A Brief History of the Central African Republic
by Juan Fandos-Rius
(UPDATED: 21 August 2016)

A more detailed and comprehensive chronology and history of the Central African Republic can be found in: Bradshaw, Richard and Juan Fandos-Rius. Historical Dictionary of the Central African Republic. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, New Edition 2016 (see below).

The Arrival of the Europeans
Ubangi-Shari is created
Traditional social structures against Westernization
Ubangi-Shari and the French Union
Ubangi-Shari and self-government
The Central African Republic

Notre-Dame of Bangui, July 1998

The Arrival of the Europeans

The quarrel over the Ubangi (Oubangui) river is an illustration of the bitterness with which the European powers competed for the unexplored territories between the Congo and the Nile during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. The European settlement on the Congo basin thus broke a centuries-old system of commercial transactions based on slavery. On 15 November 1884 the great European powers gathered round a conference table in Berlin to work out a new internatinal colonial law. At the end of the talks Belgian King Leopold's Congolese colony--Congo Free State--was recognised, and by judicious manipulation of different maps he obtained very advantageous frontiers for it. A little earlier, an English protestant minister, George Grenfell (1849-1906) started out up the waters of the Ubangi. He noted its north-south direction, and the rate of flow which made it the Congo's most important tributary. On 27 April 1887 France and Belgian King Leopold II agreed to recognise the Ubangi as the frontier as far as latitude 4º north, beyond which the French and Belgian zones of influence were to lie on either side of this parallel. A kind of competition between French and Belgian officials began in earnest in 1889. Bangui on the right bank of the Ubangi and Zongo on the left bank were founded simultaneously, the first by the Frenchman, Michel Dolisie, on 25 June 1889, and the second by the Belgians on the following day.

By a Decision of the Administrator of Brazzaville and Dependencies the Region of Upper Ubangi (Région du Haut-Oubangui) was created on 9 December 1891. Moyen-Oubangui and Bas-Oubangui regions remained under Administrators of Brazzaville and Dependencies rule. By 1892 the Upper Ubangi region was under Belgian rule. In 1893 the État Indépendant du Congo (Congo Free State) created the Territoire de l’Ubangi-Bomu (Ubangi-Bomu Territory). Then after the French Congolese agreements of 1894 this Ubangi-Bomu Territory is transferred to France. France created a new colony under the name of Gouvernement du Haut-Oubangui (Upper Ubangi Government). By the Decree of 13 July 1894 Upper Ubangi became a quasi autonomous region, ruled by a special administration and independent from French Congo colony. The Upper-Ubangi stretched from Bangui to Bahr-el-Ghazal and its capital city was originally Mobaye, then moved to Abiras. The colony was divided into four regions:
1. The Bangui-Mobaye Region in the West and under civilian administration and three other regions under military administration:
2. Nzakara Region –made up of two Cercles: Bangassou and Ouango.
3. Zande Region –made up of three Cercles: Rafai, Zemio and Ziber.
4. Bahr-el-Ghazal Region –annexed to the Upper Ubangi colony on 26 April 1898 and made up of three Cercles: Soueh, capital Tamboura; Bahr-el-Ghazal, capital Djour-Gattas; and Rohl, capital Ayack--the Bahr-el-Ghazal area was reintegrated to Anglo-Egyptian Sudan after a Franco-British convention on 21 March 1899.

