Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Central African Republic : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date August 2014
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Central African Republic : Overview, August 2014, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4954ce4723.html [accessed 19 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Updated August 2014


Environment


The Central African Republic borders Chad and Sudan in the north, South Sudan in the east, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Congo in the south, and Cameroon in the West. The south has a tropical climate and vegetation, while the north is savannah prone to drought and desertification. The CAR is an exporter of diamonds, uranium, gold, and timber, and is suspected to have significant oil reserves.

The population of the Central African Republic is 5.3 million (CIA World Factbook 2014).


Peoples


Main languages: Sango (official and lingua franca), French (official)

Main religions: Christianity (50%), indigenous beliefs (35%), Islam (15%)

Minority groups include: Mboum 306,000 (7%, CIA Factbook 2006), Yakoma 170,000 (4%, CIA World Factbook 2007), Mbororo (Fulbé) 156,000 (est. 3.6%, Ethnologue 1996), and Hausa 20,000 (0.5%, Ethnologue 2006)

BaAka 8,000-20,000 (0.2-0.5%) (April 2005 report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities)

The minorities in the CAR are best understood against a background of other, less marginalized groupings. The first policemen and clerks, and later the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, were recruited from among the riverine Ubangi-speaking people first exposed to French schools – Banziri, Sango, Yakoma and Mbaka (or Ngbaka), who together constitute about 5 per cent of the population. Three major linguistically related groups based in the middle and west of the country together make up the majority: Banda, Gbaya and Manja peoples. Linguistically distinct, but also Sahelian farmers, are Sara peoples, with about 10 per cent of the population; they live chiefly along the northern border with Chad. Azande peoples, accounting for perhaps 1 per cent of the population, inhabit the far south-east.

There are various groups of 'pygmy' peoples in the CAR, the largest of which are the BaAka, who number an estimated 8,000-20,000 and speak a Bantu language. BaAka people live largely nomadic lives in the forested areas of the south-west, gaining livelihoods through hunting and gathering; local residents and traders regularly buy meat and other produce from them. In some zones, BaAka men sell their labour to local residents and to forest industries. Socially subordinated, they are paid less than others for the same work. BaAka social bonds are disintegrating; health problems, including alcoholism, malaria, HIV/AIDS and diseases of the respiratory tract, are increasing.

Literacy levels, low throughout the country, are negligible. Formal schooling offers no means to learn their history and culture. Their cultural survival is severely threatened. As with similar peoples elsewhere in Central Africa, outsiders have tried to turn BaAka to settled farming. The government has left 'integration' efforts to Catholic missionaries, who have established 'pilot villages'. Other mission efforts, such as in schooling, have failed to retain pupils, as BaAka families keep moving in the forests. For most, defence is a matter of always being able to move away from difficulties. Their future as a distinct cultural group depends greatly on the vulnerable forest ecology. Here as in Congo and Gabon, those forests are under great pressure from rapacious and mainly illegal logging. In deals made between the timber companies and government agents, BaAka people have no voice.

There are an estimated 3,000 Bofi 'pygmies' (April 2005 report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities), who speak an Ubangian language and about whom less is known. A third group, the Bayaka or Biaka (also known by the derogatory term 'Babinga'), are estimated to number 15,000 (Ethnologue 1996). Many among these 'pygmy' peoples still practice a hunter-gathering lifestyle, while others have become agriculturalists. All face rampant official and everyday discrimination. Mboum exist on the margins of society, being described as very poor refugees. Mboum fled to present-day Central African Republic from highlands in Cameroon to escape Mboro (Fulbé) raids that had persisted into the twentieth century.


History


The history of the Central African Republic has been marked by long episodes of predation and conflict. The Atlantic slave trade gave rise to a network of riverine peoples in the south who raided peoples further north. Demand for slaves and ivory via Egypt and Sudan led merchants based in Muslim emirates of the savannah to carry out raids from the north. Besides helping to depopulate vast areas, these traumas left residues of hostility in the historical memory of several groups.

France's armed conquest in the 1880s and colonial domination from 1894 were a decisive factor. Inspired by Belgian King Leopold II's lucrative looting of the Congo Free State (today's Democratic Republic of Congo) to the south, France granted large concessions to private companies in the area they now called Ubangi-Chari. The companies committed numerous atrocities against the indigenous population and made wide use of forced, unpaid labour. Missionaries and administrators sought to distinguish African ethnic groups, and then to arrange them in hierarchies. Ubangi-Chari became part of the Federation of French Equatorial Africa in 1910. Until they had their power stripped from them in the following decade, African elites in business with the colony and its companies received modern weaponry with which they accelerated the local slave trade and depopulated much of the eastern part of the territory.

