 1000 children losing their lives before their fifth birthday (UNICEF, 2020).
It is hard to now write about some of the sites in this city after writing about the precarious situation of children in this country, but this seems hopeful:
Boganda National Museum
This museum is also known as the Barthélémy Boganda National Ethnographic Museum and it takes its name from the Central African Republic’s first minister.
The museum holds artifacts which cover the culture and ethnography of the Central African Republic and hosts items from all 16 provinces of the country. It has many collections covering the culture of the country, including one collection focussing on the ethnic group of pygmy people. Other sections of the collection focus on ethnography, archeology and natural history of the region. The culture is documented through pottery, historic coins, traditional African masks and musical instruments, as well as weapons, hunting tools and religious objects.
The most impressive information I read about this museum came from an article HERE. It describes how its current director, Abel Kotton is trying to reopem this museum. The building has suffered great damage during this country’s civil war and much of its collection that escaped looting sits in wooden crates on the second floor. This is one of the few photos one can find of this museum in the internet :
This museum is located right in its downtown center. I tried using Google Maps to get a feel for this city, but there is no street view available. But… I found a video someone posted that made me feel a bit what it was like to be there… HERE. This photo also via Goole Maps is from 2017:
Cathédrale Notre Dame of Bangui
The main Cathedral in the Central African Republic is made of red bricks and has a three door facade. A niche with the virgin Mary welcomes visitors high at the center entrance. It also has two towers that are similar to the towers of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
Catholicism was introduced back in the days when the country was a colony of France with the arrival of Monsignor Augouard in 1893. Augouard established the Saint-Paul mission, which opened its doors in 1894. A few years after that, the Notre-Dame of Bangui Cathedral was built in the center of the so-called “European city.”
And this is what it looks like inside:
Grande Mosquée de Bangui
This is the biggest and main mosque in the country. It is located in a neighborhoos called Koudoukou. Not sure what color it is currently but I found photos of it painted in blue and also painted in green. People can gather in this mosque to pray up to five times a day. When it is a “peak time” the prayers also gather in front of the mosque forming neat rows.
These are photos of the exterior in blue:
And these with the exterior in green:
This is a map that shows the location of the mosque:
“The life of the typical Central African is one of hard work and struggle, no matter if the person lives in the countryside, town, or city. People work, sleep, and play hard. Formal employment is the exception rather than the rule in the Central African Republic. The education system is plagued by many problems, including a lack of personnel and insufficient funding. Muslims send their children to Qu’ranic schools. Agriculture is the field in which the largest number of people work. The informal sector is a powerful factor in urban areas, and it really drives the economy of Bangui. From market women vendors to taxi drivers to the little boy selling soap from a shallow basin held on top of his head, one can find just about everything one needs without going through any formal organizations.” (2)
These are photos from a BBC article about the Civil War and its effects in its people. Dating from 2013. (HERE)
Last HERE you can find the personal account of a man that travelled to Bangui. It was fascinating to read.
(2) Book: Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic by Jacqueline Woodfork.