The Central Africans call their country “Béafrika” which means “the heart of Africa”. As its name suggests it is a landlocked country just north of the equator, and smack in the middle of Africa. It borders Chad, Cameroun, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo.
The country covers a land area of about 620.000 km2 and has an estimated population of 4,4 million as of 2008.
The Central African Republic was a French colony until 1958, when the country got its independence. Since then the country has had x different presidents. The most notorious was Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who took the power by force on 31 December 1965, and then suspended the constitution and dissolved the National Assembly. Bokassa declared himself president for life and named himself Emperor Bokassa I of the Central African Empire. Like others before and after him, he lost power in a relatively bloodless Coup d’Etat supposedly orchestrated by France.
Numerous coups and (questionably) democratic elections later, Central Africa finds itself today with an legitimate government that is already making positive waves in Bangui and beyond. President Faustin-Archange Touadera won the second round of Elections on February 20, 2016 and was inaugurated on March 30, 2016. In his first few weeks in office, President Touadera and his Prime Minister Sarandji have demonstrated that they are serious about improving the government of CARs work ethic. They have made it a habit of dropping in unannounced to various Ministry and to public markets to confirm for themselves that working hours are respected, and that planned actions are executed. Touadera’s first official trip out of the country (on a commercial jet) was to meet with the Pope and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, showing his commitment to peace and food security for his population.
The location of CAR on the African continent gives the country a tropical climate, with high humidity tropical forests in the south; and savanna in the north. The country’s diverse flora gives shelter to many different animals with the unique possibility to see both savannah animals and rainforest animals in the same area. The country is known for its large diversity of birds and butterflies – a paradise for a specialist as well as for an amateur.
The nation is divided into over 80 ethnic groups, each having its own language. However, the national language Sango is spoken across the whole country, by all ethnicities, and has been called the “glue” that links the Central Africans together.
Around 80% of the population is considered to be Christians and 10% Muslim. The remaining 10% of the populations maintains indigenous beliefs.
The CAR was once a big exporter of coffee, cotton, diamonds and wood, but after many years of political insecurity the private sector is extremely weak; many businesses have closed down or left and trade of agricultural product is significantly reduced. Today, subsistence agriculture sustains 75% of the population, with the remainder in civil service or the informal sector.
Bangui is the capital of the Central African Republic.
It was founded around the French military base that had settled on the Ou’Bangui river in the early 19th century to serve as a logistic and administrative center for the colonists. Today the population of Bangui is estimated to be over 1,000,000; nearly a quarter of the population.
Bangui feels more like a big village than a capital city. The center of town is restricted to a few blocks, and only a few main arteries are paved. Public utilities are fragile; power cuts are frequent, and the UN manages the public water supply. Prices for basic commodities are high, and rents have increased exponentially since the increase in humanitarian presense in the last 5 years. A few modern convenience stores in town sell western products such as cheese, juice, frozen processed foods and hygiene products.
In the open markets of PK0, La Kuanga and PK5, you can find fresh meat, fish and large quantities of fruits and vegetables. The Central African Republic’s gardens offer you excellent pineapples, mangoes, bananas, papayas, passion fruits and citrus.
In normal times life in Bangui is quiet and calm. However, since the outbreak of violence in 2013, the mood has oscilated from crisis to tentative calm. Since the Pope’s visit to Bangui in November 2015, and the transition to a legitimate government in February 2016, security in Bangui has improved. While criminality is still high, and aggression towards foreigners higher than in the past, acts of ethnic violence have decreased.
It is highly recommended to register with your local Consulate or Embassy upon arrival in Bangui. Furthermore, it is important to get a security briefing from your organization during your first few days in country. Should you be travelling to Bangui independently, Karakandji’s owner can give you a security debriefing and provide you with emergency contact information.
Due to the current security situation in CAR, leisure activities are limited. However, a few options exist:
Bangui Rock Club offers you a nice view of the river, with the possibility to swim, play tennis, squash and soccer. Drinks can be purchased at the bar on-site, and there is space for picnicking under the shade of mango trees.
La Tourangelle is just 400 m west of the Bangui Rock Club across the street from the French Embassy. It offers outdoor dining and drinks and pirogue rides can be scheduled on the river for a fee.
Among the town’s restaurants you can find a couple of French inspired restaurants, but also restaurants offering Indian, Chinese, Lebanese and of course local