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Central African Republic - Geography

The Central African Republic is near the center of the African continent [hence the highly imaginative name]. Composed of an area of 622,980 square kilometers (240,324 square miles), the C.A.R. is slightly smaller than Texas. The country measures approximately 840 miles from east to west and 470 miles from north to south. Bangui, along the Oubangui River, is the country's capital city. The city is surrounded by several hills and has an estimated population of 500,000. Most of the buildings in the city were built during the rule of Colonel Jean-Bedel Bokassa in the 1960s and 1970s.

The C.A.R. maintains a total of 5,203 kilometers of continuous land boundaries; 1,577 kilometers with Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire); l, 165 kilometers with Sudan; 1, 197 kilometers with Chad; 797 kilometers with Cameroon; and 467 kilometers with the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). Currently there are no international disputes.

The C.A.R. consists mostly of plateaus that range from 600 to 900 meters (1,960 to 2,952 feet) above sea level, although there are hills in the west near Bouar (Y ade Massif) and the northeast (Bongo Massif) that reach an altitude of 1,400 meters. There are unusual stone monuments near Bouar in the northwest; their origins are uncertain. Vegetation varies from tropical rainforest in the south to semidesert in the northeast, but most of the country is savanna. Tributaries of the Chari and Log one Rivers in the north drain into Lake Chad; the Chinko, Mbari, Kotto, Ouaka, Lobaye, and Sangha tributaries in the south empty into the Oubangui/Congo River system.

The Central African Republic is the nineteenth largest country of Africa. Almost the size of Texas and claiming an area of 238,000 square miles, it is the geographical hub of the continent. It is bounded by the Republic of Chad on the north, the Republic of Sudan on the east, the Republic of Cameroun on the west, and the DR Congo and Congo (Brazzaville) on the south. Close to the equator, most of the territory lies betwleen 3 and 11 degrees of northern latitude. It is also a landlocked country, 300 miles from the sea at its closest point.

Geographically the CAR consists of a vast rolling plateau with an average altitude of 2000 feet. In the north there are broad, open savannahs, but as one proceeds south the savannah gives way to gallery forests, then to an equatorial rain forest in the extreme southwest. There is wild game in the Republic: grazing animals inhabit the savannah while gorillas, chimpanzees and other arboreal creatures make their home in the rain forests. Fish, crocodiles, and hippopotamuses abound in the rivers.

There is an immense river system in the CAR inasmuch as the country is a watershed for the Chad basin to the north and the Congo basin to the south. The Ubangi river of Equatorial Africa is the chief northern affluent of the Congo. The Ubangi is formed by the junction of the Mbomu and the Welle, both of which rise on the north-eastern rim of the Congo basin. The Ubangi takes the name of Makua in its middle course, higher up, and that of Welle near its head-waters. It was at one time thought to afford almost unbroken water communication from Stanley Pool across the continent to the Nile basin in the east, and to the Chad basin, through the River Shari, in the north. In the late 19th Century it seemed to some that this Ubangi-MakuaWelle River must prove of vast importance in the future development of Central Africa, but this did not happen. Unfortunately, many of the rivers are not navigable for long distances.

The two navigable waterways are the Oubangui River to the Congo River and the Sangha River. Barges with up to 800-metric-ton loads can travel along the Oubangui from the port of Kilongo at Bangui to Brazzaville, Congo during the rainy season, but the watercourse becomes impassable during the dry season. The Sangha, with its port at Salo, is used primarily during the rainy season to transport timber. It is navigable from Salo south, but the section between Salo and Nola port (which is located in the southwest tip of the country) is only navigable 7 months during the rainy season. A small section of the Lobaye River, which flows into the Oubangui, is navigable near M'baiki to Zinga (near Bangui).

Small inland waterways are used for trade and transport by rafts and dugout canoes. There are ferries to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC, or former Zaire) at Zinga, Mobaye, and Bangassou; they are all owned by a DROC government company and may be closed due to ongoing conflict in that country.

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