Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (French: République centrafricaine or Centrafrique, Sangho: Ködörösêse tî Bêafrîka) is at the geographic centre of Africa, bordered by Cameroon to the west, Chad to the north, Sudan and South Sudan to the east, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo to the south.
Until the early 1800s, the peoples of the CAR lived beyond the expanding Islamic frontier in the Sudanic zone of Africa and thus had relatively little contact with outsiders. During the first decades of the nineteenth century, however, Muslim traders increasingly began to penetrate the region of the CAR and to cultivate special relations with local leaders to facilitate their trade and settlement in the region. The initial arrival of Muslim traders in the early 1800s was relatively peaceful and depended upon the support of local peoples, but after about 1850, slave traders with well-armed soldiers began to penetrate the region.
European penetration of Central African territory began in the late nineteenth century during the so-called Scramble for Africa. The French, Belgian and British competed to establish their claims to territory in the Central African region.
In 1889 the French established a post on the Ubangi River at Bangui, the future capital of and the CAR and in 1894, the "French Congo's" borders with (Belgian) Congo Free State, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and (German) Cameroon were fixed by diplomatic agreements. The French named their colony Ubang Shari.
On 1 December 1958 the colony of Ubangi-Shari became an autonomous territory and took the name Central African Republic. The founding father, Barthélémy Boganda, died in a mysterious plane accident in 1959, just eight days before the last elections of the colonial era. On 13 August 1960 the Central African Republic gained its independence and two of Boganda's closest aides became involved in a power struggle. David Dacko won and by 1962 had established a one-party state.
Since then a series of coups, including a notorious period under a self-declared emperor, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, and periodic violence from rebel groups, have dealt a very bad lot to the citizens of the Central African Republic. Today, this remains one of the most lawless, dangerous and unstable nations on earth.
The climate is generally tropical. The northern areas are subject to harmattan winds, which are hot, dry, and carry dust. The northern regions have been subject to desertification, and the northeast is desert. The remainder of the country is prone to flooding from nearby rivers.
In the November 2008 issue of National Geographic, the Central African Republic was named the country least affected by light pollution and clear desert nights mean the skies are spectacular.
Everyone needs a visa. In theory, Americans should be able to get your visa at the border or on arrival. In practice, it's always best to get your visa from an embassy before traveling. Those who are not US citizens (or neighboring countries to the CAR) should definitely get a visa ahead of time.
Visas can be single entry or multiple entry, but multiple entry is recommended more than single entry. Multiple entry visas usually last a year, whereas the single entry last three months. They cost USD150 and take two days to process.
Bus service was available from Chad, although the length and the dangerous countryside made such bus trips infrequent. In terms of safety and ease of passing through checkpoints, however, travelling by bus was preferable to travelling by 4x4.
Other African cities and countries are accessible via boats and barges that travel infrequently along the Ubangui river. The Ubangui River flows into the Congo River, which is navigable all the way to Stanley Falls near Kinshasa/Brazzaville. Although slow, there are regular (although adhering to no set schedule) barges which travel from Bangui to Kinshasa/Brazzaville.
Very few buses are available in the country but minibuses go from Bangui to towns in the west connected to the capital by tarmac roads.
How the majority of people travel over long distances. Due to the lack of public transport throughout the country, most destinations (and any destination in the east of the country) are only linked by commercial trucks which will take passengers for a fee. The conditions of the roads make this way of moving around very slow, and accidents are not unheard of. Bangui to Bangassou can take up to two weeks, depending on the season.
The flight network is not very well developed. Via Air do charter flights and a semi-scheduled flight between Bangui and Bangassou for 150.000cfa per person one way. Bear in mind that Via Air will postpone flights, sometimes by more than a week, if not enough passengers have reserved.
Traditional trade is carried on by means of shallow-draft dugouts. Oubangui is the most important river, navigable all year to craft drawing 0.6 m or less. 282 km of waterways are navigable to craft drawing as much as 1.8 m
The main language is French with a dialect called Central African French, which is easily understood by speakers of French. There are a lot of indigenous languages also. While French is the official language of the Central African Republic, only a few people in the country know more than a few words of it.
Sängö (also referred to as Sangro or Sangho) is the lingua franca and is spoken by most of the people in the Central African Republic (some 2000 have it as a mother tongue whilst 80% of the country have it as a second language). To find out if someone speaks Sängö, simply say Balâo (which means Hello), if they respond back with Balâo mïngï then you have found yourself a sango speaker.