In the late 1920s, in reaction to continuing brutality and forced labour, African peoples launched a protracted rebellion against the concessionary companies. An independence movement took shape in the 1940s, and in 1946 the Ubangi-Chari was allowed to elect territorial representatives and have representation in the French parliament. In 1958 the territory became an autonomous unit within French Equatorial Africa and changed its name to Central African Republic (CAR).

In 1959 Prime Minister Barthelemy Boganda died in a plane accident, and his nephew David Dacko came to power with French backing, becoming CAR's first president at independence in August 1960. Dacko ruled a one-party state until his ouster in a military coup led by Jean-Bedel Bokassa in 1966. Bokassa abolished the constitution and ruled by decree. In 1976 he declared himself emperor of the 'Central African Empire'. Despite his erratic dictatorship, commission of widespread human rights abuses and disastrous economic stewardship, Bokassa maintained good relationships with France and the United States until the late 1970s when he became close to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In 1979 French forces aided a coup that restored former dictator David Dacko to power.

A bloodless coup toppled Dacko in 1981, and army General André Kolingba took the presidency, installing many of his ethnic group, the southerner Yakoma people, in positions of power. Although cronyism and economic mismanagement continued, international financial institutions lent large sums to CAR, driving it deep into debt. Kolingba maintained good relations with France. He ruled as a military dictator until 1986, when a new constitution and staged elections transformed him into a civilian dictator. With rising internal dissent and the end of the Cold War, Kolingba allowed a national commission to write a new constitution in 1991 and submitted to authentic elections in 1992, in which he garnered a mere ten per cent of the vote. He cancelled the result, but under international pressure, CAR held elections again in 1993 and he lost to Ange-Félix Patassé, a northerner from CAR's largest ethnic group, the Gbaya.

The politicization of the north-south ethnic divide begun under Kolingba continued under the Patassé government, as he moved to appoint northerners to positions of patronage in place of southerners. His favouritism of northerners in the military ranks set the stage for three army mutinies in 1996-1997, which were put down with military assistance from France and several Francophone African states. United Nations peacekeepers arrived in 1998, replacing a small African peacekeeping force. Patassé won the 1999 elections that were largely free despite some irregularities. His rival, Kolingba, rejected the result and attempted a coup in May 2001, which was again rebuffed with the aid of Libyan forces. In May 2002, Patassé signed a 99-year concession for Libya granting rights to CAR's gold, diamonds and suspected oil reserves. In October 2002 Libya and the leader of the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC), Jean-Pierre Bemba (who became DRC vice president in 2006) came to the aid of Patassé to put down a coup attempt of erstwhile Patassé loyalist General François Bozizé.

Bozizé succeeded with another coup attempt in 2003 after six months of fighting with Patassé loyalists who were again backed by Libya and Bemba's MLC. Following the coup Bozizé seized Bangui, dissolved parliament and declared himself President while Patassé was out of the country. Bozizé temporarily broke with the politics of regionalism and convened a National Transitional Council with delegates from all parts of the country to draft a new constitution, which was adopted with 77 per cent of the vote in a December 2004 referendum.

Bozizé's coup was followed by a conflict known as the Central African Republic "Bush War", during which armed groups, some of whom supported ousted president Patassé, rebelled against Bozizé. Fighting involved a large number of rebel groups of varying sizes. During 2007 and 2008 a number of peace agreements were signed between the Bozizé government and several rebel groups with the aim of resolving the "Bush War". Finally, in June 2008, the government entered into a peace agreement with the Union of Democratic Forces of Unity (UFDR) rebels, as well as the People's Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD). The agreement, brokered by the president of Gabon, provided amnesty to all combatants and foresaw the participation of rebel leaders in a consensus government with elections to take place in 2010. Unfortunately these peace agreements were not completely implemented and in many cases, the security situation on the ground remained unstable, with numerous smaller rebel groups still in operation. Over the course of 2008 and 2009 renewed clashed between government troops and remaining rebel groups forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes. During this period banditry remained rife, with armed groups known as "zaraguinas" engaging in widespread kidnappings and human rights abuses.

