Early history

Between about 1000 BC and 1000 AD, Ubangian-speaking peoples spread eastward from Cameroon to Sudan, settling in most of what is now known as the Central African Republic. During the same period, a much smaller number of Bantu-speaking immigrants settled in south-western CAR and a number of Central Sudanic-speaking people settled along the Oubangi.

As a result of these early migrations, the majority of the CAR’s present population speak Ubangian languages, or Bantu languages that belong to the Niger–Congo family. A minority speak Central Sudanic languages of the Nilo-Saharan family.

Exposure to the outside world

Before the 19th century, the people living in what is now the CAR lived beyond the expanding Islamic frontier in the Sudanic zone of Africa and thus had relatively little contact with Abrahamic religions or northern economies. During the first decades of the 19th century, Muslim traders entered the region and cultivated relations with local leaders to facilitate trade and settlement in the region.

The arrival of Muslim traders in the early 19th century was relatively peaceful and depended upon the support of local peoples, but after about 1850, Arab slave traders with well-armed soldiers began to expand in the region. The Bobangi people became major slave traders, they sold their captives to the Americas using the Ubangi river to reach the coast. From about 1860 to 1910, slave traders from Sudan, Chad, Cameroon, Dar al-Kuti in northern CAR and Nzakara and Zande states in southeastern CAR permanently depopulated the eastern CAR.

French colonial period

The European penetration of Central African territory began in the late 19th century, during the so-called Scramble for Africa. Count Savorgnan de Brazza established the French Congo and sent expeditions up the Ubangi River from Brazzaville in an effort to expand France’s claims to territory in Central Africa. Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom also competed to establish their claims to territory in the region.

In 1889, the French established a post on the Ubangi River at Bangui. In 1890–91, De Brazza sent expeditions up the Sangha River, in what is now south-western CAR, up the center of the Ubangi basin toward Lake Chad, and eastward along the Ubangi River toward the Nile, with the intention of expanding the borders of the French Congo to link up the other French territories in Africa. In 1894, the French Congo’s borders with Leopold II of Belgium’s Congo Free State and German Cameroon were fixed by diplomatic agreements. In 1899, the French Congo’s border with Sudan was fixed along the Congo-Nile divide. This situation left France without her much coveted outlet on the Nile.

Once European negotiators had agreed upon the borders of the French Congo, France had to decide how to pay for the costly occupation, administration and development of the territory it had acquired. The reported financial successes of Leopold II’s concessionary companies in the Congo Free State convinced the French government to grant 17 private companies large concessions in the Ubangi-Shari region in 1899. In return for the right to exploit these lands by buying local products and selling European goods, the companies promised to pay rent to France and to promote the development of their concessions. The companies employed European and African agents, who frequently used brutal methods to force the Africans to work for them.

At the same time, the French colonial administration began to force the local population to pay taxes and to provide the state with free labor. The companies and the French administration at times collaborated in forcing the Central Africans to work for them. Some French officialswho?] reported abuses committed by private company militias, and their own colonial colleagues and troops, but efforts to hold these people accountable almost always failed. When any news of atrocities committed against Central Africans reached France and caused an outcry, investigations were undertaken and some feeble attempts at reform were madeby whom?], but the situation on the ground in Ubangi-Shari remained essentially the same.citation needed]

During the first decade of French colonial rule, from about 1900 to 1910, the rulers of the Ubangi-Shari region increased both their slave-raiding activities and the selling of local produce to Europe. They took advantage of their treaties with the French to procure more weapons, which were used to capture more slaves: much of the eastern half of Ubangi-Shari was depopulated as a result of slave-trading by local rulers during the first decade of colonial rule. After the power of local African rulers was destroyed by the French, slave raiding greatly diminished.citation needed]

In 1911, the Sangha and Lobaye basins were ceded to Germany, as part of an agreement which gave France a free hand in Morocco. Western Ubangi-Shari remained under German rule until World War I, after which France reconquered this territory using Central African troops.

From 1920 to 1930, a network of roads was built, cash crops were promoted and mobile health services were formed to combat sleeping sickness. Protestant missions were established in different parts of the country. New forms of forced labor were also introduced, however, as the French conscripted large numbers of Ubangians to work on the Congo-Ocean Railway, and many of these recruits died of exhaustion and illness.

In 1925, the French writer André Gide published Voyage au Congo, in which he described the alarming consequences of conscription for the Congo-Ocean railroad. He exposed the continuing atrocities committed against Central Africans in Western Ubangi-Shari by such employers as the Forestry Company of Sangha-Ubangi. In 1928 a major insurrection, the Kongo-Wara rebellion or ‘war of the hoe handle’, broke out in Western Ubangi-Shari, which continued for several years. The extent of this insurrection, which was perhaps the largest anti-colonial rebellion in Africa during the interwar years, was carefully hidden from the French public, because it provided evidence of strong opposition to French colonial rule and forced labor.

During the 1930s, cotton, tea, and coffee emerged as important cash crops in Ubangi-Shari and the mining of diamonds and gold began in earnest. Several cotton companies were granted purchasing monopolies over large areas of cotton production and were able to fix the prices paid to cultivators, which assured profits for their shareholders. In September 1940, during the Second World War, pro-Gaullist French officers took control of Ubangi-Shari.

Independence (1960)

On 1 December 1958 the colony of Ubangi-Shari became an autonomous territory within the French Community and took the name Central African Republic. The founding father and president of the Conseil de Gouvernement, Barthélémy Boganda, died in a mysterious plane accident in 1959, just eight days before the last elections of the colonial era.

On 13 August 1960, the Central African Republic gained its independence and two of Boganda’s closest aides, Abel Goumba and David Dacko, became involved in a power struggle. With the backing of the French, Dacko took power and soon had Goumba arrested. By 1962, President Dacko had established a one-party state.

On 31 December 1965, Dacko was overthrown in the Saint-Sylvestre coup d’état by Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who suspended the constitution and dissolved the National Assembly. 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. A year later, Emperor Bokassa crowned himself in a lavish and expensive ceremony that was ridiculed by much of the world.

In April 1979, young students protested against Bokassa’s decree that all school attendees would need to buy uniforms from a company owned by one of his wives. The government violently suppressed the protests, killing 100 children and teenagers. Bokassa himself may have been personally involved in some of the killings. In 1979, France carried out a coup against Bokassa and “restored” Dacko to power (the name of the country was subsequently restored to Central African Republic). Dacko, in turn, was overthrown in a coup by General André Kolingba on 1 September 1981.

Central African Republic under Kolingba

Kolingba suspended the constitution and ruled with a military junta until 1985. He introduced a new constitution in 1986 which was adopted by a nationwide referendum. Membership in his new party, the Rassemblement Démocratique Centrafricain (RDC) was voluntary. In 1987, semi-competitive elections to parliament were held and municipal elections were held in 1988. Kolingba’s two major political opponents, Abel Goumba and Ange-Félix Patassé, boycotted these elections because their parties were not allowed to compete.

By 1990, inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall, a pro-democracy movement became very active. In May 1990, a letter signed by 253 prominent citizens asked for the convocation of a National Conference but Kolingba refused this request and detained several opponents. Pressure from the United States, more reluctantly from France, and from a group of locally represented countries and agencies called GIBAFOR (France, USA, Germany, Japan, EU, World Bank and UN) finally led Kolingba to agree, in principle, to hold free elections in October 1992, with help from the UN Office of Electoral Affairs.

After using the excuse of alleged irregularities to suspend the results of the elections as a pretext for holding on to power, President Kolingba came under intense pressure from GIBAFOR to establish a “Conseil National Politique Provisoire de la République” (Provisional National Political Council, CNPPR) and to set up a “Mixed Electoral Commission” which included representatives from all political parties.

When elections were finally held in 1993, again with the help of the international community, Ange-Félix Patassé led in the first round and Kolingba came in fourth behind Abel Goumba and David Dacko. In the second round, Patassé won 53% of the vote while Goumba won 45.6%. Most of Patassé’s support came from Gbaya, Kare and Kaba voters in seven heavily populated prefectures in the northwest while Goumba’s support came largely from ten less-populated prefectures in the south and east. Furthermore, Patassé’s party, the Mouvement pour la Libération du Peuple Centrafricain (MLPC) or Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People gained a simple but not an absolute majority of seats in parliament, which meant Patassé needed coalition partners.

Patassé Government (1993–2003)

Patassé relieved former President Kolingba of his military rank of general in March 1994 and then charged several former ministers with various crimes. Patassé also removed many Yakoma from important, lucrative posts in the government. Two hundred mostly Yakoma members of the presidential guard were also dismissed or reassigned to the army. Kolingba’s RDC loudly proclaimed that Patassé’s government was conducting a “witch hunt” against the Yakoma.

