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French Oubangui-Chari

France has in the French Congo one of the finest colonies, but its resources could not be made effective without capital, well-paid commercial agents, and equipment for economic development; and these things were lacking. The field crops, such as manioc and bananas, thrived luxuriantly, but, on the whole, this forest region ws not yielding results commensurate with its latent wealth.

The French consolidated their legal claim to the area through an 1887 convention with Congo Free State, which granted France possession of the right bank of the Oubangui River. The relations subsisting at the moment when the question of the upper course of the Ubangi became a matter of vital importance between France and the Congo State, were defined by two separate agreements, which have in their proper places been passed in review. These were the convention of 5th February 1885, by which France, as some return for the right of pre-emption conferred on her in 1884, agreed to determine the respective limits of the possessions of the Republic and the State, and also to guarantee its neutrality. The second convention, of 29th April 1887, was the first rectification of the frontier after the Conference. It resulted, after long negotiations and an abortive attempt at arbitration, in the surrender of much territory to France, by the substitution of the Ubangi to the 17th degree of east longitude for the boundary.

Two years later, in 1889 the French established an outpost at Bangui, and in 1894, Oubangui-Chari became a French territory. However, the French did not consolidate their control over the area until 1903 after having defeated the forces of the Egyptian sultan Rabah and established colonial administration throughout the territory. The extension of French influence eastward to the verge of the basin of the Nile followed, though The not without involving the country in serious disputes with the other European powers possessing rights in those regions.

By creating the posts of Bangi (1890), Wesso and Abiras (1891), France strengthened her hold over the Ubangi and the Sanga. But at the same time the Congo Free State passed the parallel of 4° N. — which, after the compromise of 1887, France had regarded as the southern boundary of her possessions—and, occupying the sultanate of Bangasso (north of the Ubangi river), pushed on as far as 9° N. The dispute which ensued was only settled in 1894. The French government protested, because it erected a barrier against the extension of French territory to the Nile valley.

In 1906, the Oubangui-Chari territory was united with the Chad colony; in 1910, it became one of the four territories of the Federation of French Equatorial Africa (A.E.F.), along with Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), and Gabon. The next 30 years were marked by small-scale revolts against French rule and the development of a plantation-style economy.

French Congo was the general name of the French possessions in equatorial Africa. They had an area estimated at 700,000 sq. m., with a population, estimated in 1910, of 6,000,000 to 10,000,000. The whites numbered (1906) 1278, of whom 502 were officials. French Congo, officially renamed French Equatorial Africa in 1910, comprises — (i) the Gabun Colony, (2) the Middle Congo Colony, (3) the UbangiShari Circumscription, (4) the Chad Circumscription. The two last-named divisions form the Ubangi-Shari-Chad Colony.

A census, necessarily imperfect, taken in 1906 showed a total population, exclusive of Wadai, of 3,652,000, divided in districts as follows:—Gabun, 376,000; Middle Congo, 259,000; Ubangi-Shari, 2,130,000; Chad, 885,000. The country was peopled by diverse races, and, in the regions bordering Lake Chad and in Wadai, by Fula, Hausa, Arabs and semi-Arab tribes. Among the best-known tribes living in French Congo are the Fang (Fans), the Bakalai, the Batekes and the Zandeh or Niam-Niam. Several of the tribes are cannibals and among many of them the fetish worship characteristic of West Africa prevailed.

The chief wealth of the colony consisted in the products of its forests and in ivory. The natives, in addition to manioc, their principal food, cultivate bananas, ground nuts and tobacco. On plantations owned by Europeans coffee, cocoa and vanilla are grown. European vegetables are raised easily. Gold, iron and copper are found. Copper ores have been exported from Mindule since 1905. The chief exports are rubber and ivory, next in importance coming palm nuts and palm oil, ebony and other woods, coffee, cocoa and copal.

The governor-general had control over the whole of French Congo, but does not directly administer any part of it, the separate colonies being under lieutenant-governors. As in other French colonies the legislative power is in the French chambers only, but in the absence of specific legisjation presidential decrees have the force of law. A judicial service independent of the executive exists, but the district administrators also exercise judicial functions. Education is in the hands of the missionaries.

In August 1940, the territory responded, with the rest of the A.E.F., to the call from Gen. Charles de Gaulle to fight for Free France. Thousands of Ubangi men rallied to the ranks of the Free French during World War II and fought side by side with American forces during the ensuing conflict. After World War II, the French Constitution of 1946 inaugurated the first of a series of reforms that led eventually to complete independence for all French territories in western and equatorial Africa.

In 1946, all A.E.F. inhabitants were granted French citizenship and allowed to establish local assemblies. The assembly in C.A.R. was led by Barthelemy Boganda, a Catholic priest who also was known for his forthright statements in the French Assembly on the need for African emancipation. In 1956 French legislation eliminated certain voting inequalities and provided for the creation of some organs of self-government in each territory.

The French constitutional referendum of September 1958 dissolved the A.E.F., and on December 1 of the same year the Assembly declared the birth of the Central African Republic with Boganda as head of government. Boganda ruled until his death in a March 1959 plane crash. His cousin, David Dacko, replaced him, governing the country until 1965 and overseeing the country's declaration of independence on August 13, 1960.





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