The security and humanitarian situation in the fragile north and north-west remained poor during 2009-2010, with ongoing fighting between government troops and rebel groups. Problems were also felt in the south and south-east, where Uganda's Lord Resistance Army (LRA) launched an insurgency, provoking intervention from Ugandan security forces. In the south, late 2009 and early 2010 saw the arrival of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which exacerbated the humanitarian situation.

In November 2009 Former President Patassé returned from exile, hinting that he might stand for the presidency in 2010. Over the course of 2010, however President Bozizé postponed the date for elections multiple times. Finally, in January 2011 Presidential and parliamentary elections were held and Bozizé successfully won another term, while opposition parties complained of electoral fraud and irregularities adding to the 'general confusion' which characterised the polling process.

During 2011, the north-west remained under the effective control of the APRD, who had not yet disarmed following 2008's peace agreement. The LRA also increased the intensity of their attacks in areas in which they remained active. A report from Amnesty International concluded that around two thirds of the country was outside government control.

However, 2012 saw the situation in the Central African Republic enter a new phase with the formation towards the end of the year of a new alliance of rebel groups known as Séléka, meaning "union" in the Sango language. The Séléka coalition was created in response to Bozizé's failure to comply with the terms of the various peace treaties and incorporated a range of armed rebel groups, including the UFDR and the Conventions of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP). It demanded his ousting from the presidency and called for him to stand trial at the International Criminal Court. Séléka swiftly took control of several key towns throughout the northern regions, and began to advance south, stopping short of Bangui.

In late 2012 Séléka entered into negotiations with Bozizé's government, which culminated in January 2013 with the decision to impose a cease-fire and power sharing deal with the administration. The negotiations also satisfied several of Séléka's key demands, including prisoner release and withdrawal of foreign troops. Some of its members were also included in a new unity government, which allowed Bozizé to finish his second term.

Séléka quickly became disenchanted with the implementation of the deal, claiming that Bozizé had failed to honour aspects of the agreement. In mid-March 2013, Séléka issued an ultimatum, and despite last minute concessions the ceasefire was broken and hostilities resumed a few days later. In March 2013 Séléka forces captured the capital Bangui, ousting Bozizé who fled the country. The next day, Séléka leader Michel Djotodia declared himself President, dissolving the government, parliament and suspending the constitution. Djotodia reappointed Nicolas Tiangaye as Prime Minister, and subsequently established a transitional government. Séléka and Djotodia's actions were roundly condemned by the international community and the African Union, who suspended the Central African Republic from the organisation and imposed sanctions on rebel leaders. Under pressure from regional leaders, on 6 April 2013 Djotodia signed a decree forming a National Transitional Council with himself at its head.

The period following Djotodia and Séléka's rise to power was characterised by spiralling levels of violence, human rights abuses and an ever worsening humanitarian situation. Reports from Human Rights Watch found multiple instances of mass killings, the destruction of towns and villages over the course of February-June 2013. UN reports found that Séléka fighters lacked any chain of command, and were sustaining themselves through looting and crime. In August 2013 the UN Security Council deemed that there had been a "total breakdown in law and order" in the country since the coup in March, and that the Central African Republic posed a "serious threat" to regional stability.

In September 2013 President Michel Djotodia dissolved Séléka. Some of the rebels were integrated into the new CAR army, but others broke rank and fled the capital, imposing their rule on other towns. By then, governance and state infrastructure had all but collapsed, civil servants had fled and fiscal revenues were close to zero. With the country unable to deliver even the most basic public goods, the Central African Republic began to be described as a 'failed state'.

During this period Djotodia lacked sovereignty over most of the country and retained no control over ex-Séléka elements. Rebel fighters commit human rights violations across the country, particularly in the north, including robberies, kidnappings, rapes and killings as well as recruiting child soldiers. The National Transitional Council lacked the capacity and political will to investigate abuses, and impunity was therefore widespread. In October 2013, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution asking the Secretary General to outline possible international support for a planned African Union peacekeeping mission, with the possibility of a subsequent UN peacekeeping operation.

A new concern arose in late 2013, with the emergence of anti-Séléka vigilante groups, formed to defend their communities from rebel attacks. Known as 'anti-balaka', balaka meaning sword or machete in Sango, these groups were comprised largely of Christian villagers who formed militias with the stated intention of protecting their communities from Séléka and other rebel groups. These militias were involved in multiple attacks against Muslim communities which continued throughout the last months of 2013. In November, the UN and NGO community began to voiced fears that as violence between the country's Christian and Muslim populations intensified, the Central African Republic could spiral into sectarian conflict and genocide.

