Reaching the Nations

Central African Republic

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 622,984 square km.  Landlocked in Central Africa, The Central African Republic borders Chad, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Cameroon.  Large rivers exist on the borders of the Central African Republic.  The Ubangi River forms the southern border and the Sangha River runs through the western part of the country.  Much of the landscape is flat, with plateaus and hills in areas of the country.  The climate is tropical to sub-tropical.  Most of the country is covered by forest.  Desertification is a concern in northern areas.  The population of the Central African Republic is small in comparison to its size and little human development has occurred.  Dust storms and floods are common natural hazards.  Desertification, deforestation, poaching, and lack of clean water are environmental issues.  The Central African Republic is divided into 14 administrative prefectures and two economic prefectures.

Population: 4,950,027 (July 2011)

Annual Growth Rate: 2.146% (2011)

Fertility Rate: 4.63 children born per woman (2011)

Life Expectancy: 48.84 male, 51.35 female (2011)

Peoples

Baya: 33%

Banda: 27%

Mandjia: 13%

Sara: 10%

Mboum: 7%

M'Baka: 4%

Yakoma: 4%

Other: 2%

Almost all ethnic groups are Sudanese.  The Baya reside in the west.  The Banda and Mandjia populate the central areas.  The Sara live in northern areas.  Many ethnic groups in the Central African Republic also have large populations in northern Democratic Republic of Congo or southern Chad. 

Languages: French is the official language and Sangho (with less than half a million native speakers) is the national language.  71 native languages are spoken.  Banda and Baya dialects have the most native speakers with over 650,000 speakers each.  No languages have over one million native speakers.

Literacy: 48.6% (2003)

History

African tribes that lived in present-day Central African Republic were some of the most isolated ethnic groups in all of Africa.  Little contact with the outside world was made before 1800.  Muslim traders first arrived to the Central African Republic.  The French claimed the area in the late nineteenth century and named it Ubangi-Shari after two rivers in the area.  Ubangi-Shari changed its name to the Central African Republic in 1958 and gained independence from France in 1960.  The government was mainly controlled by various military officials for the first 30 years of independence during which time little progress was made toward development.  An election was held in 1993 and ushered in a democratically elected president (President Patasse) who controlled the country for a decade.  Unrest and instability continued throughout his presidency.  A military coup overthrew Patasse in 2003 and elections were again held in 2005.  The military general (General Bozize) who overthrew Patasse won the presidency in the election.  The Central African Republic is easily influenced by bordering nations due to the country's landlocked position, weak central government and comparably small population to other neighboring African nations.  Violence and unrest from Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo has affected the Central African Republic from time to time.

Culture 

The lack of economic development and government instability have adversely affected the culture.  Education is not emphasized and many do not complete formal education.  The physical integrity of women is often threatened especially in marriages.  Polygamy is legal and its practice affected 28% of women in 1995.[1]  Alcohol and tobacco use appear less prevalent than in most nations. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $700 (2010) [1.48% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.369

Corruption Index: 2.1

Due to political instability and its landlocked position, the Central African Republic has experienced little economic development since independence.  The majority of Central Africans support themselves on subsistence agriculture.  Timber and diamonds provide the primary exports whereas food, manufactured goods and electronics make up the bulk of imports.  The Central African Republic's largest export partner is Japan and the majority of imports come from Europe, the United States or nearby African nations.  Corruption is widespread.  Bribery is a common problem, especially in rural areas along roads. 

Faiths

Christian: 80%

Muslim: 15%

indigenous beliefs: 5%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic   900,000

Seventh Day Adventists   9,805  50

Jehovah's Witnesses  2,515  53

Latter-day Saints  393 1

Religion

Most Central Africans are Christian.  Protestants constitute 51% of the population whereas Catholics account for 29% of Central Africans.  Islam claims the remaining 15% of Central Africans.  Muslims generally experience consistent societal discrimination often attributed to socio-economic differences.  Syncretism between indigenous beliefs and Christianity and Islam are common.[2]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution grants religious freedom which is usually upheld by the government.  Foreign religious groups must register with the government, which allows for some financial benefits.  To register, groups must have over 1,000 members and leadership that government deems as qualified to lead congregations through education at a religious school.  However, these regulations were not always followed for registration.  Unregistered groups have been allowed to assemble but are monitored by government.  Witchcraft is illegal and its practice can result in the death penalty[3]

Largest Cities

Urban: 39%

Bangui, Bimbo, Berbérati, Carnot, Bambari, Bouar, Bossangoa, Bria, Bangassou, Nola.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

One of the 10 largest cities has a congregation.  28% of the national population lives in the ten largest cities. 

