Archive:  Central African Republic

Early history | Colonial times | Independence | Power struggles | Central African Republic Bush War | Introducing Bozize and Djotodia | International military presence | Resources

A map showing the location of the CAR within Africa

The Central African Republic (CAR), being a landlocked country, has many neighbours. It borders Chad in the north, Sudan in the northeast, South Sudan in the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo in the south and Cameroon in the west.

Central African Republic timeline

Early history

The area now known as the Central African Republic (CAR) has received  migrating peoples for centuries. Early recordings refer to peoples from the areas now known as Cameroon and Chad settling in the region, as well as Bantu-speaking people from further south, and others from what is now central Sudan. Trade routes originating in the Arabic world opened and ran through the region, explaining still-existant Muslim influences. Slave traders too began to infiltrate the region, ending a thus far relatively peaceful interaction with the outside world.

As early as 1889 the French first began official activity in the area we now know as the CAR, then called Oubangui-Chari. France was already well established in French Congo (now the Republic of Congo) and had a base in Brazzaville, named after the Count who had lead the territorial expansion there. The Belgians, under King Leopold II, were meanwhile actively establishing themselves in neighbouring Congo and the ‘scramble for Africa’ was well underway. French colonialists quickly moved north and established an outpost in Bangui, modern CAR’s capital city, in 1910. France hoped to expand its African claim linking the territories in central Africa with those in west Africa. However at that time a Sudanese military man named Rabih az-Zubayr and his troops already controlled the northern region. After years of military clashes, the French defeated az-Zubayr on 22 April 1900 and subsequently his son a year later. By 1903, France fully controlled Oubangui-Chari and set up a colonial administration.

Colonial times

Map of French Equatorial Africa


France looked to its colonial neighbors for means of controlling such a large swathe of land, so far away. Inhumane labour practices used by King Leopold II’s men in the Congo soon spread to administrators in French territories who realised the potential profit. Some African leaders, too, began to see the economic gain from exploiting the local population and the local slave trade was booming. Profits from slaves went into weapons purchases, making the region a dangerous place. By this time, France had established a federation of colonial territories called French Equatorial Africa that consisted of the following: 

  • Oubangui-Chari (Central African Republic)
  • Chad
  • French Congo (Republic of Congo, popularly called Congo-Brazzaville)
  • Gabon
  • French Cameroon (Cameroon)

Cotton, tea, and coffee were the most lucrative products to come out of the colony throughout most of the colonial period. In the later days, around the 1930s, the gold and diamond mining took off. A bit later, in the late 1950s, uranium deposits were discovered, which would prove to be a strong economic link between CAR and France during the Cold War. The largest anti-colonial rebellion in Africa took place between the 1st and 2nd World Wars from 1928 until well into 1931. The Kongo-Wara Rebellion (‘War of the Hoe Handle’) was the longest and strongest rebellion against colonial powers and carefully hidden from the people of France. Though neither the first nor the last rebellion against colonial powers, it was clear that, particularly for those people not benefiting financially from the slave trade, African opposition to French colonial rule and forced labour was very real.


With the inauguration of France’s Fourth Republic, the French Empire dissolved in 1946. Oubangui-Chari was designated an overseas territory and gained the right to elect its own local assembly. It remained under French governance, however, and Barthélemy Boganda represented the territory in France’s National Assembly.

The Coronation of Emperor Bokassa in 1977

The Coronation of Emperor Bokassa in 1977

In 1958, as Charles de Gaulle installed France’s Fifth Republic, Oubangui-Chari became an autonomous territory within the French Community and took the name Central African Republic. CAR finally gained its independence from France in 1960. Immediately a power struggle began, and French-backed David Dacko took power. This was the first of what would become a succession of coups and one-party governments. Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa overthrew Dacko in a 1965 coup d’état. Although France was initially wary of supporting Bokassa, by 1975 French President Giscard d’Estaing called him a ‘friend and family member.’ French support for CAR hinged on its reliance on uranium, which was needed for nuclear weaponry in the Cold War as well as France’s national energy supply.

