Central African Republic Today

Today, with continuing widespread violence throughout the country, the Central African Republic teeters on the edge of the abyss. The recent violence is estimated to have uprooted nearly 1.2 million people and by late 2016 the World Bank estimated that there were still some 384,000 internally displaced people and 467,000 refugees in neighbouring countries. In addition, around 76% of the population continues to live in extreme poverty and around half the population are considered in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Health facilities within CAR have been devastated by the recent violence with only 55% of health facilities remaining in a functional state.

Economically speaking the situation improved slightly in 2015–16, but that was only in comparison to 2013 when the real GDP of the country fell by 36%, which led to economic collapse.

Perhaps the only bit of good news in the entire mess is that a new constitution has been approved and in February 2016 Faustin-Archange Touadera became the first ever freely elected president in the CAR's history.

Culture

Half of Central Africans are Christian, 15% are Muslim and 35% have stuck wholly with traditional animistic convictions; these ancient customs still strongly influence most people's lives, regardless of their principal faith.

CAR encompasses over 80 ethnic groups, which can basically be grouped into riverine, grassland and forest cultures; the latter include the Aka people (pygmies, though they don't like that term; singular is MoAka, plural is BaAka). The Baya-Mandjia and Banda, originating in the western and central savannahs respectively, compose 75% of the population.

Some 70% of the population lives a rural existence, and subsistence agriculture remains the backbone of the economy. The same percentage lives on less than a dollar a day.

While rice and yam, are sometimes available, Central Africans love their cassava, eating it at virtually every meal with a meat, fish or vegetable sauce. Koko, which is a little like eating grass (only it's pretty tasty), is another popular sauce ingredient. Bushmeat, particularly monkey, python and antelope, is also common in markets and even on menus. Forest caterpillars are a popular treat during June. A dash of piment (hot sauce) is put on almost everything.

Palm wine is the most popular firewater in the south, while bili-bili, a sorghum-based alcohol, predominates in the north. Both are available in Bangui, but beer is king there.

Environment

CAR, just a tad smaller than France, is landlocked smack bang in the middle of the continent. The country is one immense plateau varying in height mostly between 600m and 700m, tapering down to 350m in the far southwest. The closest thing to a real mountain is Mt Ngaoui, which at 1420m is the highest point in the country.

Though CAR is mostly associated with its tropical rainforest, these are found only in the southwest; sweeping savannahs, interspersed with many rivers, cover most of the country. Poaching is a huge problem and logging is on the increase, which threatens CAR's standing as one of the last great wildlife refuges.

Despite the ongoing security problems, African Parks (www.african-parks.org) have re-established Chinko in the east of the country as a viable reserve. It's home to chimpanzees, elephants, Lord Derby elands and numerous other species. In the southwest of the country the Dzanga-Sangha National Park is one of the most impressive parks in all of Central Africa, with habituated lowland gorillas and masses of forest elephants.