English is spoken by almost no one, even in the capital.
The Central African Republic is a landlocked and remote country, and a lack of air access makes it an expensive destination.
Locations in the country have many attractions to travellers include the Chutes De Boali, waterfalls of a height of 50 m (164 ft). Dzanga-Sangha National Park in the south west of the country has gorillas and elephants. The Baka people live in this area. Bayanga beside the Sangha River is the main village near to the national park. The village has some small guesthouses and a lodge. The best time to visit most of the country is from November to April.
Costs in Central African Republic are exorbitant for foreigners who plan to maintain a lifestyle similar to those in their origin country. Much of the commerce and goods must be flown or shipped into the nation, explaining the high costs for many goods. "Local" goods that are imported into CAR from regional nations such as Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon are slightly less expensive (rice, beans, water, etc.). Finally, many of the supermarkets in Bangui and other cities are owned by Lebanese people and families, so there is abundant Middle Eastern food imported into the country, although these products are also very expensive.
There is a wide diversity of food in Bangui, including Chinese, Lebanese, French, local food and so forth. Food in restaurants owned by foreigners are very expensive and can be $10-$20 US per dish (or more). Local food, however, may also be expensive depending upon the restaurant and its location. There are abundant French bakeries in the downtown area in the centre of Bangui with moderate prices for baked goods as well as meals. Food in supermarkets is very expensive, although cheaper food can be purchased at local markets and from sellers in the street.
Local beer ("33", Mocaf, Crystal) and soft drink (MOCAF is a major producer) is similarly priced to products in Europe and the United States. Wine is available in some French wine shops but can be very expensive. Palm wine is common. Water is produced in Cameroon and Central African Republic and can be purchased in all of the local supermarkets. Imported products such as Coca-Cola and Fanta are also available.
English lessons are available at the Martin Luther King centre of the United States embassy. French and Sango lessons are available at the Alliance Francaise. There is also a university in Bangui with university degrees and some graduate programmes.
There are myriad opportunities for working by teaching English or for any of a number of humanitarian or religious organisations in the Central African Republic. Many of the streets of Bangui are lined with organisations including MSF (Doctors without Borders), UNICEF, International Red Cross, European Union, WHO, Institut Pasteur, Catholic Relief Serices, COOPI and many others. Most organisations are involved in health and development programmes, although others deal with education, religion, etc. Speaking French is essential for somebody who wants to be effectively involved in working with these organisations, as English is rarely spoken, even in Bangui.
Hot, dry, dusty harmattan winds affect northern areas. Floods are common.
Police manning checkpoints will demand bribes, expect no less than US$5; there are many reports that a trip from the Cameroon border to Bangui will cost hundreds of US dollars or Euros in bribes. Police will often confiscate an item (passport, camera, watch) and demand money for it. Armed robberies on roads in the country are common. Violent crime in the capital is common even in daylight, particularly around the "kilometre 5" bus station. Alcoholism is a major problem with city-dwellers, so be wary of drunks and do not even think about drinking with locals (you will be out-drunk).
In March 2003, rebel forces took over the government of the Central African Republic, and the group's leader named himself president. He remains in power today, and despite peaceful elections in March 2005, tourists could be at risk, particularly during public gatherings. The Islamist group Seleka still operates in the country. There have been reports of them cooperating with other jihadist groups.
Nonetheless, South West Central African Republic is a relatively stable and popular tourist destination. No incidents of crime involving tourists have been reported on the road from Bangui to Dzanga Sangha and many diplomats frequent the region on holiday.
Some areas of Bangui have clean and filtered drinking water, so it is safe to drink water served at some restaurants and bars. However, the purity of the water is not reliable and thus it is safer to buy bottled water or boil/filter water. Outside the capital there is no guarantee of water purity. All food should be cooked or peeled prior to being served, particularly food purchased at local markets, where hygiene is a concern. If illness should arise, it is better to seek counsel with one of the doctors at an embassy (the French embassy and US embassy both have fine doctors) or at a clinic at an organisation like Institut Pasteur. The local clinics and hospitals sometimes have a limited supply of necessary resources such as syringes, medicine, etc.
The locals often eat with their hands. If you are eating with them, and using your hands as well, be sure to eat with your right hand. The left is generally used for bathroom purposes, and therefore it is rude/unappealing to them if you eat with your left hand.