This month I’m going to be learning about my third French African country – the Central African Republic. So, before I start this month, what do I know off the top of my head about CAR?
Well, like Togo and Gabon, I know it faces a lot of the same history and problems as other French African countries – poor but resource-rich, a former French colony that’s officially sovereign, but still under French influence as part of La Françafrique. The use of the CFA Franc, preferential trade deals with France, and France’s political and military involvement is a pretty common factor for all these countries.
As for the specifics, the only real bit of history I’ve heard of is at one point CAR had a dictator, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who routinely shows up in listicles of “craziest dictators“. I know he declared CAR the Central African Empire and held such a lavish and wasteful Napoleonic coronation that it emptied out the country’s coffers.
I don’t know much more than that on his rule, or what CAR’s political path has been since then, though I know there’s been serious conflict in the country in recent decades. I’m sure CAR also isn’t immune to instability and conflict in neighbouring countries, especially Chad, Sudan / South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I read an Economist article a few weeks ago that mentioned in passing that CAR has gone all-in lately on crypto, though the main subject was El Salvador’s crypto crash, so it’s probably not going too well.
But I also don’t want to focus just on doom and gloom – I’m interested in learning more about CAR as a whole. Music, art, literature, history, architecture, religion, the landscape, the cuisine (is more like Gabon’s central African cuisine, or is it more influenced by the Sahel?) Who are the thinkers, innovators, and dissenters? What’s daily life like? How dominant is French vs other languages? What’s big for pop culture?
As an aside – I really like the design of the flag. Simple, visually engaging, and distinctive – it incorporates the “red/green/yellow + star” motif that’s iconic to African flags while not being visually confusing. (As opposed to Chad to the north, which has an identical flag to a totally unrelated European country.)
I also have a feeling that finding topics specific to CAR may be tricky, since the demonym is just “Central African”, or “centrafricain” in French – wider regional stuff comes up instead.