Approximately 10,000 years ago, desertification forced hunter gatherer societies south into Sahel regions of northern Central Africa where some groups settled and began farming as part of Neolithic Revolution.
Initial farming of white yam progressed into millet and sorghum, and before 3000 BC the domestication of African oil palm improved the groups’ nutrition and allowed for expansion of the local populations.
This Agricultural Revolution, combined with a “Fish-stew Revolution”, in which fishing began to take place, and the use of boats, allowed for the transportation of goods.
Products were often moved in ceramic pots, which are the first known examples of artistic expression from the region’s inhabitants.
The Bouar Megaliths in the western region of the country indicate an advanced level of habitation dating back to the very late Neolithic Era (c. 3500–2700 BC).
Ironworking arrived in the region around 1000 BC from both Bantu cultures in what is today Nigeria and from the Nile city of Meroë, the capital of the Kingdom of Kush.
During the Bantu Migrations from about 1000 BC to AD 1000, Ubangian-speaking people spread eastward from Cameroon to Sudan, Bantu-speaking people settled in the southwestern regions of the CAR, and Central Sudanic-speaking people settled along the Ubangi River in what is today Central and East CAR.
Bananas arrived in the region and added an important source of carbohydrates to the diet; they were also used in the production of alcoholic beverages. Production of copper, salt, dried fish, and textiles dominated the economic trade in the Central African region.
During the 16th and 17th centuries slave traders began to raid the region as part of the expansion of the Saharan and Nile River slave routes.
Their captives were enslaved and shipped to the Mediterranean coast, Europe, Arabia, the Western Hemisphere, or to the slave ports and factories along the West and North Africa or South the Ubanqui and Congo Rivers.
In the mid 19th century, the Bobangi people became major slave traders and sold their captives to the Americas using the Ubangi river to reach the coast.
During the 18th century Bandia-Nzakara peoples established the Bangassou Kingdom along the Ubangi River. In 1875, the Sudanese sultan Rabih az-Zubayr governed Upper-Oubangui, which included present-day CAR.
French colonial period
The European penetration of Central African territory began in the late 19th century during the Scramble for Africa. Europeans, primarily the French, Germans, and Belgians, arrived in the area in 1885. France created Ubangi-Shari territory in 1894.
In 1911 at the Treaty of Fez, France ceded a nearly 300,000 km² portion of the Sangha and Lobaye basins to the German Empire which ceded a smaller area (in present-day Chad) to France. After World War I France again annexed the territory.
Modeled on King Leopold’s Congo Free State, concessions were doled out to private companies that endeavored to strip the region’s assets as quickly and cheaply as possible before depositing a percentage of their profits into the French treasury.
The concessionary companies forced local people to harvest rubber, coffee, and other commodities without pay and held their families hostage until they met their quotas.
Between 1890, a year after the French first arrived, and 1940, the population declined by half due to diseases, famine and exploitation by private companies.
In 1920 French Equatorial Africa was established and Ubangi-Shari was administered from Brazzaville. During the 1920s and 1930s the French introduced a policy of mandatory cotton cultivation, a network of roads was built, attempts were made to combat sleeping sickness and Protestant missions were established to spread Christianity.
New forms of forced labor were also introduced and a large number of Ubangians were sent to work on the Congo-Ocean Railway. Through the period of construction until 1934 there was a continual heavy cost in human lives, with total deaths among all workers along the railway estimated in excess of 17,000 of the construction workers, from a combination of both industrial accidents and diseases including malaria.
In 1928, a major insurrection, the Kongo-Wara rebellion or ‘war of the hoe handle’, broke out in Western Ubangi-Shari and continued for several years.
The extent of this insurrection, which was perhaps the largest anti-colonial rebellion in Africa during the interwar years, was carefully hidden from the French public because it provided evidence of strong opposition to French colonial rule and forced labor.
In September 1940, during the Second World War, pro-Gaullist French officers took control of Ubangi-Shari and General Leclerc established his headquarters for the Free French Forces in Bangui.
In 1946 Barthélémy Boganda was elected with 9,000 votes to the French National Assembly, becoming the first representative for CAR in the French government.
Boganda maintained a political stance against racism and the colonial regime but gradually became disheartened with the French political system and returned to CAR to establish the Movement for the Social Evolution of Black Africa (Mouvement pour l’évolution sociale de l’Afrique noire, MESAN) in 1950.
