Desertification drove hunter-gatherer cultures south into the Sahel areas of northern Central Africa about 10,000 years ago, when some people settled and started farming as part of the Neolithic Revolution. Farming of white yam was followed by millet and sorghum, and around 3000 BC, the domestication of African oil palm enhanced nutrition and allowed for the growth of local people. This Agricultural Revolution, coupled with a “Fish-stew Revolution” in which fishing started and boats were used, enabled the conveyance of commodities. Products were often transported in clay pots, which are the region’s earliest documented instances of creative expression.
The Bouar Megaliths in the country’s west show a high degree of occupancy going back to the very late Neolithic Era (c. 3500–2700 BC). Around 1000 BC, ironworking came in the area from both Bantu civilizations in what is now Nigeria and the Nile metropolis of Mero, the capital of the Kingdom of Kush.
During the Bantu Migrations, which lasted from around 1000 BC to AD 1000, Ubangian-speaking people spread eastward from Cameroon to Sudan, Bantu-speaking people settled in the CAR’s southwestern regions, and Central Sudanic-speaking people settled along the Ubangi River in what is now Central and East CAR.
Bananas came in the area and provided a significant source of carbohydrates; they were also utilized in the manufacture of alcoholic drinks. The Central African region’s commercial commerce was dominated by the production of copper, salt, dried fish, and textiles.
Slave merchants started raiding the area in the 16th and 17th centuries as the Saharan and Nile River slave routes expanded. Their victims were enslaved and transported to the Mediterranean coast, Europe, Arabia, the Western Hemisphere, or slave ports and factories along the West and North African coasts, as well as the Ubanqui and Congo rivers in the south. The Bobangi people were prominent slave merchants in the mid-nineteenth century, selling their victims to the Americas through the Ubangi river. Bandia-Nzakara peoples founded the Bangassou Kingdom near the Ubangi River in the 18th century.
French colonial period
The Sudanese monarch Rabih az-Zubayr ruled Upper-Oubangui, which encompassed present-day CAR, in 1875. During the Scramble for Africa, Europeans started to penetrate Central African territory in the late nineteenth century. In 1885, Europeans, mainly French, Germans, and Belgians, came in the region. In 1894, France established the Ubangi-Shari region.
At the Treaty of Fez in 1911, France surrendered approximately 300,000 km2 of the Sangha and Lobaye basins to the German Empire, which ceded a lesser amount (in present-day Chad) to France. Following World War I, France seized the area once again.
French Equatorial Africa was formed in 1920, and Ubangi-Shari was governed from Brazzaville. During the 1920s and 1930s, the French instituted a program of compulsory cotton production, constructed a road network, attempted to fight sleeping sickness, and created Protestant missions to promote Christianity. Forced labor was further expanded, and a significant number of Ubangians were sent to work on the Congo-Ocean Railway. Many of these forced laborers perished as a result of fatigue, sickness, or bad working conditions, which killed between 20% and 25% of the 127,000 employees.
The Kongo-Wara revolt, often known as the “war of the hoe handle,” erupted in Western Ubangi-Shari in 1928 and lasted for many years. The scope of this insurgency, which was perhaps Africa’s greatest anti-colonial revolt during the interwar years, was deliberately concealed from the French people since it demonstrated significant resistance to French colonial authority and forced labor.
During World War II, pro-Gaullist French officers seized control of Ubangi-Shari in September 1940, and General Leclerc established his headquarters for the Free French Forces in Bangui. In 1946, Barthélémy Boganda was elected to the French National Assembly with 9,000 votes, becoming the country’s first representation in the French government. Boganda maintained a political position against racism and the colonial government, but became dissatisfied with the French political system and returned to the Central African Republic (CAR) in 1950 to found the Movement for the Social Evolution of Black Africa (MESAN).
