The foundations for today’s turmoil in the Central African Republic (CAR) are the outcome of a steady build-up of reinforcing factors. Over several decades, the small, self-sustaining political elite in the capital, Bangui, has failed to provide basic services, justice and security to its citizens. Grievances within the population have thus gradually mounted, leading to tensions between groups based on their livelihoods or territorial origin, while deepening the divide between the centre of power and the peripheries of the country. Armed actors and politico-military entrepreneurs in pursuit of economic and strategic interests have used these sentiments to turn people against one another or the government (see Annex I for a timeline).

In 2012, lingering conflicts turned into a full-blown crisis when various rebel groups operating in the north-east of the country formed the Séléka alliance and headed south towards the capital, looting and attacking villages on their way. Many young men joined them en route, having been promised rewards once they reached the capital. Others came from neighbouring Sudan and Chad to capitalise on the chaos. Although Séléka’s political objective was accomplished in March 2013 when the leader of their coalition, Michel Djotodia, was installed as the first Muslim president of the CAR, the violence did not end. Séléka men continued to attack, loot, extort and illegally tax people.[1]

This provoked an even more loose coalition of local defence groups, the Anti-balaka, to launch an attack on Bangui in early December 2013. Their revenge attacks targeted the Muslim minority (about 10% of the country’s population), who were accused of supporting the Séléka. Both the (ex-)Séléka and the Anti-balaka have merged out of numerous former armed groups that are continuously shifting their loyalties. Thus, while a peace agreement has since been signed between the (ex-)Séléka and Anti-balaka, and a transitional government established, conflicts between numerous successor armed groups continue.

The country now faces the daunting challenge of addressing the devastating impact of nearly three years of turmoil. Tensions between Muslims and Christians remain very high and tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to Chad and Cameroon, while others are trapped in enclaves within the country. Regaining trust among the people, and between the people and their leaders, has become a pressing matter. However, (re)building viable institutions and reinstating the state in the various provinces will take time, not least because the CAR has consistently ranked in the lowest percentile of the Human Development Index over the last two decades.[2]

Taking these challenges into account, this report explores the political and economic foundations that underpin the country’s progressive disintegration, so as to identify trade-offs that the international community will need to address when reassessing its support structures and aid modalities.

Box 1. Central African Republic

General information
Population: 4.6 million (2013 estimate)
Area: 622,984 km2
Population density: 7/km2
Official Languages: Sango, French
Faith: About 85% Christians (roughly 50% Protestants and 35% Catholics); 10% Muslims and 5% Animistic beliefs
Ethnic groups / ethnic divisions: Gbaya 33%, Banda 27%, Mandjia 13%, Sara 10%, Mboum 7%, M’Baka 4%, Yakoma 4%, other (e.g. Runga and Gula) 2%

Politics and administration
Government: Transitional government
Acting President: Catherine Samba-Panza
Acting Prime Minister: Mahamat Kamoun
The transitional government initially had a mandate until July 2015. A new election date has not been announced; the mandate of the transitional government has been extended until the end of 2015
Prefectures: 16 administrative; the prefectures are further divided into 71 sub-prefectures

GDP in 2013 US$1.538
GDP per capita in 2013 US$333
Real GDP growth: 1% estimated in 2014 – 5.4% projected in 2015 (after a downturn of 36% in 2013)
Inflation:6.6 % in 2013 – 11.2 % estimated in 2014 – 4.1 % projected in 2015
World Bank Doing Business Ranking 2015: 187 out of 189

Impact of the 2012–14 conflict
Estimated number of deaths: Around 5,000 as of November 2014
Estimated number of internally displaced persons: at least 25% of the population has been internally displaced since the beginning of the crisis. In September 2015, 378,000 people were still displaced in the CAR
Estimated number of refugees in neighbouring countries: Around 430,000 people have found refuge in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Chad since December 2013

Sources: Economist Intelligence Unit; OIF; Observatoire Pharos; CIA Factbook; Jeune Afrique; UNDP; World Bank Database; Africa Economic Outlook; World Bank Doing Business; Amnesty International; UNCHR

Methodology and structure of the report

The report is based on an extensive review of literature and news reports, and on fieldwork conducted in the CAR in February and March 2015. It not only explains the internal interplay between politics, the economy and security in the governance of the country, but also illuminates the role that external actors have played and continue to play in the domestic situation. As such, the report explores four interlinking factors that shape the country’s current and recurring state of crisis: a fractured society; caused by chronic political and armed crises; strongly shaped by external influences on domestic politics and rebellions; and a lack of geopolitical interest in the country. By showing the fine lines between continuity and further fragmentation in a volatile regional context, the report offers reflections on the profound economic and political transformations required to restore the social fabric of the country.

The report is structured as follows: Chapter 1 examines how the self-interest of political elites and the lack of a coherent political party system have exacerbated deep historic divisions and enabled political elites and armed groups to seize power until they are toppled by another armed group. Chapter 2 focuses on external interferences – both formal and informal – in the country’s political economy and security, including France’s strategic meddling. Chapter 3 looks at the nature of international aid to the CAR, at past and current peacekeeping operations, at international efforts in the field of justice, and ends by pointing out how the international community could overcome the hurdles that stand in the way of stability and economic development in the CAR.

HRW, ‘Central African Republic: Séléka forces kill scores, burn villages’, Human Rights Watch, 27 June 2013, (accessed 4 May 2015); Amnesty International, Human rights crisis spiralling out of control, Amnesty International Report, 2013.
Human Development Index trends, 1980-2013', Human Development Reports (accessed 14 September 2015).