The Central African Republic this week celebrates 56 years as an independent nation, with a new President and new hope for the future. Despite the difficulties in the country, there are significant achievements since independence to celebrate. We’ve chosen our top five!
1. UNESCO declared Bayaka music a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
In 2003 UNESCO declared music made by the Bayaka people a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Though of course the music dates far back beyond independence, in fact beyond colonization back 30,000 years, this international recognition was an important step in preserving the beautiful and disappearing tradition of polyphonic music. The music is produced by the Bayaka people, also known as the Aka Pygmies, who live in the South West of CAR. It is created by four singers and is known for its spontaneity and improvisation. Its qualities reflect the jungle where they live as hunter gatherers.
2. First woman president, Catherine Samba-Panza & Peaceful Elections
As conflict divided the Central African Republic in 2013, a rebel leader, Michel Djotodia, had seized power and briefly led the dysfunctional state. Under intense international pressure, Djotodia stepped down in early 2014. Ten days later he was replaced with a new Transitional Government led by CAR’s first woman president: Catherine Samba-Panza. Former mayor of Bangui, Samba-Panza had managed to remain largely removed from involvement in either group in the conflict.
Educated in France, a successful business woman, lawyer and activist, Samba-Panza is a highly accomplished woman who was proud to serve CAR through the most tumultuous period of the conflict. She successfully led the country through peaceful elections before handing power off to current president Faustin-Archange Touadera.
3. Success in Basketball
CAR’s most popular sport is basketball and they have achieved significant successes. Twice they have won the African Championship, once in 1974 and once in 1987. In the first game they came head to head with Senegal winning 72–67 and next beating Egypt 94–87. They were also the first Sub-Saharan African team to compete in the Basketball World Cup in 1974 where they placed 14th.
4. Religious Leaders Receive Mello Prize for Peace Work
The conflict in CAR has been defined by sectarian tensions. The Séléka are mostly composed of Muslims from the Northeast who feel economically and politically marginalized, the anti-balaka are majority Christian and see the Séléka as threatening outsiders.
However, the conflict itself is not based on religious differences and several religious leaders have risen to the occasion, joining together to call for unity and peace. Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, the president of CAR’s Islamic Council, Bangui’s Catholic Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and the president of the Evangelical Alliance Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyaméné joined together to form the Interfaith Peace Platform in 2013. Hoping to end the tit-for-tat revenge killings, they called for peace and continue to work with communities experiencing tensions. The group has even been credited with being a lobbying force for the creation of the UN peacekeeping mission, called MUNISCA. They received the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation’s award in 2015 for peace for their efforts.
5. Leaders of tomorrow
In addition to the great things that have already happened in CAR since independence, there is good reason to be hopeful for the future. Young leaders and activists are hard at work building a more stable, prosperous and equitable CAR. As a young country — 72% of the country is aged under 29 — youths are a formidable force in the country. Several organizations like Uru, Kode Ti Kwa and Association Pour la Jeunesse de Centrafrique played a role in the most recent electoral process and in advocating for a united peaceful future.
So while CAR has experienced significant challenges in its 56 years of independence, it has also achieved greatness. It’s a great day to celebrate these achievements as we work towards a peaceful and prosperous future!