Even US Peace Corps support to the country, which was very much appreciated by the people of CAR, has been suspended and may be cut due to US budgetary constraints.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Central African Republic: Peace Corps Central African Republic : Peace Corps in the Central African Republic: Even US Peace Corps support to the country, which was very much appreciated by the people of CAR, has been suspended and may be cut due to US budgetary constraints.

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, October 09, 2001 - 9:20 pm: Edit Post

Even US Peace Corps support to the country, which was very much appreciated by the people of CAR, has been suspended and may be cut due to US budgetary constraints.

Even US Peace Corps support to the country, which was very much appreciated by the people of CAR, has been suspended and may be cut due to US budgetary constraints.

Even US Peace Corps support to the country, which was very much appreciated by the people of CAR, has been suspended and may be cut due to US budgetary constraints.

Long CAR Letter

Originally by Michael Shereikis


Dear ........................:

The Central African Republic (CAR) habitually resides at a great distance from Western consciousness (and conscience). Not since the alleged cannibalism and certain despotism of the infamous Emperor Bokassa I in the late 70's has the Western media deemed this landlocked nation at the heart of the African continent newsworthy. However, recent events in the Central African Republic have once again thrust this little-recognized nation into the headlines of the New York Times, Washington Post and countless other newspapers across the US. An army mutiny in later May has been widely reported in the West as a "total breakdown of law and order" underscored by such disheartening images as "bodies rotting in the equatorial sun on trash-strewn pavements" (NYT, May 24 & 25). Such depictions, however, are not only largely inaccurate, but also unfair and potentially pose an even greater threat to the nation's future than any three days of looting, gunfire and demonstrations.

There is little doubt that the violence and looting have seriously damaged the Central African capital of Bangui, but it is equally certain that the CAR is undergoing a crisis more akin to the riots in Los Angeles than to the civil wars of Rwanda or Liberia--its most frequent comparisons. In fact, many positive developments have recently unfolded in the CAR which seem to have escaped media attention. Therefore, in order to provide a context for the negative impressions fostered by recent AP releases, a brief historical and political sketch of the CAR is offered below. The intent is to allow the reader to formulate a better informed opinion of both the state of affairs in the CAR and the importance of continuing US and other foreign aid to this unique nation.

The CAR? Where is it? What do they produce?

It is indeed rare that the mention of the Central African Republic is met with nods of recognition. Blank stares are more the norm. Yet the CAR has a fascinating history and rich potential for development today. Known as Ubangui-Chari during French colonial rule in Africa, the Central African Republic includes a vast territory the size of Texas between the Ubangui river in the South, a major affluent of the Zaire river, and the Chari river in the North which flows into Lake Chad. Although landlocked, the country has plenty of land suitable for agriculture and livestock, the nation's principle economic activities. Its leading export crops include coffee, cotton and tobacco although the country also produces high quality honey and beeswax as well as other exotic products. Foodcrops include cassava, groundnuts, maize, millet and rice, and are in sufficient abundance to ensure food security to its population. Mineral resources include diamonds and gold. A rain forest still covers large tracts of the country, despite its unregulated exploitation by lumber companies, and houses a rich variety of flora and fauna which offer unique opportunities for ecotourism. With US help, the country is one of the world's last sanctuaries of forest gorillas.

A brief history of its people

For several centuries until the early 1800s, the territory of today's CAR supplied slaves and ivory to both the Atlantic and Trans-Saharan trading networks. Devastating raids on Mbomu, Sara and Banda peoples by the Sultans of Kanem-Bormu, Baghirmi, Wadai and Darfur from the Chad and Sudan border forced mass migrations and social upheaval on a colossal scale. The Fulani, also in the slave trade business, raided the territory from the Northwest. For several centuries, the slaving was such a major "commercial" activity that, according to one theory, it may have prevented an expansion of Islam further South in Africa by its sheer intensity and success in supplying non-Islamic slaves to the sultanates. The fear of attacks caused many groups to migrate into the Ubangui-Chari from its surrounding regions. The Gbaya-Mandja moved in from the Adamawah Savannah of central Cameroon while, according to oral tradition, the Banda came from western Sudan. This confluence of Atlantic and Trans-Saharan slave trading resulted not only in a staggering reduction in the territory's population, but also in pitting indigenous populations against each other both for economic gain and out of desperation in the face of unimaginable hardship.

Towards the end of the Nineteenth century, Belgian and French explorers entered the territory with the mission to expand colonial rule from central Africa to Algeria (Crampel, Dybowsky, Gentil) and to the Nile river (Marchand). Following the defeat of the French troops at Fachoda (Sudan) in 1898 by the British, in the process of building their own large colonial empire in East Africa, the French established the Territory of Ubangui-Chari as the Eastern limit of their zone of influence in Africa. In 1910, the French military occupied Ubangui-Chari which became one of four colonies making up French Equatorial Africa. However, while military occupation put an end to internal conflicts and the slave trade, it led to new abuses of the population including forced labor, taxation, and brutal retaliation against and execution of those refusing to accept colonial rule. Foremost in organized dissent and victimization were the Gbaya, who rebelled against colonial abuse from 1928 to 1931 under the leadership of Chief Karnu.

