Diamond prospectors in the Central African Republic have found polished flint and quartz tools that are at least 8,000 years old. About 2,500 years ago local farmers set up megaliths weighing several tons each near, Bouar. The cooperation necessary to make and position these monuments suggests that they were built by fairly large social units. By the 15th Century, various groups speaking languages related to those of the present day were living in the area. These peoples lived in relatively isolated small settlements, where they hunted and cleared land for cultivation using the slash-and-burn method. The region also produced such States as Dar al-Kuti, Zande, and Bandi, all founded in the 19th Century.
The region of the Central African Republic was not directly connected to external commercial routes until the 17th Century. At that time, slavery became an important factor in Central African history as Arabic-speaking slave traders extended the trans-Saharan and Nile River trade routes into the region. Before the mid 19th Century these slave traders’ captives were sent to North Africa, where they were eventually sold to countries such as Egypt or Turkey or down the Ubangi and Congo rivers to the Atlantic coast to slave ships that transported them to the Americas.
The French were ultimately successful and named it the French Congo (later French Equatorial Africa), with its capital at Brazzaville. The French colonies included Ubangi-Shari (Oubangui-Chari; which later became the Central African Republic), Chad, Gabon, and the Middle Congo (which became the Republic of the Congo).
Later in the mid 19th century the Bobangi people from the Ubangi River area, who had become major slave traders, raided the nearby Baya and Mandjia peoples for captives. In exchange for captives, the slave traders received arms, which allowed them to continue to raid for more slaves. Though these raids largely ended by the end of the Century, they continued in the north until 1912 when Dar al-Kuti fell. The slave trade disrupted the societies in its wake and depopulated the region. It also created lasting tensions between ethnic groups. The ruling elite is still represented today by many in Central Africa because they tend to come from riverine groups akin to the Bobangi.
During the last two decades of the 19th Century, Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, and France competed for control of equatorial Africa. Belgium, Germany, and France each wanted the region that would eventually become the Central African Republic. The French were ultimately successful and named it the French Congo (later French Equatorial Africa), with its capital at Brazzaville. The French colonies included Ubangi-Shari (Oubangui-Chari; which later became the Central African Republic), Chad, Gabon, and the Middle Congo (which became the Republic of the Congo).
The French government leased large tracts of land to private European companies in order to avoid paying for the development of its Central African possessions; it also placed few controls on their activities. In exchange for an annual rent, these firms exploited the land and dominated the people. Company overseers forced both men and women to gather wild rubber, hunt for ivory and animal skins, and work on plantations. Unable to cultivate their own fields because of the labour demands from European companies, they experienced food shortages and famine. Because they were forced to work in new environments where they were exposed to sleeping sickness, new strains of malaria, and other diseases, the death rate substantially increased.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, frontiers had been established for the Ubangi-Shari colony by the European powers. Many Africans resisted French control, and several military expeditions in the first decade of the Century were needed to crush their opposition. The Congo-War, a rebellion (1928–31), was a widespread, though unsuccessful, anti-colonial uprising in the western and southwestern parts of the colony. After it was suppressed, its leaders were imprisoned and executed and populations of Central Africans were forcibly relocated to colonially designated villages where they could be supervised.
The French colonial administration did create a network of roads and a mobile health system in Ubangi-Shari to fight disease, and Roman Catholic Churches set up schools and medical clinics. However, the French also used the Central Africans for forced labour to increase the cultivation of cotton and coffee, as well as of food crops to supply French troops and labour crews. The French conscripted Central Africans and sent them to southern Congo to construct the Congo-Ocean Railway, which linked Congo to Pointe-Noire.
On January 25, 2021, government troops and CDC rebels clashed near Bangui, resulting in the deaths of 44 rebels. The ICC in The Hague, Netherlands took custody of Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, a commander of the Séléka militia, from the government of the Central African Republic on January 25, 2021. On February 12, 2021, government troops, along with Russian and Rwandan troops, recaptured the town of Beloko in western Central African Republic from CPC rebels. On February 16, 2021, two former commanders of the anti-Balaka militia accused of war crimes – Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona and Alfred “Rambo” Yékatom – pleaded not guilty at the start of their trial at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands.
During World War II French Gen. Charles de Gaulle called on the residents of the colonial territories to help fight the Germans, and 3,000 responded from Central Africa. After the war these troops returned to their homeland with a new sense of pride and a national, rather than ethnic, identity. After the war de Gaulle organized the French Union and created new local assemblies—consisting of French colonists and a handful of Africans—with regional political representatives. In November 1946 Barthélemy Boganda became the first Central African elected to the French National Assembly.
The government continued to be plagued by protests over its continuing inability to pay civil servants and the military at the beginning of the new millennium. Attempted military overthrows that troubled the country in the mid-1990s also continued into the 21st century, culminating in the ouster of Patassé in a 2003 coup by former army chief Gen. François Bozizé. Bozizé’s transitional government oversaw the drafting of a new constitution that was approved in late 2004 and democratic elections in 2005, in which Bozizé was elected president.
In 2019 the population was 4,745 million and is one of the poorest and most fragile countries in the World, despite its abundant natural resources. Years of civil conflict have taken a heavy toll, with over 1 in 5 people displaced by recurring violence. More than half the population is in need of humanitarian assistance.