Ubangi-Shari is created

The French colonial territory of Ubangi-Shari (Oubangui-Chari), formed by the union of the region of Upper Ubangi and Upper Shari in the heart of the French Congo colony was created by the Decree of 29 December 1903. The Decree of February 1906 reorganizing the administration of the French Congo colony and its dependencies created Ubangi-Shari-Chad and placed it under the authority of a Lieutenant Governor, though the Chad Territory conserved its budgetary autonomy. After the ephemeral choice of Fort-de-Possel as administrative headquarters of Ubangi-Shari-Chad, the center was transferred on 11 December 1906, to Bangui. On 21 December 1907, the administrations of Chad and Ubangi-Shari territories were once again separated. The regions of Upper Sangha and of Lobaye were again attached to Middle-Congo--German from 1911 to 1914 (Neu Kamerun), and French again in 1919. They were reunited to Ubangi-Shari in 1934. At the same date Chadian regions of Logone and Shari-Bangoran were part of Ubangi-Shari. On 15 November 1934, Ubangi-Shari reached its largest geographic extension, making it the most important territory of French Equatorial Africa by far. The vast territory was brought into the present Central African Republic boundaries by the gubernatorial decision of 28 December 1936. The French Congo colony and its dependencies had already taken the name of French Equatorial Africa (Afrique Equatoriale Française) on 15 January 1910 and organised into three not very autonomous colonies: Ubangi-Shari-Chad, Gabon and Middle-Congo.

Traditional social structures against Westernization

The social structures of the various Central African peoples opposed European occupation of their lands and nations. In the North of the country the sultanate of Dar al-Kouti fought against the French. In Haut-Oubangui, the south eastern part of the Central African Republic because of the French and Leopoldian (Belgian) disputes over the control of the Ubangi river basin the sultanates of Rafai, Bangassou and Zemio allied French or Belgians in order to preserve as much independence as possible. On the east local populations also opposed European occupation. The period of ruthless exploitation that followed early European penetration, particularly in the Lobaye and Haute-Sangha regions where the worst abuses took place, led to the Kongo-Wara War from 1928 to 1931. The Kongo-Wara War, perhaps the largest anticolonial rebellion in Africa during the interwar years, was carefully hidden from the French public because it provided evidence, once again, of strong opposition to French colonial rule and forced labor.

Ubangi-Shari and the French Union

By isolating French Equatorial Africa from the Metropole (France), World War II forced still another change in the federation's administrative structure, particularly in the financial domain. Decentralizing reforms initiated by Félix Éboué (1884-1944) in 1941 and 1944 culminated in the law of 16 October 1946 which restored budgetary autonomy to the four French Equatorial Africa colonies and set up a separate federal budget. Before the Second World War was actually over, the Comité Français de Libération Nationale had elaborated a programme of reforms for all the colonies. Although the government had advocated assimilation for Black Africa, it regarded universal suffrage as too premature a measure for an area like French Equatorial Africa. A new Constitution for France and its colonies was finally adopted on 13 October 1946, the Fourth Republic established the French Union and Ubangi-Shari became an Overseas Territory. Far from universal suffrage a double electoral college was instituted--both the electorate and the members of the local assembly were divided into two colleges. A series of decrees in October 1946 allotted Ubangi-Shari --for the second electoral college-- one seat in the National Assembly, one seat in the Council of the Republic (the Senate), and two seats --for both electoral colleges-- in the French Union Assembly. The law of 7 October 1946, had placed the onus of organising local assemblies on the French Union--split into a double electoral college system for French Equatorial Africa overseas territories in what was an unfair racial segregation system. In Ubangi-Shari, the Conseil Représentatif (Representative Council)--first assembly of the country-- consisted only of 25 seats, 15 for the second electoral college--Ubangians-- and 10 for the first electoral college--Europeans. On 10 November 1946 Barthélémy Boganda, a Catholic priest was elected for the National Assembly. On 15 December 1946 elections for the Conseil Représentatif took place and a list of candidates of the Action Économique et Sociale (Economic and Social Action) a party started by Barthélémy Boganda (1910-1959) and his supporters won all seats in the Conseil Représentatif. On 28 September 1949, Boganda assembled a small group of his followers at Bangui, and decided, with their agreement, to found a popular mass movement called the Mouvement d'Evolution Sociale d'Afrique Noire, MESAN.