A new constitution was approved on 28 December 1994 and promulgated on 14 January 1995, but this constitution, like those before it, did not have much impact on the practice of politics. In 1996–1997, reflecting steadily decreasing public confidence in its erratic behaviour, three mutinies against Patassé’s government were accompanied by widespread destruction of property and heightened ethnic tension. On 25 January 1997, the Bangui Agreements were signed which provided for the deployment of an inter-African military mission, the Mission Interafricaine de Surveillance des Accords de Bangui (MISAB). Mali’s former president, Amadou Touré, served as chief mediator and brokered the entry of ex-mutineers into the government on 7 April 1997. The MISAB mission was later replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force, the Mission des Nations Unies en RCA (MINURCA).

In 1998, parliamentary elections resulted in Kolingba’s RDC winning 20 out of 109 seats, constituting a comeback. However, in 1999, notwithstanding widespread public anger in urban centers at his corrupt rule, Patassé won free elections to become president for a second term.

On 28 May 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 shot, but Patassé regained the upper hand by bringing in at least 300 troops of the rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba (from across the river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and by Libyan soldiers.

In the aftermath of this failed coup, militias loyal to Patassé sought revenge against rebels in many neighborhoods of the capital, Bangui, that resulted in the destruction of many homes as well as the torture and murder of many opponents. Eventually Patassé came to suspect that General François Bozizé was involved in another coup attempt against him and so Bozizé fled with loyal troops to Chad. In March 2003, 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, who took control of the country and thus succeeded in overthrowing Patassé.

Central African Republic since 2003

François Bozizé suspended the constitution and named a new cabinet which included most opposition parties. Abel Goumba, known as “Mr. Clean”,citation needed] was named vice-president, which gave Bozizé’s new government a positive image. Bozizé established a broad-based National Transition Council to draft a new constitution and announced that he would step down and run for office once the new constitution was approved. A national dialogue was held from 15 September to 27 October 2003, and Bozizé won a fair election that excluded Patassé, to be elected president on a second ballot, in May 2005.

In November 2006, the Bozizé government requested French military support to fend off rebels who had taken control of towns in the country’s north. Though the initially public details of the agreement pertained to logistics and intelligence, the French assistance eventually included strikes by Mirage jets against rebel positions.

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

In November 2012, a coalition of rebel groups took over towns in the north and center of the country. These groups eventually reached a peace deal with the Bozizé’s government in January 2013 involving a power sharing government. This peace deal was later broken when the rebels who had joined the power sharing government left their posts and rebel groups stormed the capital. Bozizé fled the country and Michel Djotodia took over the presidency. In September 2013, Djotodia officially disbanded Seleka but many rebels refused to disarm and veered further out of government control.

In November 2013, the UN warned the country was at risk of spiraling into genocide and France described the country as “..on the verge of genocide.” The increasing violence was largely from reprisal attacks on civilians from Seleka’s mainly Muslim fighters and Christian militias called “anti-balaka”, meaning ‘anti-machete’ or ‘anti-sword’. Christians make up half the population and Muslims 15 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook. As many Christians have sedentary lifestyles and many Muslims are nomadic, claims to the land were yet another dimension of the conflict.

On 13 December 2013, the UNHCR stated 610 people had been killed in the sectarian violence. Nearly 1 million people, a quarter of the population, were displaced. Anti-balaka Christian militiamen were targeting Bangui’s Muslim neighborhoods and Muslim ethnic groups such as the Fula people.

Violence broke out Christmas Day, 2013 in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic. Six Chadian soldiers from the African Union peacekeeping force were killed on Christmas Day in the Gobongo neighborhood and a mass grave of 20 bodies was discovered near the presidential palace. A spokesman for the president of the Central African Republic confirmed that assailants had attempted to attack the presidential palace as well, but were pushed back.

On 18 February 2014 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the UN Security Council to immediately deploy 3,000 troops to the country to combat what he described as innocent civilians being deliberately targeted and murdered in large numbers. Noting the violent overthrow of the government in 2013, the collapse of state institutions and a descent into lawlessness and sectarian brutality, Ban said, “The situation in the country has been on the agenda of the Security Council for many years now. But today’s emergency is of another, more disturbing magnitude. It is a calamity with a strong claim on the conscience of humankind.” The secretary-general outlined a six-point plan, including the addition of 3,000 peacekeepers to bolster the 6,000 African Union soldiers and 2,000 French troops already deployed in the country.