Central African Republic - Introduction
CAR is less a country than a collection of fiefdoms, ruled by gang-like armed groups, where religious, military, political and ethnic factions struggle for anything that might yield revenue. It’s a state “that has long ceased to exist,” the International Crisis Group said in 2014. Central African Republic became a country whose borders exist only on maps, where governmental authority is limited mostly to the 25 square miles occupied by the capital, Bangui, if that.
The CAR is an area [calling it a "state" or a "country" would be too strong] defined by its borders on the map and not by effective state control of territory. Though named a "ghost state" in an International Crisis Group report in 2007, the CAR is perhaps better classified as a "hollow state". On the surface, the CAR appeared to function and could credibly claim that its problems were the result of demographics, AIDS, historic poverty, and isolation. But this is misleading. While it had a structure that was able to feign functionality and had agents in most parts of the country, few of these agents actually conducted the business of the state or achieved any results. It had executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and a military, but outside of disparate geographic pockets, its control was exceedingly limited.
The Central African Republic (CAR) has a history of political instability and recurring armed conflict. Four of the country's first five presidents since independence in 1960 had been removed from power through unconstitutional means. State authority is weak in many parts of the country, which are largely controlled by rebel groups and criminal armed groups. Coupled with ethnic tensions in the north, frequent armed incursions by rebel elements from neighboring countries, and the presence of elements of the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the CAR continued to suffer from insecurity and instability.
Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces, and state authority barely extended beyond the capital, Bangui. Armed groups controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, taxing local populations, providing security services, and appointing armed group members to leadership roles. Transportation and communication facilities in the C.A.R. are extremely limited. The C.A.R.'s poor infrastructure limits commerce. Few roads are paved; most of those that are paved are toll roads and in deplorable condition. There is no rail system. There are many constraints due to the weather, particularly during the rainy season. A ferry runs from Bangui to Brazzaville down the Oubangui River, but it is unreliable and runs only every few months. Communications services are mostly government-operated. Services include one television station, two radio stations, minimal telephone service, one daily newspaper, and a poor postal system.
Road conditions in CAR in general are poor. Virtually all roads are unpaved, with almost no maintenance. During the rainy season, most roads outside central Bangui become impassable due to flooding and the lack of drainage. Road travel times are often much longer than what one would expect due to the poor conditions of roads, disabled vehicles along the road, unpredictable traffic (oncoming traffic), and checkpoints.
Many roads are with bandits, including banditry against UN convoys. Because of these conditions, it is advisable to travel only during the day and with other travelers. At night, it is exceptionally difficult to see other vehicles that may not have headlights or pedestrians. Traveling at night is generally prohibited for U. S. Embassy personnel. In addition, vehicles should carry food, water, a first aid kit, satellite communications, and tools to repair damaged vehicles or to extricate vehicles that become stuck. Within Bangui, it is difficult to find reliable mechanics and spare parts for automobile repairs. Outside of Bangui, it is virtually impossible.
Motorcyclists often disregard the rules of the road and place themselves/passengers in danger. Mini-buses and taxis are also common hazard. Often, all forms of transportation weave in/out of traffic, make frequent and unannounced stops, are overloaded, and rarely in good working order.
Traffic controls and street lights are limited in Bangui and non-existent in the rest of CAR. Traffic police may be found at busy intersections in Bangui but are poorly trained and are often ineffective. Many drivers ignore traffic laws and any attempt to enforce them. Traffic accidents are common, especially at intersections where traffic controls do not exist.
Kilometer Cinq, an area in Bangui, has an extensive market, restaurants, and nightclubs. The area is dangerous, particularly to foreigners who are often targeted for muggings that may become violent. Compliance with muggers' demands is necessary to avoid harm, and locals will not assist victims for fear of reprisals. There is also occasional ethnic violence in the market between Muslims and non-Muslims. Visiting this area is strongly discouraged.
Crime can be directly attributed to continued political instability. When coupled with poor infrastructure, ethnic/religious conflict, and a less than effective central government, there are few options for the country’s youth. Many individuals turn to militias and rebel groups to earn a living, often illegally.
Within Bangui, crimes against foreigners occur periodically. Neighborhoods where government leaders, business professionals, NGOs, and foreign diplomats, while to some degree safer because of the increased security presence, are still susceptible to being targeted by criminals. Home/compound invasions occur most often where security is the weakest, where poor exterior lighting exists, and/or where there is poor access control. Generally, criminals do not kill their victims, but the threat of force or the use of force is not uncommon. Attempts to resist criminals are often met with violence.
Affluent CAR citizens are reportedly the targets of crimes (home invasions, robberies, aggravated batteries). They are seen as the softest target with the likelihood of the least ramification against criminals.
Outside the capital, NGO staff members and other expatriates are regularly the victims of crimes (armed robbery, aggravated battery, homicide). Along the main supply route from Cameroon to Bangui, criminal activity, especially banditry, is constant.
Taking photographs of police or military installations and government buildings is prohibited; it is important to note these official buildings and installations are often unmarked. The armed forces have no known nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons and no ballistic missiles.
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