Since Independence (1960–present)
In the 1957 election for the Ubangi-Shari Territorial Assembly, MESAN received 347,000 votes out of a total of 356,000 votes cast and won every legislative seat, resulting in Boganda being elected president of the Grand Council of French Equatorial Africa and vice-president of the Ubangi-Shari Government Council. Within a year, he proclaimed the Central African Republic’s independence and became the country’s first prime minister. MESAN remained in operation, although its function was restricted. Following Boganda’s death in an aircraft accident on March 29, 1959, his cousin, David Dacko, took over MESAN and became the country’s first president when the CAR officially gained independence from France. Former Prime Minister and Mouvement d’évolution démocratique de l’Afrique centrale (MEDAC) leader Abel Goumba was driven into exile in France by Dacko. Dacko proclaimed MESAN the official party of the state in November 1962, after all opposition parties had been crushed.
Bokassa and the Central African Empire (1965–1979)
Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa overthrew Dacko in the Saint-Sylvestre coup d’état on December 31, 1965, suspending the constitution and dissolving the National Assembly. President Bokassa proclaimed himself President for Life in 1972, and on December 4, 1976, he was crowned Emperor Bokassa I of the Central African Empire (as the nation was called). Emperor Bokassa crowned himself a year later in a grandiose and costly ceremony that was mocked by most of the world.
In April 1979, a group of teenage students opposed Bokassa’s order that all schoolchildren purchase uniforms from a business owned by one of his wives. The demonstrations were brutally repressed by the government, resulting in the deaths of 100 children and adolescents. Some of the murders may have been carried out by Bokassa himself. France deposed Bokassa and “restored” Dacko to power in September 1979. (subsequently restoring the name of the country to the Central African Republic). Dacko, in turn, was deposed in a coup led by General André Kolingba on September 1, 1981.
Central African Republic under Kolingba
Until 1985, Kolingba suspended the constitution and governed under a military junta. In 1986, he proposed a new constitution, which was approved by a national vote. His new party, the Rassemblement Démocratique Centrafricain (RDC), was entirely voluntary. Semi-free elections to parliament were conducted in 1987 and 1988, but Kolingba’s two main political opponents, Abel Goumba and Ange-Félix Patassé, were barred from running.
A pro-democracy movement emerged in 1990, spurred by the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Pressure from the United States, France, and a group of locally represented countries and agencies known as GIBAFOR (France, the United States, Germany, Japan, the European Union, the World Bank, and the United Nations) eventually led Kolingba to agree, in principle, to hold free elections in October 1992 with assistance from the UN Office of Electoral Affairs. After using the pretext of alleged irregularities to suspend election results, President Kolingba came under intense pressure from GIBAFOR to establish a “Conseil National Politique Provisoire de la République” (Provisional National Political Council, CNPPR) and a “Mixed Electoral Commission,” which included representatives from all political parties.
When a second round of elections was eventually conducted in 1993, with the assistance of the international community and organized by GIBAFOR, Ange-Félix Patassé won with 53 percent of the vote, while Goumba received 45.6 percent. Patassé’s party, the Mouvement pour la Libération du Peuple Centrafricain (MLPC) or Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People, won a simple but not absolute majority of seats in parliament, requiring Patassé’s party to form a coalition with other parties.
Patassé Government (1993–2003)
Patassé expelled several Kolingba members from the government, and Kolingba sympathizers accused Patassé’s administration of pursuing a “witch hunt” against the Yakoma. On December 28, 1994, a new constitution was adopted, although it had little effect on the country’s politics. In 1996–1997, three mutinies against Patassé’s administration were followed by extensive property damage and heightened ethnic tensions, reflecting progressively declining public trust in the government’s unpredictable behavior. The Peace Corps moved all of its volunteers to neighboring Cameroon during this critical period (1996). The Peace Corps has yet to return to the Central African Republic. The Bangui Agreements, agreed in January 1997, called for the deployment of an inter-African military force to the Central African Republic, as well as the reintegration of ex-mutineers into the government on April 7, 1997. The inter-African military mission was eventually replaced by a United Nations peacekeeping force (MINURCA).
In 1998, Kolingba’s RDC gained 20 of 109 parliamentary seats, but Patassé won a second term in the presidential election in 1999, despite significant public outrage in metropolitan areas over his corrupt reign.