Since independence (1960–present)
In the Ubangi-Shari Territorial Assembly election in 1957, MESAN captured 347,000 out of the total 356,000 votes, and won every legislative seat, which led to Boganda being elected president of the Grand Council of French Equatorial Africa and vice-president of the Ubangi-Shari Government Council.
Within a year, he declared the establishment of the Central African Republic and served as the country’s first prime minister. MESAN continued to exist, but its role was limited.
After Boganda’s death in a plane crash on 29 March 1959, his cousin, David Dacko, took control of MESAN and became the country’s first president after the CAR had formally received independence from France.
Dacko threw out his political rivals, including former Prime Minister and Mouvement d’évolution démocratique de l’Afrique centrale (MEDAC), leader Abel Goumba, whom he forced into exile in France.
With all opposition parties suppressed by November 1962, Dacko declared MESAN as the official party of the state.
Bokassa and the Central African Empire (1965–1979)
Central African Empire
On 31 December 1965, Dacko was overthrown in the Saint-Sylvestre coup d’état by Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who suspended the constitution and dissolved the National Assembly.
President Bokassa declared himself President for Life in 1972, and named himself Emperor Bokassa I of the Central African Empire (as the country was renamed) on 4 December 1976.
A year later, Emperor Bokassa crowned himself in a lavish and expensive ceremony that was ridiculed by much of the world.
In April 1979, young students protested against Bokassa’s decree that all school attendees would need to buy uniforms from a company owned by one of his wives.
The government violently suppressed the protests, killing 100 children and teenagers. Bokassa himself may have been personally involved in some of the killings.
In September 1979, France overthrew Bokassa and “restored” Dacko to power (subsequently restoring the name of the country to the Central African Republic).
Dacko, in turn, was again overthrown in a coup by General André Kolingba on 1 September 1981.
Central African Republic under Kolingba
Kolingba suspended the constitution and ruled with a military junta until 1985. He introduced a new constitution in 1986 which was adopted by a nationwide referendum.
Membership in his new party, the Rassemblement Démocratique Centrafricain (RDC), was voluntary. In 1987 and 1988, semi-free elections to parliament were held but Kolingba’s two major political opponents, Abel Goumba and Ange-Félix Patassé were not allowed to participate.
By 1990, inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall, a pro-democracy movement arose. Pressure from the United States, France, and from a group of locally represented countries and agencies called GIBAFOR (France, the USA, Germany, Japan, the EU, the World Bank, and the UN) finally led Kolingba to agree, in principle, to hold free elections in October 1992 with help from the UN Office of Electoral Affairs.
After using the excuse of alleged irregularities to suspend the results of the elections as a pretext for holding on to power, President Kolingba came under intense pressure from GIBAFOR to establish a “Conseil National Politique Provisoire de la République” (Provisional National Political Council, CNPPR) and to set up a “Mixed Electoral Commission”, which included representatives from all political parties.
When a second round of elections were finally held in 1993, again with the help of the international community coordinated by GIBAFOR, Ange-Félix Patassé won in the second round of voting with 53% of the vote while Goumba won 45.6%.
Patassé’s party, the Mouvement pour la Libération du Peuple Centrafricain (MLPC) or Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People, gained a simple but not an absolute majority of seats in parliament, which meant Patassé’s party required coalition partners.
Patassé Government (1993–2003)
Patassé purged many of the Kolingba elements from the government and Kolingba supporters accused Patassé’s government of conducting a “witch hunt” against the Yakoma.
A new constitution was approved on 28 December 1994 but had little impact on the country’s politics. In 1996–1997, reflecting steadily decreasing public confidence in the government’s erratic behaviour, three mutinies against Patassé’s administration were accompanied by widespread destruction of property and heightened ethnic tension.
During this time (1996) the Peace Corps evacuated all its volunteers to neighboring Cameroon. To date, the Peace Corps has not returned to the Central African Republic.
The Bangui Agreements, signed in January 1997, provided for the deployment of an inter-African military mission, to Central African Republic and re-entry of ex-mutineers into the government on 7 April 1997.
The inter-African military mission was later replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force (MINURCA). Since 1997, the country has hosted almost a dozen peacekeeping interventions, earning it the title of “world champion of peacekeeping”.
