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Jan 9, 2017 | 19:00 GMT

What Holds the Central African Republic Back

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What Holds the Central African Republic Back

The Central African Republic — wedged in the middle of the African continent between the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Cameroon, Sudan and South Sudan — often falls short of satisfying the formal definition of a state. It has little means to control the violence within its borders, and its reputation in recent years has been that of a failing state rife with unrest and conflict amid a proliferation of armed rebel groups. At the heart of these problems is the Central African Republic's geography.

Most of the country lies within Africa's savannah zone, on the border between the semi-arid Sahel and the intertropical convergence zone, which begins south of the capital, Bangui. The savannah zone's soils, composed of limestone sand, are not conducive to agriculture. Though the areas surrounding the Ubangi River system — a major tributary of the Congo River — are more fertile, the soils there still are not rich enough to sustain a variety of bountiful crops. The Central African Republic's lack of fertile soil has limited population growth and given rise to highly dispersed rural villages that are difficult for the central government to control. 

Furthermore, the disparity between the fertile soils of the Ubangi River region in the country's south and the rocky earth of the north and center has created cultural and social rifts among the people in these regions. Bangui, located on the Ubangi River, has unrivaled influence in the Central African Republic. The capital is the country's economic center, providing its only sources of revenue beyond the diamond mining industry in the north and a limited amount of commodity extraction elsewhere. The rest of the country, meanwhile, depends on subsistence farming. Indeed, many of the Central African Republic's outlying regions are hardly connected to Bangui at all, sharing more infrastructure with neighboring countries.

As a landlocked nation, the Central African Republic also has fewer options for reaching outside markets. The country's most accessible port is Douala, about 1,400 kilometers (nearly 900 miles) away from Bangui in Cameroon. The country has no railway, and water levels in the Ubangi River are too low to support cargo ships much of the year. Consequently, the Central African Republic's transport network relies almost entirely on truck shipping, which can be inefficient given the volatile price of gasoline and prevalence of bandits and rebel groups in the country. Even though the nation boasts natural resources such as uranium, oil, copper and gold, its infrastructural shortcomings and perennial security problems have largely deterred companies from taking the risk to mine them. 

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