In a failed coup attempt on May 28, 2001, insurgents seized key facilities in Bangui. The army chief of staff, Abel Abrou, and General François N’Djadder Bedaya were both murdered, but Patassé restored control by sending in at least 300 men from Congolese rebel commander Jean-Pierre Bemba as well as Libyan forces.
Following the failed coup, militias loyal to Patassé sought vengeance on rebels in several Bangui areas, inciting instability and murdering many political opponents. Patassé eventually suspected General François Bozizé of being engaged in another coup attempt against him, prompting Bozizé to escape to Chad with loyal soldiers. Bozizé attempted a surprise assault against Patassé, who was out of the country, in March 2003. Libyan troops and around 1,000 men from Bemba’s Congolese rebel group were unable to halt the rebels, and Bozizé’s forces were able to depose Patassé.
Central African Republic since 2003
François Bozizé suspended the constitution and appointed a new government comprised of the majority of opposition parties. The appointment of Abel Goumba as vice-president boosted the image of Bozizé’s new administration. Bozizé formed a broad-based National Transition Council to write a new constitution and declared his intention to resign and run for office once the new constitution was adopted.
The Central African Republic Bush War started in 2004 when anti-Bozizé groups took up weapons against his administration. Throughout May 2005, Bozizé won a presidential election that excluded Patassé, and combat between the government and the rebels continued in 2006. Bozizé’s administration sought French military assistance in November 2006 to help them resist insurgents who had seized control of cities in the country’s northern provinces. Though the agreement’s first public specifics focused on logistics and intelligence, French support ultimately included attacks by Mirage aircraft on rebel positions.
The Syrte Agreement, signed in February, and the Birao Peace Agreement, signed in April 2007, called for a cessation of hostilities, the billeting of FDPC fighters and their integration with FACA, the release of political prisoners, the integration of the FDPC into government, an amnesty for the UFDR, recognition as a political party, and the integration of its fighters into the national army. Several organizations fought on, but others signed on to the pact or similar accords with the government (e.g. UFR on 15 December 2008). The CPJP, the only significant organization that did not sign an agreement at the time, maintained its operations and signed a peace deal with the government on August 25, 2012.
Bozizé was re-elected in 2011 in an election largely seen as rigged.
Séléka, an alliance of rebel organizations, seized control of cities in the country’s northern and central regions in November 2012. These parties ultimately negotiated a peace agreement with Bozizé’s administration in January 2013, including a power-sharing government, but the agreement fell through, and the rebels took control of the capital in March 2013, forcing Bozizé to flee the country.
Michel Djotodia was elected president, and in May 2013, Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye sought a UN peacekeeping mission from the UN Security Council, and on May 31, former President Bozizé was charged for crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide.
During June–August 2013, the security situation did not improve, and there were reports of over 200,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), as well as human rights violations and fresh violence between Séléka and Bozizé supporters.
French President François Hollande has urged the United Nations Security Council and the African Union to step up efforts to stabilize the nation. The Séléka government was said to be fractured. Djotodia formally dissolved Seleka in September 2013, but many rebels refused to disarm and strayed farther from government authority.
The violence deteriorated towards the end of the year, prompting international concerns of “genocide,” and combat was mostly a result of retaliatory assaults on civilians by Seleka’s mainly Muslim soldiers and Christian militias known as “anti-balaka.”
Michael Djotodia and his prime minister, Nicolas Tiengaye, resigned on January 11, 2014, as part of an agreement reached at a regional conference in neighboring Chad. The National Transitional Council chose Catherine Samba-Panza as temporary president, and she took office on January 23. She became Central Africa’s first female president. Marie-Nolle Koyara became the first female defense minister since independence in January 2015.
On 18 February 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requested that the UN Security Council quickly send 3,000 soldiers to the nation to fight what he characterized as intentional targeting and mass slaughter of innocent people. The secretary-general presented a six-point strategy, which included the deployment of 3,000 peacekeepers to supplement the 6,000 African Union soldiers and 2,000 French forces currently in the nation.
Following Congolese mediation efforts, Séléka and anti-balaka officials signed a ceasefire accord in Brazzaville on July 23, 2014.
On December 14, 2015, the Séléka rebel commander proclaimed the Republic of Logone independent.