Bokassa crowned himself Emperor of the newly renamed Central African Empire in December 1977. His lavish ceremony cost an estimated £10 million – the throne (pictured) was allegedly two tons of solid gold. The international community began to sever ties with Bokassa, comparing him to his contemporary Ugandan leader Idi Amin.The Empire was short-lived and a quick series of political upheavals ensued. In 1979 another French-backed coup restored Dacko to power. A second coup by General Andre Kolingba ousted Dacko once again in 1981. Kolingba suspended the constitution and ruled with martial law until 1985.

Power struggles

Pro-democracy movements at the end of the Cold War eventually led to lessened federal control of political decisions. By 1991, multiple political parties were allowed to form. CAR held its first democratic elections in 1993 after years of dictatorships. Former prime minister under Bokassa, Ange-Félix Patassé, claimed victory, but a marginal one. He had much opposition: Abel Goumba of the Patriotic Front for Progress (FPP) and former president Kolingba among others. Three mutinies against Patassé’s government in 1996 were accompanied by widespread destruction of property and heightened ethnic tension between northerners and southerners in CAR. In 1999 Patassé was re-elected with a clear victory, but two years later former president Kolingba attempted to reclaim the presidency. Patassé succeeded in suppressing the coup with help from Libyan and Chadian troops and Congolese armed groups. Uncertainty surrounding responsibility for the coup led some to question the loyalty of army chief of staff François Bozizé; he was dismissed from his post in late 2001. For many years Bozizé had publicly supported Patassé, helping him suppress military mutinies, yet the accusations persisted beyond his dismissal. A later attempt to arrest him resulted in clashes between the government and troops loyal to Bozizé, and thousands were forced to flee the area. Ultimately, Bozizé did overthrow Patassé and won an election to legally become president. The Bozizé presidency, however, was plagued with conflict, collectively referred to as the Central African Republic Bush War. 

Central African Republic Bush War

The Central African Republic Bush War has no clear start or end date, and arguably continues today. The first round of violence took place in 2004, just five weeks before a scheduled referendum on the constitution, which would precede parliamentary and presidential elections the following month. Multiple armed groups were involved in the Bush War at various times. Bozizé commanded two government forces:

  • Central African Armed Forces (FACA)
  • Presidential Guard (GP)

Three additional armed groups were the most organised within the CAR at this time:

  • Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD)
  • Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP)
  • Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), an alliance of three groups:
    • Groupe d’action patriotique pour la liberation de Centrafrique (GAPLC)
    • Mouvement des libérateurs Centrafricains pour la justice (MLCJ)
    • Front démocratique Centrafricain (FDC)
Central African Republic Bush War armed groups

When François Bozizé seized power in March 2003, civil unrest resulted in the formation of the UFDR led by Michel Djotodia. The group, which has been allegedly linked to the government of Sudan, openly rebelled in the northeastern provinces against Bozizé’s government. This rebellion coincided with the beginnings of the government of Sudan’s military campaign in Darfur. Armed groups from Darfur, such as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), have also occasionally regrouped in the northeastern provinces. Bozizé won the 2005 election, refusing Patassé (still exiled in Togo) access to CAR to stand as a candidate. Meanwhile, the UFDR continued raiding in the northeast, prompting a 2006 civilian march on Bangui demanding government troops to step in. Throughout 2007 the international community took measures to assemble and deploy peacekeeping forces to aid Bozizé’s efforts. In 2008 the UFDR and the northwestern APRD armed group signed a peace agreement with the government providing for disarmament and demobilisation of non-government fighters. The agreement has not, however, ensured a solid end to the conflict.

Foreign armed groups continue to pose a serious threat to the peace process. The Chadian group Front Populaire pour le Redressement (FPR), led by Baba Ladde, was in the CAR since leaving Darfur in 2008. In September 2012, Baba Ladde surrendered and his group repatriated to Chad. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), originally from Uganda and led by Joseph Kony, has spread throughout the eastern provinces. LRA attacks were first reported in the country in 2009.