Starting in 1920, roads were built and population was resettled along the roads, often forcibly. Large health programs were launched to control major diseases, in particular sleeping sickness. During World War II, about 3,000 Ubanguians enrolled in the French army, the most famous among them being Lieutenant Koudoukou who was wounded at the battle of Bir-Hakeim in Libya in 1942 and died later in Alexandria (Egypt). In 1944, General de Gaulle recognized the Ubanguians' contribution to the war effort and took measures to improve the economy and the political representation of the territory. Finally in 1946, Barthelemy Boganda founded the Movement for Social Progress in Black Africa (MESAN is the French acronym), a political party that pushed for the creation of the Central African Republic. The latter became a symbolic reality on December 1, 1958.

A brief political history since the creation of the CAR

Several parties were created in 1958. However, after independence from France was obtained in 1960, the Head of State, David Dacko, eliminated all political parties except MESAN and established a single-party system. In a masterfully orchestrated and generally popular coup, Jean-Bedel Bokassa seized power on January 1, 1966. Bokassa maintained the single-party system but allowed an increased participation of women in the nation's political life. His infamous excesses, however, proved too disruptive for both French and Central African interests and he was supplanted in 1979 by his predecessor, Dacko, ushered back to the presidency by French paratroopers.

Though Dacko reintroduced multipartism, many political parties resented France's role in his appointment and contested his legitimacy. In the face of increasing opposition and to avoid violent turmoil Dacko remitted power in 1982 to Andre Kolingba, the army chief of staff. Kolingba believed the country was not ready for political pluralism and established the Central African Democratic Union (RDC in French) as the only legal political party for all Central Africans. Faced with increasing dissatisfaction by the population to a single-party regime and under pressure from the international community, however, Kolingba legalized other political parties in 1992. General elections were organized in 1993 leading to the victory of Ange-Felix Patasse who became the first president democratically elected in the more than three decades of independence from France.

US helped the development of a democracy

CAR's peaceful transition from a single-party regime to a multiparty democracy came about thanks in large part to efforts led by the US embassy in Bangui. The 1993 elections were viewed by international observers (including Americans) as a good example for other African nations undergoing similar processes. At the time of independence, the US had provided a political model for the founding father of the CAR, President Boganda, who designed the original Central African constitution on the principles of our US constitution ("all me being equal", or Zo Kwe Zo in Sango, the national language of the CAR). Far ahead of his time, Boganda had envisioned the creation of the United States of Latin Africa, a large federal entity patterned after the USA and made up from Angola, Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, CAR, Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. The world did not understand Boganda's vision at the time, and its implementation was cut short with Boganda's tragic death in a plane crash. Many economists today strongly advocate the creation of such a union of countries which would constitute a powerful market and create a more viable infrastructure for sustainable internal development and international trade.

Democracy cannot survive without economic development

Unfortunately, Central African efforts toward a democratic transition were not supported by increased international, including American, aid. The economy was hard hit by a devaluation of Central African currency. Other structural adjustment programs did not receive sufficient international assistance to weather an initially difficult transition and achieve their intended growth. Consequently, many Central Africans -- whose basic needs in terms of food, shelter and health are becoming increasingly difficult to meet -- find themselves no better off with democracy than under a single-party regime. Their expectations for a better life after peacefully working through their country's difficult political issues have been crushed. The recent and widely reported army mutiny due to several months of unpaid wages and the ensuing looting and destruction of houses and businesses by a desperate population came as no surprise. It resembles somewhat the riots in Los Angeles in 1994 when crushed hopes led to violence. The country now faces an economic disaster, and without vigorous international assistance, it will take years and much misery to recover.

But all is not lost. Indeed, the Central African citizens truly live up to the "Zo Kwe Zo" principle of their constitution. There has never been a civil war in the country and its population is proud of its ethnic diversity, considering it one of the country's strengths. The national language, Sango, is spoken by all citizens and bears virtually no connection to a single group among the population. There is a great potential for radically positive change in the CAR and it is sincerely hoped that the recent negative press will not dampen a more informed optimism about this nation's future. The recent disturbances have stemmed from deteriorating economic circumstances and in no way can be compared to the civil war situation faced by some other African countries. There are already plenty of tragic stories coming out of Africa. Please let's not blindly add the Central African Republic to our list.

"America can make a difference in Africa, it need only demonstrate the will." (Boston Globe and other major US newspapers)

What are Americans doing to help the CAR? Despite a pro-active embassy, there is very little US support for Central African democratic reform. Even US Peace Corps support to the country, which was very much appreciated by the people of CAR, has been suspended and may be cut due to US budgetary constraints. The question must finally be asked: Is the US only useful in Africa when the time comes to pick up the pieces of a broken nation -- as in Somalia, Rwanda, or Liberia? Or can US involvement provide that ounce of prevention in order to avoid attempting an impossible cure? We have been instrumental in shaping political improvements in the CAR, and we should give these improvements a chance to work. A new prime minister has just been installed as a working compromise as the opposition begins to take shape. Despite media reports, the nation is not in ruins, rather this very young democracy has withstood an important test and we should give it a just recognition. As a community and nation fully committed to democratic ideals, we must ask our government, Congress, the World Bank and other aid organizations to quickly resume their assistance to the CAR and to maintain the US Peace Corps in the country. We must also ask those who know the country well to better inform us on the needs of its people. There is much to be done and no time to be wasted. Assisting CAR may not be only a question of big bucks, but American ingenuity and energy as well. Let's demonstrate the will. Let's make a difference.

Date created: 7/17/96 Last modified: 7/26/96 Maintained by: Alan Saul


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