Skip to main content

What's behind the turmoil in the Central African Republic

By Holly Yan, CNN
March 25, 2013 -- Updated 1405 GMT (2205 HKT)
Central African Republic soldiers patrol a street of Bangui on December 31, 2012.
Central African Republic soldiers patrol a street of Bangui on December 31, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Bozize is now in Cameroon, that government confirms
  • Rebel leader Michel Djotodia declares himself new president
  • One rebel says democratic elections are on the horizon
  • Rebels tell civilians to remain calm and prepare to welcome rebel forces

(CNN) -- In just over a day, rebels seized the Central African Republic's capital, forced the president out of the country and declared the nation had "opened a new page in its history."

But no one knows what the next page will say.

Michel Djotodia, the leader of the rebel alliance, the Seleka, declared himself the new president, and the rebel group says their takeover opens a path for peace and democracy.

Yet questions abound over the future of impoverished, landlocked country -- and what this uprising means for its 5.1 million residents.

Where is the Central African Republic?

The Central African Republic is a landlocked nation in the center of the continent, slightly smaller than Texas. It is bordered by Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A former French colony, it gained independence in August 1960.

Its 5.1 million residents include various ethnic groups who speak several languages. Even though French is the official language, Sango is the primary one.

What has been its form of government?

For the first 30 years, the country was ruled mostly by military governments. Civilian rule was established in 1993 but lasted only 10 years, according to the CIA World Factbook.

In March 2003, then-president Ange-Felix Patasse was deposed in a coup led by Gen. Francois Bozize.

Bozize is now in Cameroon, from which he is seeking to move to another country, the Cameroon government said in a communique dated Monday. The statement said that despite his presence, the country shall adhere to a policy of non-intervention.

How long was Bozize in power?

Two years after he took over in a coup, Bozize called elections in 2005 -- which he won.

In 2011, he was re-elected, but activists said the polling was marred by fraud.

When did the rebellion start?

From the beginning, Bozize did not have full control of the nation. Rebel groups operated, particularly in rural areas.

In December 2012, several of the rebel groups banded together, calling themselves the Seleka, or "coalition" in the Sango language. They accused Bozize of reneging on a peace deal and demanded that he step down.

Slowly, the rebels began taking over parts of the country.

Didn't the two sides strike a new peace deal?

Yes, Bozize and the Seleka brokered a peace deal in January, agreeing to form a unity government led by Bozize.

But that deal also fell apart.

What do the rebels want?

Some say the Seleka want a greater opposition presence in the country's government after Bozize's presidential election wins were met with fraud allegations.

But others say greed is a factor.

Only 3.1% of the land is arable, but the country has an array of natural resources, including diamonds, gold and timber.

"Government officials from Bangui have accused Seleka of harboring 'foreign provocateurs' greedy for the country's vast mineral wealth, and there are suspicions that nationals from Chad, Nigeria, and Sudan also make up Seleka's ranks," African studies doctoral candidate Jason Warner wrote in a piece for CNN.

How did the rebels take over the capital?

For weeks, the Seleka rebel coalition pushed its way from its base in the north toward the capital city of Bangui, seizing towns along the way.

Their efforts took a pivotal turn on March 24, when they infiltrated the capital.

Witnesses reported hours of fierce gunfire in the city, and a government official said seven civilians were killed.

Before he ended up in Cameroon, Bozize had crossed into the Democratic Republic of Congo by the end of the day, said Jules Gautier Ngbapo, a government spokesman.

And the rebels issued a bold message:

"The Central African Republic has just opened a new page in its history," said a written statement from Justin Kombo Moustapha, secretary general of the Seleka rebels.

The statement described Bozize as the country's former president and urged residents to remain calm and prepare themselves to welcome rebel forces.

Why were South African soldiers in the country?

South Africa sent 200 troops to the country in January to work with the military there to quash the rebellion.

During the rebel advance, 13 South African soldiers were killed and 27 wounded, the South African president's office said. One soldier was unaccounted for.

What is likely to happen next?

That's what world leaders are scrambling to figure out.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the "unconstitutional seizure of power," echoing the African Union's dismay over the rebels' offensive.

Ban's office said the United Nations will continue working with the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States to find a solution.

Rebel leader Djotodia declared himself the new president, and the rebel alliance said democratic elections will take place after three years.

"A new page is opening for peace and democracy in the CAR," Francois Nelson N'Djadder, a rebel spokesman, wrote.

"Bozize being gone, the Central Africans must gather around the table to talk and find a common path which will ... lead to the organization of democratic elections."

What other challenges does the Central African Republic face?

Despite its richness of natural resources, the country is stymied by a landlocked position, a poor transportation system, a largely unskilled work force and a legacy of misdirected macroeconomic policies, the CIA's World Factbook said.

Its per-capita GDP -- the country's economic output divided by the population -- is just $800, putting the country in 222nd place out of 228 countries.

And more than one in 25 adults are afflicted with HIV or AIDS.

READ MORE: Central African Republic president flees capital amid violence, official says

CNN's Elwyn Lopez, Nana Karikari-apau and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
African Voices
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Australia's Tim Cahill appeals to the linesman after a disallowed goal during the Group B match between Chile and Australia at Arena Pantanal on June 13, 2014 in Cuiaba, Brazil.
Kenya's national football team may not have made it to the World Cup Finals in Brazil -- but one man will be there for his African nation.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)
African contemporary art is thriving, says author Chibundu Onuzo.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1239 GMT (2039 HKT)
Mulenga Kapwepwe
Mulenga Kapwepwe has single-handedly created an explosion of arts in Zambia.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Wegkruipertjie, a short film playing at the Durban International Festival
From Ghanaian rom-coms to documentaries celebrating 20 years of South African democracy, festival-goers are spoiled for choice at this year's Durban Film Fest.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Kalibala with one of the children she supports.
In 2010, Ugandan journalist Gladys Kalibala embarked on a mission to bring attention to her country's lost and abandoned children.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Sunset at Camps Bay with one of Andrew van de Merwe.
A trip to the beach is usually for lounging in the sun. But for Andrew van de Merwe, the sand stretches in front of him as an enormous blank canvas.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1240 GMT (2040 HKT)
Esther Mbabazi, Rwanda's first female pilot
Esther Mbabazi wheels her bag towards the airstairs of the Boeing 737 sitting quietly on the tarmac at Kigali International Airport.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1122 GMT (1922 HKT)
Jun 1978: Filbert Bayi #42 of Tanzania rounds the bend during the 5000 Metre event at the AAA Championships in Crystal Palace, London.
He's smashed world records and revolutionized running during his career. And yet the name of Filbert Bayi has largely been forgotten.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Nelson Mandela
Adrian Steirn and the 21 ICONS team have captured intimate portraits of some of South Africa's most celebrated. Here he reveals the story behind the photographs.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 0926 GMT (1726 HKT)
Explore a series of artistic street portraits designed to pay tribute to the people of the Sudanese capital.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1557 GMT (2357 HKT)
A growing list of popular African authors have been steadily picking up steam --and fans -- across the globe over the last several years.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1835 GMT (0235 HKT)
South Africa Music Legends stamps
Artist Hendrik Gericke puts a spotlight on iconic musical legends from South Africa in these incredible monochrome illustrations.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
David Kinjah njau and Davidson Kamau kihagi of Kenya in action during stage 2 of the 2007 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race.
He's one of Kenya's premier cyclists but David Kinjah's better known as the man that trained Tour de France champion Chris Froome.
Each week African Voices brings you inspiring and compelling profiles of Africans across the continent and around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT