In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Central African Republic

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Data Sources
  • Flora and Fauna
  • Economy
  • Education
  • Arts

African Studies Central African Republic
Richard Bradshaw, Juan Fandos-Rius
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0108


The Central African Republic (CAR) is a landlocked country slightly larger than France located north of the equator. It was the French colony of Ubangi-Shari before it became an independent nation on 13 August 1960. Most of its approximately 4 million inhabitants live in its Sudano-Guinean savannas, reside in rural villages, and depend upon a mixture of farming, hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering for their subsistence. Some Central Africans are private sector employees (store clerks, cooks, sentinels, day laborers), government employees, traders, stockbreeders, artisans, builders, pastors, rebels, and robbers. Most Central Africans speak a Niger-Congo language as their mother tongue and can speak Sango and at least a little French, both National Languages of the CAR. Significant minorities speak Nilo-Saharan languages such as Kaba or Afro-Asiatic languages such as Arabic and Hausa. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, slave raiders penetrated Central Africa from every direction and the eastern part of the CAR still has an extremely low population density as a result of these raids. The conquest and colonization of the region by the French eventually brought slave raiding to an end, but introduced armed groups that used violence to enforce the collection of rubber, the cultivation of cash crops, and other activities that benefited Concessionary Companies and limited the cost of colonial rule. Many Central Africans suffered greatly due to brutal treatment, spreading sickness, hunger, exhaustion, and insecurity, particularly during the early French colonial era. French rule also introduced a new forms of Education, new religious beliefs, and new skills. Those Central Africans who assimilated this formal education became Christian leaders, learned new skills, and started to insist on better treatment and eventually the end of colonial rule. But after independence was achieved, the new nation’s rulers proved to be more interested in power and wealth than in the welfare of the people, and these rulers were supported or sometimes changed by France until the early 1990s, when the end of the Cold War led to growing outside pressure to allow democratic elections. The first fair democratic elections were followed by growing ethnic tensions, mutinies by soldiers, a proliferation of armed groups, and greater insecurity for many citizens. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) began increasingly to provide services that the state was unable or unwilling to provide, and the CAR came to be regarded as a “failed” or “phantom” state. Thousands of Central Africans have been attacked by government troops, rebels, or bandits, and have suffered displacement, illness and hunger. The recent overthrow of President Bozizé in March 2013 by Seleka rebels was accompanied by widespread looting and human rights abuses.

General Overviews

Despite extraordinary scholarly interest in the forest specialists (“pymgies”), rainforest ecology, and music of the CAR, few good overviews of the country exist. Auzias and Labourdette 2009 is aimed at tourists but touches on a variety of topics and thus provides a succinct overview. The essays in Grootaers 2007 provide an invaluable introduction to the region, but they do not cover contemporary history or politics. O’Toole 1986 devotes particular attention to the postindependence period but insufficient knowledge of the CAR and contradictory claims are all too evident. Woodfork 2006 and Saulnier 1997 provide the best general overviews of the country.

  • Auzias, Dominique, and Jean-Paul Labourdette. République centrafricaine. 2d ed. Paris: Nouvelles éditions de l’Université, 2009.

    A short guidebook aimed at tourists and others new to the CAR, which contains much up-to-date information of use to anyone studying the CAR.

  • Grootaers, Jan-Lodewijk, ed. Ubangi: Art and Cultures from the African Heartland. Brussels: Mercatorfonds, 2007.

    A collection of articles about the languages, arts, cultures, and history of the CAR. It does not cover the colonial or postindependence era, but it is highly recommened as a good place to start any serious study of the country and its people.

  • O’Toole, Thomas. The Central African Republic: The Continent’s Hidden Heart. Profiles: Nations of Contemporary Africa. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1986.

    A brief, well-illustrated, dependency theory-infused introduction to the country with a succinct but now dated overview of postcolonial politics. Its content and claims should be carefully compared to those of other sources.

  • Saulnier, Pierre. Le Centrafrique: Entre mythe et réalité. Études africaines. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1997.

    A brief but useful introduction to the CAR’s history and peoples by a Catholic priest and anthropologist who worked in the CAR for several decades.

  • Woodfork, Jacqueline. Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

    A general introduction to the CAR with sections on religion, literature, art, architecture, cuisine, gender roles, marriage and family, social customs and lifestyle, music, ancestors, spirits, witchcraft, charms, divination and prophecy.

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