The Central African Republic is at the geographic center of Africa, bordered by Cameroon to the west, Chad to the north, 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 began increasingly to penetrate the region of the CAR and to cultivate special relations with local leaders in order 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.
WARNING: Due to increasing rebel activity, travel here is strongly discouraged. The government is extremely volatile and maintains a weak grip on the country. Banditry and general lawlessness are major problems outside Bangui.
Everyone will need a visa except citizens of Switzerland and Israel.
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 $150 and take two days to process.
Bus service is available from Cameroon and Chad, although the length and the dangerous countryside makes such bus trips infrequent. In terms of safety and ease of passing through checkpoints, however, traveling by bus is preferable to traveling 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.
WARNING: There has been massive political unrest and rebel activity in many rural areas of the Central African Republic. Travel outside Bangui is strongly discouraged, including all land routes from Cameroon.
Traditional trade 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. The form is very understood by the Francophone nation. There are a lot of indigenous languages also. Whilst French is the official language of Central African Republic, a very small portion of the country knows any 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 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.
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 soda (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 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.
The CAR is the most lawless African country after Somalia. Police manning checkpoints are some of the worst in all of Africa and 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 "kilometer 5" bus station. Alcoholism is a major problem with city-dwellers, so be weary 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.
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.