USAID country Profile: Property Rights and Resource Governance: Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (R'publique Centrafricaine, CAR) is a landlocked, sparsely populated country that is well-endowed with natural resources. CAR has abundant land, adequate soil, dense tropical forests, and a wealth of unexploited minerals. However, the country has a history of political instability and authoritarian regimes and military dictatorships alternating with one-party rule. The government and rebel groups signed a Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2008, and the government has taken steps to begin strengthening its core governmental institutions and bodies. However, opposition parties and others continue to vie for political power, and political instability remains a threat. Presidential and parliamentary elections have been delayed several times due to allegations that voting records are not complete and disarmament has not been achieved. A July 30, 2010 presidential decree rescheduled elections for January 2011. The history of political unrest and violence has paralyzed the country's development. CAR has only 650 kilometers of paved road, no railroad, and limited air transportation. The country lacks basic services, hospitals, and schools. The country was ranked 178th of the 179 countries on the 2008 Human Development Index and has been at or near the bottom for several years. Two-thirds of the population lives below the national poverty line. Thirty percent of the population suffers from chronic malnutrition, 10% with acute malnutrition. Sixty-eight percent of women and 46% of men are illiterate. Life expectancy in CAR in 2007 was 44 years, ten years below the average in African countries. The northern region, which has been caught up in the conflict in Sudan, has become home to rebel fighters and while the populous northwestern region has been tense but stable since the 2008 peace agreement, the remote east and northeast continue to suffer from active indigenous rebellions and depredations from the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Thousands of farmers have abandoned their farms and are living in the bush. Others have fled to the cities, where physical security is more assured but water supplies and infrastructure are stretched beyond capacity. People who fled the violence have been slow to return home: as of January 2010, approximately 200,000 CAR citizens continued to be displaced and another 150,000 are refugees living in neighboring countries. Eighty percent of the population relies on subsistence agriculture and livestock for their livelihoods. Lack of infrastructure, weak purchasing power, and violence have constrained the development of markets. Land rights throughout much of CAR are considered insecure as a result of political instability, lack of confidence in the government, weaknesses in government institutions, and widespread social unrest. The potential in CAR's land and other natural resources has yet to be realized: roughly a third of the country is considered suitable for farming, yet only about 3% is under cultivation. Close to half CAR's land is suitable for grazing yet less than 15% is used. CAR is rich in forestland and forest resources, providing the population with fuel, food, shelter, medicinal plants, grazing land, and building materials. The timber industry serves as CAR's main source of export earnings. This market is expected to grow as peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has made export through the DRC easier, and Asian buyers are increasingly turning to Africa. This growth will have to be managed well to guard against overexploitation of CAR's share of the Congo Basin forest and biodiversity resources. CAR also possesses considerable mineral wealth, most of it unexplored and unexploited, in part because political instability and conflict have provided few incentives to foreign investors and buyers. Artisanally mined raw diamonds, however, are a key export. The USAID and US Department of State's joint Property Rights and Artisanal Diamond Development (PRADD) initiative has been piloting establishment of a property rights registry for artisanal miners to recognize and strengthen their rights.