Boris Becker: Central African Republic has bigger problems


Violence has forced about 27% of the population to flee their homes

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been put back in the spotlight after former tennis champion Boris Becker claimed diplomatic immunity.

He says that his 2018 appointment as a CAR’s sport and culture attache to the EU affords him protection from any legal claims.

Mr Becker is attempting to thwart ongoing bankruptcy proceedings against him in the UK.

But for the citizens living in the landlocked Central African country – which has been plagued by hunger, coups, rebellions and destitution since it gained independence from France in 1960 – the German tennis ace’s financial woes are the last things on their minds.

Dictators and diamonds

CAR, a country roughly the size of Spain, is one of the poorest in the world in spite of its rich deposits of diamonds, uranium and gold.

Its first President David Dacko was overthrown in 1966 by Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who crowned himself emperor in an extravagant coronation in 1977 that saw marching bands, a gold carriage and Mr Bokassa donning a diamond-encrusted crown.

Getty Images

Mr Bokassa styled his coronation to that of the 18th Century French leader Napoleon Bonaparte

His reign was marked by the torture and killing of political rivals. Following the government’s 1979 violent crackdown on schoolchildren who protested about being told to buy school uniforms from a company owned by his wife, Mr Bokassa was ousted by French troops.

Ethnic cleansing

The country then had a series of military leaders before enjoying a brief period of civilian rule in the 1990s, which ended when former army officer François Bozizé carried out a coup in 2003.

Several more rebellions followed, before Mr Bozizé was overthrown in 2013, when mainly Muslim rebels from the Seleka umbrella group seized power in the majority Christian country. A band of mostly Christian militias, called the anti-balaka, rose up to counter the Seleka.

Violence has haunted the country since then, with mass displacements, reprisal attacks, ethnic cleansing, according to human rights groups.

Seleka handed power to a transitional government in 2014 under international pressure but months of violence followed and the country was effectively partitioned, in spite of the presence of a UN peacekeeping force and a French mission.

The current government holds little power outside the capital, Bangui. More than a dozen armed groups and local militias control about 80% of the countryside, running parallel administrations to the national government.

Dire straits

Subsistence agriculture remains the backbone of the country’s economy, with the agricultural sector creating more than half the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Life expectancy in the country of 48 (men) and 51 (women) is far lower than global average.

The renewed crisis in the country has caused around 27% (1.2m people) of the population to flee their homes. Today, nearly half the population (2m people) need food aid, according to the World Food Programme.

Youth illiteracy in CAR is at 68% and the country relies on aid agencies to provide for its needs, such as healthcare, food, water, sanitation and schooling.

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