Central Africa wracked by decades of strife, mismanagement
Volatile Central African Republic, which votes for a new president and parliament Wednesday, is rich in natural resources but mired in biting poverty largely due to chronic unrest.
These are the major issues facing the country:
– Instability –
The most recent unrest came after longtime president Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown in March 2013 by Muslim rebels from the Seleka coalition, who were in turn ousted a year later by a military intervention led by former colonial ruler France.
The events sparked the bloodiest sectarian violence in the country’s history as Christian militias sought revenge against their mainly Muslim foes.
Central Africa’s troubles started back in December 1965, five years after independence, when president David Dacko was ousted by Jean-Bedel Bokassa.
Bokassa took charge in January 1966 and crowned himself emperor in 1977 in a wildly extravagant ceremony that made waves around the world.
His reign was marked by bloodshed, notably the 1979 massacre of school children who refused to buy school uniforms from a firm owned by one of his wives.
The French drove Bokassa out on September 20, 1979, while he was on a visit to Libya. Dacko was reinstated, but two years later forced to hand power over to senior military officers.
A multi-party system was unveiled in 1991, but then three mutinies in 1996-97 were followed by a failed coup in 2001. Bozize, a former military chief, rebelled and took over in 2003.
Several more rebellions followed, starting in September 2005, and France intervened with help from Chadian soldiers in November 2006 to recapture towns in the north that had fallen to rebel forces.
Bozize was re-elected in 2011, though the vote was marred by fraud, and in March 2013, Seleka rebels seized the capital Bangui and Michel Djotodia proclaimed himself president.
Christians who comprise about 80 percent of the population organised vigilante units dubbed “anti-balaka”, in reference to the machetes used by the rebels.
The Christian militias then began to target Muslims, plunging the country into a crisis that ended when French troops backed by a UN mandate stepped in once again on December 5, 2013.
Parliament then elected Bangui mayor Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president.
In mid-December this year, a constitutional referendum on limiting the president’s tenure was approved by a large majority, clearing the way for Wednesday’s parliamentary and presidential polls.
– Poverty –
The chronic crises have greatly harmed key sectors, and economic activity now comprises mainly subsistence agriculture.
Almost 70 percent of the country’s 4.8 million inhabitants live in poverty, and in 2014 the World Bank estimated per capita income at $320 (295 euros), making it one of the world’s poorest countries.
It nonetheless possesses substantial resources, including uranium, diamonds, gold and timber.
Administrations have been paralysed by the unrest, and the customs, tax and public treasury services are unable to collect funds needed to pay salaries and pensions.
Gross domestic product (GDP) plunged by 36 percent amid the unrest in 2013, but managed to expand by a slight 1.0 percent last year.
– Insecurity –
The country’s armed forces are estimated to number about 8,000, backed up by 900 French troops and an 11,000-strong UN force dubbed MINUSCA.
They have stabilised the situation, but do not control the entire country, which covers almost 623,000 square kilometres (241,000 square miles) — a little less than Afghanistan or Chile.
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