In light of the increasing sectarian violence and the ever-worsening humanitarian situation, in December 2013 a UN Security Council resolution gave a mandate for French military intervention to support African Union troops in the Central African Republic. France deployed around 1,600 troops to support the 400 already on the ground, with the purpose of 'holding the line' between the rival Christian and Muslim forces.

During December, confrontations between armed religious groups in the capital Bangui increased, with reports of numerous outburst of violence including attacks on religious sites. In December 2013, OCHA reported that during the previous month, at least 461 people had died in the violence between Christian militias and ex-Séléka elements in Bangui. According to the report, by the end of the year there were more than 160,000 people internally displaced in the capital alone.

In January 2014, Djotodia and his Prime Minister, Nicholas Tiengaye, both resigned from their posts. Later that month, Catherine Samba-Panza was elected as interim president: She called for national reconciliation and urged all sides to bring an end to the violence.


Governance


The governance of the Central African Republic formally takes place in a framework of a presidential republic. The president is elected by popular vote and holds power for a five-year term. The prime minister is appointed by the president, who also appoints and presides over the Council of Ministers, which initiates laws and oversees government operations. The CAR's National Assembly is made up on 105 members elected by popular vote to serve 5-year terms. Elections to the National Assembly use the two-round or run-off system.

The country is divided into 16 prefectures for administrative purposes, which are further divided into more than 70 subprefectures. The commune of Bangui, which contains the capital, is administered separately. The Central African Republic's Supreme Court, or Cour Supreme, consists of judges appointed by the president. Likewise, judges in the Constitutional Court are also appointed by the president.

On paper, CAR is a multi-party system with a wide range of political parties. Most of these parties claim to be aligned on ethnoregional grounds. However, there is some dispute as to the extent to which political parties in CAR are truly representative. Academic research has found that while many parties claim to represent different groups, in reality there is little evidence of them actively working to secure the interests of their supporters.

In practice, changes in government in the Central African Republic usually take place through one of three means; violence (coups), negotiations and elections. Following independence from France in 1960, the CAR was ruled by a series of military governments, before undergoing a relatively successful democratic transition in the early 1990's. However, since Bozizé's coup in 2003, politics in the CAR became increasingly violent and unstable, with many of the key stakeholders in CAR politics acting both as civilian politics and as 'violent entrepreneurs'.

This impact of armed rebellion has subverted traditional, peaceful model of political change, as ordinary political parties have frequently been marginalised in political negotiations. Once in power, rebel groups have no claim to legitimacy, and while they may have some popular support there are no mechanisms for holding them accountable. As a result of these developments, the potential for political parties and civil society to impact upon politics has become increasingly limited.


Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples


Even before the upheaval of 2013, Muslim communities were more generally victims of attacks and discrimination in the Central African Republic. Findings published in 2010 by the US State Department found that Muslims face "consistent social discrimination, especially regarding access to services like citizenship documentation, where low-level functionaries reportedly created informal barriers for Muslims." Muslim communities suffered from the increasing sectarian violence during late 2013, with multiple attacks on Muslim communities across the country, including the burning of mosques in the capital Bangui.

The rise of Séléka also worsened tensions between the pastoralist Christians and nomadic Mbororo Muslims. Militia groups known as 'anti-balaka' formed to defend Christian communities from Séléka rebels. These groups have attacked Muslim villages, and in the latter part of 2013 launched multiple attacks on Mbororo communities, raiding cattle and killing dozens. In the South of the country, the cultural survival of the forest-dwelling peoples of the CAR - the biggest group of which is the BaAka - continues to be in question. UNESCO, which has recognised the unique polyphonic musical traditions of the BaAka, warns that "the scarcity of game resulting from deforestation, the rural exodus and the folklorization of their heritage for the tourist industry are the principal factors contributing to the gradual disappearance of many of their traditional customs, rituals and skills." Illegal logging presents a huge problem for the BaAka: even when logging is supposed to be State-controlled, and conservation measures are in place, there are difficulties. In all walks of life, the BaAka still face deep-seated discrimination from other communities in the Central African Republic. Like the rest of the Central African Republic's population, the BaAka and other forest-dwelling minority communities were affected by the growing instability and widespread violence during 2012 and 2013.

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