Introducting Bozizé and Djotodia


François Bozizé

François Bozizé | Photo: African Arguments

François Bozizé | Photo: African Arguments

Before losing the presidency in the March coup, Bozizé had been in power for ten years and in CAR politics for more than 25 years. Prior to taking the Presidency, Bozizé worked in the Bokassa government, Dacko government, Kolingba government and Patasse government – even helping Patasse defend against challenges to his presidency. Bozizé was accused of plotting against Kolingba in 1989 and arrested in Benin. In 2001, he led an unsuccessful coup against Patasse, fleeing to Chad in the aftermath. Finally, in 2003, he successfully overthrew Patasse and declared himself President. To legitimise his rule, Bozizé held elections in 2005 and 2011 in which he was elected and re-elected President with 42.9% and 66% respectively of the vote, despite calls of vote fixing from opponents in both elections.


Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia

Michel Djotodia | AFP/BBC

Michel Djotodia | Photo: AFP/BBC

Djotodia has held various high ranking posts in government. Prior to this, he studied economics in the former Soviet Union and lived there for 10 years, picking up a number of languages. He worked as a civil servant in the Patasse government until Patasse was overthrown by Bozizé. Under Bozizé he had a diplomatic posting to Sudan. In 2005, however, he was part of an unsuccessful rebellion against Bozizé and was exiled to Benin in 2006.

The Seleka alliance

In 2012 several Bush War groups returned to arms, with some – the UFDR, CPJP, and others – banding together to form the Seleka alliance. Michel Djotodia (UFDR) took leadership. Bozizé met with the groups in Libreville, Gabon in January 2013 to sign the Libreville Accords – seen by some as just another in a series of such peace agreements. By February, Seleka leaders had broken the cease fire citing Bozizé’s lack of commitment to upholding the terms of the Libreville Accords. On 25 March, Seleka took control of Bangui, forcing Bozizé and his family to flee to Cameroon. Michel Djotodia installed himself as the new president of CAR and was confirmed by a later council election in which he was the only candidate. After ejecting all foreign troops from the country, Djotodia and his cabinet began setting up the transitional government. In May 2013, the transitional government issued an arrest warrant for ousted leader Bozizé.

The CAR still faces a number of challenges, including extreme poverty, weak national institutions, and corruption. It is estimated that some 65,000 Central Africans remain displaced as a result of a continued high rate of violent crime perpetrated by armed movements. Human rights violations also persist, notably by the Seleka forces in and around Bangui, and recent outrage over the large-scale slaughter of elephants in CAR has raised concerns about Seleka’s ability to maintain security.

International military presence

France has retained a military presence in CAR since its independence, generally helping patrol the Chadian and Sudanese borders. These troops assist with intelligence, logistics, and air support. French troops have protected the city of Ndjamena from Chadian rebels, and have thus maintained influence in the region. Many villages and towns have only a few poorly armed soldiers if any at all. In 2010 the UN withdrew its MINURCAT peacekeeping operation from CAR and Chad, and has since concentrated on civilian peace building efforts. These include promoting reconciliation, supporting the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, and providing electoral assistance.

As long as the problem of Darfur is not solved, you will not have peace in Ndjamena or Banguii. The conflicts are all linked, and solving one requires solving all."

In October 2011, US President Obama announced the imminent deployment of 100 military advisers to assist ongoing efforts to end LRA violence. The Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) had already been active in the CAR to this end, and with Bozizé’s blessing a handful of US troops would join them in the southeastern province of Haut-Mbomou. As of March 2013, operations have officially paused due to the high unrest posed by Seleka’s coup and the ejection of foreign troops.

Honoring terms of a 2007 agreement, President Jacob Zuma had stationed several South African troops in Bangui to protect the Bozizé government, increasing their number in early 2013. During the March 2013 coup, 13 troops were confirmed killed by Seleka combatants, and South Africa withdrew the remainder of its forces.

A December 2012 Security Council report suggests the possibility of UN-led peace talks in both Chad and the CAR. For years the violence in Darfur and unrest in CAR have been linked: “As long as the problem of Darfur is not solved, you will not have peace in Ndjamena or Bangui […] solving one requires solving all.” Progress on this front has stalled, however, with a new Central African government establishing itself. Furthermore, without movement on Darfur, some question the benefit of these talks at all.


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