As a child, I looked through the old atlases that my family had (for I have always been someone deeply interested in maps), and I saw that some of these old maps showed a little country that had the temerity to call itself the Central African Empire despite being smaller than most of its neighbors and being completely landlocked. The geographical reality of this nation seemed to make it an unpromising empire. Though the name of this nation–with about four million people and smaller than the size of Texas–has been changed back to the Central African Republic, the suffering of this nation and its people has not gotten measurably better.
Though according to my records my blog has never had a single reader in the Central African Republic (which is not too surprising given its colonial power was the French and it is one of the least developed nations of the world), the affairs of this little nation were brought to my attention when I received a short and intriguing writeup from one of my daily digests about global affairs that talked about how a rebel group was on the verge of overthrowing the corrupt leadership of the country and that the French were standing by only interested in protecting their own interests and not the elected leader . To be honest, even though I have an interest in Africa, and have traveled there before, my knowledge of the affairs of the Central African Republic is slight.
It appears, from what I can see, that I am not alone in my ignorance of the affairs of this nation, which is one of the most isolated states in the whole world. Its neighbors include Chad, two different Congos, Sudan and South Sudan, and the average citizen there makes less money than I did in 2012 (which is not good by any measure) even when one includes the massive underground economy. Despite the fact that the Central African Republic contains uranium, gold, oil, diamonds, hydroelectric resources, and plenty of arable savannah land, it is one of the poorest ten nations of the world with a life expectancy under fifty years . Ironically enough, the motto of the Central African Republic (adapted, it would appear, from the French Revolutionary slogan, ominously enough) is “Unity, Dignity, Work.” For a nation that has long been plagued by disunity (including its present conflicts), offers little dignity to its longsuffering populace, and has immensely unrewarding labor for its poor population, the national motto (like many) would seem to be a cruel mocking of the hopes and aspirations of the Central African people, who do not even come from any well-known tribal groups.
Just about everything about the Central African Republic is obscure. The nation that now exists there was formed by the French as they sought to expand from the Congo towards the Nile River, finding themselves blocked by the English. As for the poor native peoples themselves, they were caught between French imperialists who thought that the Belgian had a good business model with the “Congo Free State” and sought maximum exploitation of the natural and human resources of the region (but finding government expensive due to constant uprisings) and Muslim slave traders whose depredations massively depopulated the region. Independence did not greatly improve matters, as the Central African Republic (like most African nations) has been led by incompetent bullies and its natural wealth has failed to lead to well-being for its people, most of whom live on subsistence agriculture and gain a great deal of their income selling food and other items on the black market.
Whatever happens in the current political crisis that has seen a coalition of up to four rebel groups from the northern part of the country join together in a group called Seleka and rapidly take over most of the country (as of writing they are about 45 miles away from the capital city of Bangui. They claim that the incumbent president Bozize has failed to honor the agreement made in 2007 to reintegrate former rebel fighters into the economy of the Central African Republic. The only problem is that there is no larger economy for these people to reintegrate into–the Central African Republic is a massive aid recipient with basically no economic development, totally ineffective government, and very little to offer the world. And whether these rebels win or lose, nothing is going to change until the Central African Republic sorts is able to do the work necessary to build a unified nation that offers some kind of dignity and prosperity for its nation. Until then, it will simply be a failed state whose people suffer in obscurity, and whom the world knows next to nothing about.