Diamonds are not enough: the Central African Republic, once the 'personal domain' of 'Emperor' Jean Badel Bokassa, seemed to have disappeared off the continental radar until an exodus of refugees recently turned the spotlight back on this small country. Neil Ford analyses the current trends in CAR.

Author:Ford, Neil
Position:CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Despite rich natural resources, including diamonds, gold and uranium, the Central African Republic (CAR) remains one of the least developed countries in the world due to the mismanagement of resources, political instability and its geographical location.

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The country's location far from the nearest sea port has certainly acted to restrict the level of economic growth. Its position at the heart of Africa should put CAR at the centre of modern perceptions of Africa, yet even many keen students of Africa would have to admit that they know little about a country that seems to fall beyond their view of the continent.

It is certainly not part of the Sahel and yet seems too far north to be part of the Congo Basin.

Part of CAR's problems stem from the lack of economic activity in neighbouring regions. Transport links with the surrounding countries of Chad, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Congo-Brazzaville and Cameroon are very limited and the parts of these neighbouring states that border CAR are generally sparsely populated with the result that cross-border trade is light. With little trade with its neighbours at the heart of Africa and only very difficult and expensive access to a sea port, it is perhaps no wonder that the country's exports are as insubstantial as its GDP.

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CAR hit the headlines in early September with the news that thousands of refugees were fleeing over the border into Chad. By mid-September, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) put the number of new arrivals at around 12,000, although there are believed to be another 30,000 Central Africans who have been living in UNHCR camps in Chad since fighting broke out in 2002.

Armed groups have been active in northern CAR but it seems that poverty rather than any precise political aim is at the heart of their actions. However, movement across the border is nothing new. Services have been so poor in parts of CAR that people have travelled into Chad to send their children to school and to seek medical attention.

Bruno Geddo, the head of UNHCR in CAR commented: "Insecurity has caused an utter freefall in the economy. The conditions do not exist for people to be able to return home." Many people have opted not to cultivate their land in CAR because of the poor security situation. CAR troops have begun to mount joint operations in the area with Chadian forces in order to improve the situation. UNHCR has struggled to...

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