Demobilize child soldiers in the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic has a name that is quite fitting given its location at the central heart of Africa. And given its location, it is also quite fitting that this nation embodies the very best and worst of Africa. The Central African Republic, after all, has great beauty, seen in its spectacular national parks, majestic waterfalls, lush jungle-like forests, and teeming wildlife. It also carries a rich heritage in the arts and crafts. But like other African neighbors, it is continuously mired in political brutality and is the cruel victim of environmental savagery; the latter characterization is in reference to the dry and dusty Harmattan winds that continually hail from the Sahara in the north, causing limited visibility and showering hazardous particles that wreak havoc on the country’s farming, livestock, and airline transport.

The Central African Republic lies only a short distance north from the equator, making it an extremely hot and tropical country. It is only slightly smaller than the size of Texas. The Republic stretches out over a vast plateau between the Chad and Congo basins. The rolling Ubangi-Chari plateau averages elevations between 2,000 and 3,000 feet above sea level. In the northeast and central west, however, land rises over 4,000 feet. The countryside consists mainly of open savanna while the southwest is comprised of tropical rain forests. Streams of river flow north, draining into Lake Chad while streams flowing south cut into the forested valleys and connect with the Ubangi, one of the tributaries of the mighty Congo. This latter stretch features several rapids and waterfalls.

The Central African Republic’s main tourist attraction is its national parks and game reserves. The three most important wildlife parks are Manovo-Gounda St Floris, Bamingui-Bangoran, and Dzanga-Sangha. The game population in these parks is impressive. You’ll get to see elephants, lions, giraffes, buffalos, hyenas, jackals, chimpanzees, baboons, antelopes, hippos, crocodiles, and brightly colored birds, reptiles, and insects. Manovo, in particular, is known for its high concentration of hippopotamuses. The best way to game-view is to tour the parks by jeep. Be sure also to visit Bayanga where gorillas can be found.

The country also has some beautiful natural features. The Boali Waterfalls in the charming village of Boali drop from a height of 165 feet and stretches 820 feet wide. Another spectacular waterfall is the Kembe Falls, which drops onto the Kotto River.

Also of interest is the Lobaye Region, which features indigenous forests and coffee plantations in the fringes. The forests are inhabited by native tribes living in small liana huts that use leaves to form the roofs.

You can also visit Bouar in the eastern regions. Bouar’s claim to fame is its burial mounds and upright megaliths, which are believed to be thousands of years old.

The climate in Central African Republic is hot and tropical. There are two distinct seasons. From March to October, it is very rainy. But the rest of the year is extremely dry. Most of the rain falls during July, August, and September while the driest months are January and February, a time of year when leaves shrivel and grass turn yellow.

Not much is known about the Central African Republic prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 19th century. It is believed that the area was once inhabited by the Pygmies. In the late 19th century, the French arrived and set up military outposts and trading stations. The territory was made a part of the French colony known as the French Equatorial Africa.

In 1960, the Central African Republic gained full independence from France. The first President, David Dacko, was ousted by Army Colonel Jean Bokassa in a military coup. He assumed the presidency and dissolved the government. His rule was marked by violence, and ended in 1979 when he was deposed by Dacko. Dacko was again ousted in 1986, this time by General Andre Kolingba.

In 1991, popular demand forced a multiparty constitution that required the appointment of a prime minister. Kolingba was defeated in 1993 in the multiparty elections by Ange-Felix Patasse. From 1993 to 2002, Patasse faced numerous attempts at military coups. He was finally ousted in 2002 by General Francois Bozize.

Today, government forces and rebel troops continue to duke it out, especially in the northwest. This has caused numerous refugees to flee. The country is also afflicted with extreme poverty. While the Central African Republic is self-sufficient in food crops, almost the entire population lives at subsistence level. The northwest, as a result of the ongoing violence there, is at risk of mass starvation.