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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 location of the Central African Republic 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 Christian and 10% Muslim. The remaining 10% of the populations maintains indigenous beliefs.
Once a big exporter of coffee, cotton, diamonds and wood, many years of political insecurity has destroyed the private sector; 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.
The Central African Republic was a French colony until 1958, when the country got its independence. Since then the country has had nine 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. Since 1960, there have been five successful coup d'Etats in the Central African Republic and 10 attempted coups, each one preceded by or followed by violence across the country.
The last coup took place in March 2013 when a rebel alliance called Seleka overthrew the elected president Bozize. The alliance, consisting of a majority of Muslim tribes, put in place president Djotodia, but the weak alliance soon fell apart and the country descended into yet another a vicious cycle of violence. A counter alliance of mainly Christian rebel groups was formed, called the Anti-Balaka. In December 2014, they attacked Bangui – leading to a blood bath never seen before in the Central African Republic. Since then reprisals by both Seleka and Anti-Balaka have plunged the country into a civil war.
After a deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping mission, the implication of many foregin goverments giving institutional support as well as the presence of several humanitarian organizations and UN agencies the Central African Republic finds itself today with a democratically elected government. President Faustin-Archange Touadera won the second round of elections on February 20, 2016 and was inaugurated on March 30, 2016.
Nevertheless, the country is still ravaged by violent conflict and the majority of the country is still held by opposing rebel groups. Prospects for peace are limited as both Seleka and Anti-Balaka have divided into dozens of smaller factions that fight amongst themselves and against their “traditional” enemies. The social structure of the country and its people has been torn apart, and ethnic groups are hostile and suspicious of each other. The violence is never static, allegiances shift rapidly and drastically as each side seeks power to guarantee their faction access to basic needs (food, income, water, safety) and possibly a slice of the political pie – the only sector in the Central African Republic that has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to bring wealth to those associated. Without identifiable, grounded political or religious motives for violence many peace agreements have fallen apart, leaving international actors frustrated and impotent with little energy for creative, culturally appropriate solutions. Former Central African politicians take advantage of rapidly shifting loyalties, and the impotent international community, to facilitate this confusion and take the opportunity to grab the country’s resources for themselves whether natural or state.
But, humans are a resilient species. In the midst of violence and suffering, hungry and afraid for their safety, Central Africans continue to believe that a better tomorrow is possible. Mothers and fathers continue to fight for their children’s right to an education, and their own right to a livelihood. They continue to plant their fields year after year with whatever seeds they have despite the absence of markets or roads and with the near certainty that some portion of their harvest will be stolen, burnt or left to rot because they’ve had to flee violence yet again. Despite fear and suspicion that their neighbors will turn on them, they continue to build communities and families. They continue to learn, knowing deep within themselves that it is through learning and hard work that their children will have a better tomorrow.
The story of violence and atrocities in the Central African Republic has to be spoken, written, heard and read, so that it can be stopped. Yet, we must simultaneously tell the Central African story of hope, so that peaceful solutions for this country build on its strongest asset, resilience. Words and small deeds have the power to change, but only if they too are heard. Through Ndara we seek to speak these words and do these deeds, pushing the balance as much towards hope as possible.