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The land of diamonds and timber, The Central African republic

The land of diamonds and timber, The Central African republic
A street in Bangui
This time our destination is the Central African Republic. Because it requires a flight connection in Paris to Cameroon to get there, it takes a long time to arrive in this country. This is a vast land located in the very center of the African continent.

The Central African Republic is a landlocked country; it is surrounded by Chad, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. The country has a tropical climate. A former French colony, the Central African Republic gained its independence in 1960. The country has a population of 4 million and an area of 623,000 square kilometers; Bangui is the capital city.

The official language is French, whereas the national language is Sango, which serves as the common means of communication. Additionally, there are also about 200 tribal languages spoken in this country.

The country makes a great deal of money through the timber trade. Large amounts of timber are exported mainly to European countries. The Central African Republic is also a diamond-rich country. Some 54 percent of export revenues come from diamond sales. For many years, white Europeans have exploited the wealth of this country — and in some places, they still do. At one enterprise where I paid a visit, diamonds are sorted by size. From there, they are sent to world markets. There is a diamond exchange in Antwerp, where they meet their final customers.

The Ubangi River passes through the capital city; it is called O’Bangui by the local people. The other side of the river is part of the Democratic Republic of Congo as the river separates these two countries.

There are about 4,000 foreigners living in the Central African Republic. You may frequently encounter French soldiers on the streets of Bangui as there is a French military base in the country. White people are all over the place; there are a number of Christian missionaries in the country. I encountered many checkpoints during my travels in the country. The authorities introduced such measures to maintain internal peace in this country, which has suffered from military coups. People as well as their cars are checked at these points if they seem suspicious. We passed through such a point, but our car was not searched. There are no sea routes in the country for use in passenger and cargo transportation. There is no railway system, either; people travel by other means.

In the capital Bangui, we see photocopy guys on the streets struggling to make a living. These are street copiers; they line up side-by-side trying to make some money. There is only one factory in the Central African Republic: it is a liquor facility. The price of gas is $1.2 per liter, whereas meat is $1 per kilogram. A cow costs $200.

Barthélemy Boganda was the first president and founder of the country; you can see his statue in various places throughout the country. The president had something to tell his countrymen: “Talk a little; work a lot.” Hearing this saying, we also learn that people actually talk very much in this country.

Bangui is a strange name to me, but the people are pretty warm. It is the most important city in the country, and there are nice hotels and residences along the Ubangi River. Green is the dominant color in the city.

The way they peel oranges and mandarins is different in this country. People sell artwork they’ve made by using butterfly wings to create pictures and geometrical shapes. This is a rare method that is not very common in other African countries. These pictures and shapes made of butterfly wings are the best-selling souvenirs.

African people enjoy a comfortable and relaxed lifestyle. Especially when the heat is at its peak and the sun rises in the sky, the only thing to do is find a place to get some rest.

We leave Bangui to get to the land of the Pygmies, who live a life isolated from the modern world. Because they live far away, we have a long trip ahead of us. During the journey, we have plenty of opportunities to get to know the Central African Republic better. The country’s natural beauty is simply impeccable: long rivers, rainforests and countless shades of green. Dusty roads are part of the reality of the African continent, and poverty becomes more visible as we go deeper into the country.

Cutting down trees is not forbidden, and we see many people cutting trees along the road and trying to sell wood. We also encounter villagers; some are carving wood in front of their houses, and others exhibit their works for sale. We see people carrying timber along the road on bicycles; they take the wood to Bangui. People use wood in their houses as fuel for cooking. It is also sold to bakeries. It is very difficult to transport timber using a bicycle because it is heavy. I asked why they don’t use a donkey or a horse to do this job, and they told me there are none in the country. During the trip, I also see a 70-year-old missionary school. This is a full complex with a church, dorms and an orphanage. The name of the complex is Jandar; it is named after the first missionary who arrived here. All these are boarding schools; I am also told that all orphanages are run by missionaries.

When we get to the secluded area where the Pygmies live, we are surrounded by small black people. Pygmies are no taller than 130 centimeters. We receive plenty of attention. The group surrounding us is mostly made up of children. They suffer from abject conditions and malnutrition. Children with swollen stomachs have health problems. The clothing the children wear is dirty and worn out. Zakka is the oldest in the group. Life expectancy is low in this country because of the poor conditions. It is difficult to find old people among the Pygmies. Zakka is one of the luckiest ones, having lived such a long life. Of course, we can’t communicate with him because he speaks a local language. We try to communicate via a translator. Zakka does not know his age. Asked where the men are, they say they went hunting in the woods. This group includes only the women and children.

Christian missionaries are active even in Pygmy villages. They built a hospital and school in the village I visited, and missionaries who are doctors live there. We leave the Pygmy village and start our return trip to the capital city. In our way back to the city, it gets dark. At night it is a whole different world; children play African games around a big fire they built because there is no electricity and TV in these places. The songs the children sing reflect their inner world. They feed the fire to make sure that they have more time to play; despite everything, they are happy. They try to remain happy in this simple world while others all around the world entertain themselves with computers and advanced technology. We take to the road the next day to better understand the Central African Republic. The rain pours this morning because of the country’s tropical climate. When the rain stops, people get back to work.


Visa: The Central African Republic requires a visa for entry into the country; Turkish citizens are no exception. The Central African Republic has no consulate or embassy in Turkey. Visas are issued by the French Consulate or Embassy in Turkey, and the application fee is 120 euros.

The Central African Republic does have an honorary consulate in Ankara; the honorary consul is Professor Kemalettin Özdemir. Detailed information can be obtained from the consulate on the Central African Republic. Address:

?air Naz?m Sok. Çankaya Konut Kuleleri D Blok Kat: 26 No: 54 Çankaya/Ankara  Tel: 0312 441 85 51-52

How to go: You can take flights with connections in Europe and Africa.

Air France: 1,260 euros

Departures: Only Wednesdays

Departs Istanbul: 6:40 p.m. Arrives in

France: 9:25 p.m. Departs France: 10:55 p.m. Arrives in Bangui: 5:30 a.m.

Returns: Only Thursdays

Departs Bangui: 11:00 p.m.

Arrives in France: 5:45 a.m. Departs France: 10:10 a.m. Arrives in ?stanbul: 2:30 p.m.

Food: This is a country where those familiar with only Turkish foods will have a difficult time. You have to pay particular attention to hygiene when eating. Dining in outdoor restaurants is not recommended.

Accommodation: It is possible to find some nice hotels, but you should not have high expectations.

Things to consider: Tap water should be avoided; spring water is drinkable. Bagged water, which is pretty common in Africa, should also be avoided because heat affects the taste of this water. Before you travel to the Central African Republic, you should get Hepatitis A and B vaccinations. Contact with mosquitoes should be minimized to protect against malaria.

Best time to go: The country is hot throughout the entire year. The northern part is hotter; however, the southern part is humid. The period between May and October is rainy.


Capital: Bangui

Official language: Sango, French

Government: Republic

President: François Bozize

Prime Minister: Faustin-Archange Touadera

Area:  622,984 square kilometers

Population: 4,444,330*

GDP (PPP): $3.007 billion**

Religions: Indigenous beliefs (35 percent), Protestant (25 percent), Roman Catholic (25 percent), Muslim (15 percent)

*July 2008 estimate, **2007 estimate

24 December 2008, Wednesday


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