Ubangi-Shari and self-government

On 23 June 1956, the National Assembly in France voted the loi-cadre, which at last guaranteed a certain amount of autonomy for the colonies. From February to May 1957, the institutions were set up and Ubangi-Shari converted into a semi-autonomous territory. The decree of February 4 recognised the full civil status and financial autonomy of each country belonging to the federation of French Equatorial Africa. In his capacity as head of the territory, the Governor held the title of High Commissioner of the French Republic. He controlled local affairs, and was the lawful President of a Conseil de Gouvernement consisting of members, elected by the Assembly either from among its own members or from outside. The four territories of French Equatorial Africa formed a group under one General High Commissioner, who was assisted by the Grand Council (Great Council)--created in 1947. No arrangement was made for a federal executive. The Conseil de Gouvernement set up on 14 May 1957 comprised only six ministers, for reasons of economy as well as efficiency. Boganda called upon a new man, Abel Goumba, to occupy the post of Vice-President of the Conseil. The High Commissioner was President and Vice-President, Goumba, was in charge of Finance and Plan. Boganda had decided not to participate in a government that had a colonial governor as president. A young Mbaka primary school-teacher, David Dacko (1930-2003), was put in charge of Agriculture, Joseph-Gilbert Mamadou (d 1980), also Mbaka, was given the Social Services, Health and Education, and Honoré Willickond took over the Ministry of Labour. A qualified overseas doctor from Dahomey, Robert Gbaguidi, was placed at the head of Public Works, Transport and Mines, all grouped into one ministry. And a French businessman, Roger Guérillot (1904-1971), obtained a large Deparment, comprising all economic and administrative affairs.

The Central African Republic

In 1958 General Charles De Gaulle (1890-1970) was back to power in France. General de Gaulle made it clear that the relations between France and the overseas territories were crucial to the settlement of the Algerian question. The federal structure he had advocated previously in his Bayeux speech was the only one which would still allow the harmonious evolution of all the countries. General de Gaulle's proposed federal structure was finally adopted by means of a new Constitution, the Constitution of the Fifth French Republic that established the Communauté –-a grandiose scheme between France and its overseas territories that became autonomous republics.

Boganda was convinced that isolated independence would be catastrophic for Ubangi-Shari. So, he attempted, in his capacity as President of the Great Council of the French Equatorial Africa, to push through a proposal for a united state in central Africa. A united state with a united government and a united parliament would reduce the expenses considerably. Boganda imagined a central legislative assembly for the new autonomous state of French Equatorial Africa and a Council responsible to it. The territory belonging to the former federation would be divided into departments and sub-divided into urban boroughs and rural communes. A Minister of State would execute the decisions of the government in each geographical zone corresponding to the former territories. The President would first be invested for one year only and could be from Ubangi-Shari, Middle-Congo, Gabon or Chad in turn. The new state could be called “Equatorial Republic” or “Equatoria”. Finally, Boganda agreed to the name “Central African Republic” –which was proposed to him by Pierre Kalck (1924-2004), a French counselor to Ubangian government and a historian of the country— which was geographically more logical for a state stretching from the Congo to central Sahara. Boganda, then, sent a goodwill mission to the other three territories –Chad, Middle-Congo and Gabon— but the mission returned home unable to obtain the adherence of Chad and without being received by the government of Gabon. In the Middle-Congo, however, Jacques Opangault (1907-1978), the President of the Council of Government declared his heartfelt enthusiasm. But the states of French Equatorial Africa were still far from being autonomous in practice and the last word, as usual, lay with the French government and the High Commissioner. In Middle-Congo, Opangault’s majority in the assembly hung on one vote and when a particular councillor went over to Fulbert Youlou (1917-1972), strongly supported by a mafia of colonists, the situation reversed. In Gabon, where the government was supported by the European companies, which wished to continue exploiting the forest and the mines in their own way, the leaders finally announced that they were opposed not only to a united state but to any form of federation.In such circumstances, the French government was unwilling to accept the responsibility and the risk of sponsoring a large state or group of states, when the richest among them was to be excluded. On 24 and 25 November 1958 the High Commissioner of French Equatorial Africa called a meeting -–to which Boganda refused to attend—- of all the leaders of the states of French Equatorial Africa to inform them that the words and the spirit of the new Constitution required each territorial assembly to make a separate choice, and they agreed to do so on 28 November 1958. Consequently, with a sinking heart, Boganda resolved to proclaim the Central African Republic as a member state of the Communauté but restricted to the single territory of Ubangi-Shari. He gave it the flag he had devised for a great united Central African Republic, blue, white, green and yellow with a horizontal red stripe and the star of MESAN emblem in the upper left hand corner. This emblem deliberately mingled the tricolor of France with the three colours of the majority of the African states that already had achieved independence by that time.

