When I picked the Central African Republic for this month’s country, I knew it was a troubled country with chronic instability. I had hoped learn more about everyday life in CAR and to focus away from “doom and gloom“. But what I’ve learned this month is that the instability in CAR goes bone deep in everyday life.
I learned more about the excesses of la Françafrique, the French supporting and deposing chosen leaders, like the infamous Emperor Bokassa, the subsequent string of coups, including the fighting between Séléka and anti-Balaka insurgents, which has added a new Muslim vs. Christian dynamic that did not exist before.
CAR is an extremely fragile state, with limited government control outside of the capital of Bangui and more coups than elections. It is, however, very rich in natural resources – diamonds, gold, uranium, and illegally ivory. This means that CAR is open to interference from both inside forces, like the various insurgent groups, and outside ones. Chad, Libya, and South Africa all have had had a hand in CAR, and France even today continues its neo-colonial influence, but China, the EU, and most recently Russia have all staked claims.
For more detail into the geopolitics of CAR, I’d strongly recommend Making Sense of the Central African Republic.
A lot of Central African popular culture reflects these influences on everyday life. Didier Kassaï’s startling graphic novel Tempête sur Bangui is an eye-opening example, but there’s also a long thread of artists navigating their political reality through their work – from Prosper Mayélé’s run-ins with Bokassa, to current artists resisting and adapting through music, to Majora’s calls for peace, and Jospin Pendere-Yé’s balalaika for Putin.
But there is lots more than just about the conflict – there’s interesting books and music. I learned about the history and use of Sango, and got to try a dish that was really new to me – caterpillars. It was also really interesting to learn more about the Pygmy communities in the south – their music, their work on wildlife conservation, and the discrimination they face from other Africans.