Flag description: Four equal horizontal bands of blue (top), white, green, and yellow with a vertical red band in centre; there is a yellow five-pointed star on the hoist side of the blue band

Location: Central Africa, north of Democratic Republic of the Congo

Geographic coordinates: 7 00 N, 21 00 E

Climate: tropical; hot, dry winters; mild to hot, wet summers

Independence: 13 August 1960 (from France)

Nationality: Central African(s)

Capital City: Bangui

Population: 3,512,751

Head of State: President Ange-Felix PATASSE (since 22 October 1993)

Area: 622,984 sq km

Type of Government: republic

Currency: 1 Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (CFAF) = 100 centimes

Major peoples: the Banda (30%), the Baya-Mandjia (29%), and the Mbaka (7%). There are clearly defined ethnic zones; the forest region, inhabited by Bantu groups, the Mbaka, Lissongo, Mbimu, and Babinga; the river banks, populated by the Sango, Yakoma, Baniri, and Buraka; and the savannah region, where the Banda, Sande, Sara, Ndle, and Bizao, Europeans 6,500 (including 1,500 French)

Religion: indigenous beliefs 24%, Protestant 25%, Roman Catholic 25%, Muslim 15%, other 11%
note: animistic beliefs and practices strongly influence the Christian majority

Official Language: French

Principal Languages: French, Sangho (lingua franca and national language), Arabic, Hunsa, Swahili

Major Exports: diamonds, timber, cotton, coffee, tobacco

History: Great stone formations near Bouar suggest the existence of an ancient civilization in the northwest, and stone tools found in the east indicate that people lived in this region several thousand years ago. But most of the country's present-day inhabitants are refugees from Muslim slave-raiders in adjacent parts of Africa in the 19th century. The raiders' relentless pursuit resulted in the depopulation of vast regions of the C.A.R. between the 1880s and 1915.

About the same time, French military expeditions reached the area, and in the 1890s the region was annexed to the colony of the French Congo; subsequently it became a separate colony in French Equatorial Africa. Internal self-government was granted by the French in 1958. In 1960 the Central African Republic became independent.

David Dacko became the first president after independence. Dacko was ousted by the military in 1965 and replaced by Jean Bedel BOKASSA, who proclaimed the state an empire in 1976, and crowned himself emperor in 1977 in a lavish ceremony.

In 1979 he was ousted in a bloodless coup backed by France and led by Dacko, who re-established the republic and became president. Dacko, in turn, was ousted in 1981 in a military coup led by Gen. Andre Kolingba. A new constitution approved in a 1986 referendum made the C.A.R. a one-party state with an elected legislature; Kolingba was elected to a further 6-year term as president.

Bokassa voluntarily returned to the C.A.R. in 1986; he was publicly tried in a civilian court and sentenced to death in 1987 on several counts of murder and massive theft of state funds. His sentence was later commuted to 20 years of hard labour.

Legislative elections were held in 1987. In 1991, after increasing public demands for democratization, the constitution was amended to create the post of prime minister. Multiple parties were legalized, but Kolingba was reluctant to accede to further reforms.