Boganda died on 29 March 1959 in a mysterious airplane crash, and David Dacko was then elected new head of Government -–President du Gouvernement—- by the Legislative Assembly. Dacko came to power thanks to the aid of French colons in the country and he was to continue working with many of the former policies from the colonial era. On 13 August 1960, the ceremony of the proclamation of independence was held by torchlight before the former palace of the Governor. André Malraux, who had been delegated to sign the agreements, made a point of declaring: "France bequeaths you her administration, because there can be no state without management". On Sunday, 14 August 1960, the Legislative Assembly held a very brief session and merely adopted a law to enable the President of the Government to assume the functions of Head of State and President of the Republic until the first President of the Central African Republic could be officially invested. On 20 September 1960, the United Nations General Assembly voted on the draft resolution sponsored by France and Tunisia [A/L.307] recommending the admission to membership of the Central African Republic. The draft resolution was adopted by acclamation. The delegation of the Central African Republic was escorted to its place in the General Assembly hall.

By means of a coup d’etat Colonel Jean Bedel Bokassa (1921-1996) seized power on 1 January 1966 and deposed President David Dacko. He abolished the Constitution of 26 November 1964 and named himself President of the Republic. Bokassa had him named President-for-Life on 4 March 1972 by a Congress of MESAN. Bokassa wished then to become a monarch so he had him named Emperor on 4 December 1976 by an Extraordinary Congress of MESAN and the country became then the Central African Empire (Empire Centrafricain).

The Central African Empire Coat of Arms 1977-1979, @ design by Juan Fandos-Rius, 2006

On 20 September 1979 Bokassa was overthrown by France who gave the power to David Dacko. Dacko restored the Republic and abolished the monarchy. President Dacko was in turn deposed by General André Dieudonné Kolingba (b 1935). On 1993 President Kolingba was defeated in democratic a election by Ange Félix Patassé (b 1937). On 15 March 2003 President Patassé was overthrown by General François Bozizé Yangouvonda (b 1946) who named himself President of the Republic. As Bokassa and Kolingba had done before and in order to rule the country on a minimum legal basis he published three Constitutional Acts. Finally, democracy came in turn and a new Constitution was passed on 27 December 2004. Presidential and legislative elections took place in 2005 and François Bozizé Yangouvonda was sworn in as President of the Republic on 11 June 2005 for a 5-year term. After a ten-year reign Bozizé was overthrown by Seleka force, a coalition of rebel groups and its leader, Michel Am Nondroko Djotodia (b 1949) became the country's new strongman. African and foreign nations insisted on an immediate return to the democratic process and forced Djotodia to open it. Unable to set up any real control of the country out of Bangui, Djotodia's government resigned and was replaced by Catherine Samba-Panza (b 1956) as acting head of State, who successfully completed a two-year transition period including a constitutional referendum and presidential and legislative elections. On 30 March 2016 Faustin Archange Touadéra was sworn-in as new President of the Republic and appointed Mathieu Simplice Sarandji as new Prime Minister on 6 April 2016. At the National Assembly, Abdou Karim Meckassoua was elected new chairperson on 6 May 2016.

NEW RELEASE June 2016! / VIENT DE PARAÎTRE Juin 2016 !

Historical Dictionary of the Central African Republic
Richard Bradshaw et Juan Fandos-Rius

HDCAR2016(CLICK ON THE PICTURE / CLIQUEZ SUR LA PHOTO)