In 1998, parliamentary elections resulted in Kolingba’s RDC winning 20 out of 109 seats but in 1999, in spite of widespread public anger in urban centers over his corrupt rule, Patassé won a second term in the presidential election.
On 28 May 2001, rebels stormed strategic buildings in Bangui in an unsuccessful coup attempt. The army chief of staff, Abel Abrou, and General François N’Djadder Bedaya were killed, but Patassé regained the upper hand by bringing in at least 300 troops of the Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and Libyan soldiers.
In the aftermath of the failed coup, militias loyal to Patassé sought revenge against rebels in many neighborhoods of Bangui and incited unrest including the murder of many political opponents.
Eventually, Patassé came to suspect that General François Bozizé was involved in another coup attempt against him, which led Bozizé to flee with loyal troops to Chad.
In March 2003, Bozizé launched a surprise attack against Patassé, who was out of the country. Libyan troops and some 1,000 soldiers of Bemba’s Congolese rebel organization failed to stop the rebels and Bozizé’s forces succeeded in overthrowing Patassé.
François Bozizé suspended the constitution and named a new cabinet which included most opposition parties. Abel Goumba was named vice-president, which gave Bozizé’s new government a positive image.
Bozizé established a broad-based National Transition Council to draft a new constitution and announced that he would step down and run for office once the new constitution was approved.
In 2004 the Central African Republic Bush War began as forces opposed to Bozizé took up arms against his government. In May 2005 Bozizé won a presidential election that excluded Patassé and in 2006 fighting continued between the government and the rebels.
In November 2006, Bozizé’s government requested French military support to help them repel rebels who had taken control of towns in the country’s northern regions. Though the initially public details of the agreement pertained to logistics and intelligence, the French assistance eventually included strikes by Mirage jets against rebel positions.
The Syrte Agreement in February and the Birao Peace Agreement in April 2007 called for a cessation of hostilities, the billeting of FDPC fighters and their integration with FACA, the liberation of political prisoners, integration of FDPC into government, an amnesty for the UFDR, its recognition as a political party, and the integration of its fighters into the national army.
Several groups continued to fight but other groups signed on to the agreement, or similar agreements with the government (e.g. UFR on 15 December 2008).
The only major group not to sign an agreement at the time was the CPJP, which continued its activities and signed a peace agreement with the government on 25 August 2012.
In 2011 Bozizé was re-elected in an election which was widely considered fraudulent.
In November 2012, Séléka, a coalition of rebel groups, took over towns in the northern and central regions of the country.
These groups eventually reached a peace deal with the Bozizé’s government in January 2013 involving a power sharing government but this deal broke down and the rebels seized the capital in March 2013 and Bozizé fled the country.
Michel Djotodia took over as president. Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye requested a UN peacekeeping force from the UN Security Council and on 31 May former President Bozizé was indicted for crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide.
By the end of the year, there were international warnings of a war and fighting was largely from reprisal attacks on civilians from Seleka’s predominantly Muslim fighters and Christian militias called “anti-balaka.” By August 2013, there were reports of over 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
French President François Hollande called on the UN Security Council and African Union to increase their efforts to stabilize the country.
On 18 February 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the UN Security Council to immediately deploy 3,000 troops to the country, bolstering the 6,000 African Union soldiers and 2,000 French troops already in the country, to combat civilians being murdered in large numbers.
The Séléka government was said to be divided. And in September 2013, Djotodia officially disbanded Seleka, but many rebels refused to disarm, becoming known as ex-Seleka, and veered further out of government control.
It is argued that the focus of the initial disarmament efforts exclusively on the Seleka inadvertently handed the anti-Balaka the upper hand, leading to the forced displacement of Muslim civilians by anti-Balaka in Bangui and western CAR.
On 11 January 2014, Michael Djotodia and Nicolas Tiengaye resigned as part of a deal negotiated at a regional summit in neighboring Chad. Catherine Samba-Panza was elected as interim president by the National Transitional Council, becoming the first ever female Central African president.
On 23 July 2014, following Congolese mediation efforts, Séléka and anti-balaka representatives signed a ceasefire agreement in Brazzaville. By the end of 2014, the country was de facto partitioned with the anti-Balaka in the southwest and ex-Seleka in the northeast. On 14 December 2015, Séléka rebel leaders declared an independent Republic of Logone.