The Central Africa Real Estate Investments Society makes small loans for the repair of existing houses and larger loans for new construction. Because of the higher credit ratings, salaried civil servants and employees of large trading companies receive most of the loans. Loans are made to mutual self-help groups and others for the construction of waterworks or electrical distribution systems and to individuals for the purchase of refrigerators, furniture, and other household equipment.
Approximately 10% of the land is cultivated and over 80% of the workforce is engaged in subsistence agriculture. The main food crops are bananas, maize, manioc, millet and yams. Diamonds, the only major mineral resource, are the most valuable single export.
The educational system of the Central African Republic has four levels: nursery, primary, secondary, and higher education. Education is compulsory for eight years between the ages of 6 and 14, and instruction is in French. Nursery schools take children between the ages of four and six and prepare them to enter primary education.
Petty theft remains a problem in large market areas, particularly in the crowded markets near KM 5 on the outskirts of the city. Armed gangs may operate in outlying residential areas. During previous periods of civil unrest and civil conflict, including most recently in 2002 and 2003, foreign mercenaries and citizens engaged in widespread looting and damaged much of the capital’s infrastructure.
Average life expectancy was 43 years in 2000. The most common diseases are bilharziasis, leprosy, malaria, tuberculosis, and yaws. In 2000 60% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 31% had adequate sanitation.
The practice of traditional religion has declined since the 1950s in favor of various forms of Christianity. Protestant Central African churches, once aligned with the denominations of the early missions, have splintered into several factions as a result of competition for leadership in the clergy. There are also syncretistic movements with traits from Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam; Islam is growing through immigration and conversion (boys sometimes convert to gain employment).
A moist savanna climate prevails in the north and an equatorial forest zone in the south. During the rainy season (from March to October or November) heavy rainstorms occur almost daily, and early morning fog is typical. The dry season—brought by the northeastern trade winds, called the harmattan—generally begins in October and ends in February or March.
Central African Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. The majority of victims are children trafficked within the country for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, street vending, and forced agricultural, mine, market and restaurant labor; to a lesser extent, children are trafficked from the Central African Republic to Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Central African Republic achieved independence from France in 1960. In 1981 Gen. André Kolingba established military rule. In elections held in 1993 the Mouvement pour la libération du peuple centrafricain emerged as the victorious party; its leader, Ange-Félix Patassé, was elected President (and re-elected in 1999).
The four main ethnic groups of the Central African Republic are the Mandjia-Baya, the Banda, the Mbaka, and the Azande. More than half the population inhabits small villages, living and working according to traditional customs.