LDS History

The first known member in the Central African Republic was Carol Forrest of the United States Peace Corps.  She arrived in June of 1991 and lived in Bangui.  During her stay, she began sharing the gospel with associates, resulting in a group of investigators interested in learning about the Church.  She began by inviting a couple friends and acquaintances to take part in her own personal Sunday gospel study.  In the fall of that year, Forrest was set apart as a district missionary for the country.  The mission president in the Zaire Kinshasa Mission visited the investigators and Forrest in June the following year to assess how they were progressing.  In August 1992, the responsibility for the Central African Republic was transferred from the Zaire Kinshasa Mission to the Cameroon Yaounde Mission.  The president of the Cameroon Yaounde Mission visited the country in September 1992.  During his visit, 20 investigators were baptized and two branches were organized in Bangui the day following the baptisms.[4]  A French couple began serving as missionaries in January 1993.  The senior couple served in the country until they were removed due to worsening civil unrest.  The seminary program started in 1995.

The responsibility for the Central African Republic shifted from the Ivory Coast Abidjan Mission to the newly created Ghana Cape Coast Mission in 2005, and was again transferred to the Democratic Republic of Congo Mission shortly thereafter.  Since the first senior missionaries left the Central African Republic in the early 1990s, there have been no missionaries assigned to the country.  President and Sister Livingstone from the Democratic Republic of Congo Mission visited the Central African Republic in early 2009 to conduct an annual branch audit. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 427 (2010)

There were approximately 100 members by 1996, increasing to 126 in 2000.  In 2005, membership nearly doubled to 218 and reached 393 in 2008.

Congregational Growth

Branches: 1

In 1992, two branches were organized instead of one due to the locations where most members and investigators lived.[5]  The two branches in Bangui were subsequently consolidated into one. 

Activity and Retention

During the 2007-2008 school year there were a total of 32 people enrolled in either seminary or institute courses.  The number of active members in the country appears to be around 100, or 25% of total membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: French, English.

All LDS scriptures are available in French.  Fulani is the only native language that has any Church materials translated.  Fulani translations are limited to Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony.

Meetinghouses

The chapel housing the Bangui Branch had space sufficient to hold about 60-70 for sacrament meeting in 2009.  The building lacked classroom space, leading the branch to hold classes like primary outside under a tree.  The branch was reported to lack many of the equipment most congregations have access to, such as televisions to show audiovisual presentations and electronic keyboards for playing hymns during sacrament meeting. 

Health and Safety

HIV/AIDS infects 6.3% of the population. Poor sanitation, no access to clean water in most the country, and poor health care availability and infrastructure have likely delayed the reintroduction of LDS missionaries.

Humanitarian and Development Work

No organized LDS humanitarian work efforts are known to have occurred in the Central African Republic. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

It is unclear whether the LDS Church is officially registered with the government.  The Church has less than half of the required number of members for registration.  Since LDS leaders do not receive formal education from a religious school, the government may also hesitate to grant registration.  These issues may have delayed a more active Church presence and outreach in the Central African Republic.   

Cultural Issues

Like many African nations, war and poverty appear to be the biggest limiting factors for the growth of the Church in the Central African Republic.  The Church had a bright beginning in the country when the first two branches were organized, but encountered problems once civil unrest worsened, forcing the senior missionary couple to leave the country.  Instability has persisted in recent years due to conflicts in neighboring nations spilling over into the Central African Republic.  Poverty ranks among some of the most severe in the world, partly due to the country's landlocked position.  The practice of polygamy creates challenges for church growth and mission outreach.  Those participating in a polygamous relationship must end marriages in divorce and be interviewed by a member of the mission or area presidency to be baptized. 

National Outreach

The Church's presence in the Central African Republic is very limited.  Only the capital city of Bangui where 16% of the population resides has an LDS congregation.  Very few Central Africans, whether inside or outside of Bangui, have heard of the Church due to the Church's very limited presence.

Few visits had been made by regional church leaders due to instability and war.  The remote location of the Central African Republic and its limited transportation and health infrastructure makes it difficult to reopen the country to foreign LDS missionaries.  Bangui is about 650 miles away from the headquarters of the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission and 500 miles away from the nearest LDS congregation in Yaounde, Cameroon. 

Missions that have administered the Central African Republic have experienced a tremendous response to missionary efforts.  Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo each have seen rapid growth and require large amounts of mission resources to maintain and expand outreach.  The Central African Republic has been less of a priority due to the strong growth in these other nations.  Continued rapid membership and congregational growth in surrounding nations and limited mission resources may continue to place the reintroduction of missionaries to the Central African Republic on hold.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Many years of war and unrest have complicated efforts to locate and keep active the nearly 400 LDS members.  The increase of 300 members between 2000 and 2008 resulted from a combination of local missionary efforts and the return of converts baptized outside of the Central African Republic.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

No major ethnic integration issues appear to have yet been arisen in church due to the limited size and distribution of membership.  Future challenges may occur in regions with several ethnic groups with histories of conflict.

Language Issues

Fulani is the only native language in the Central African Republic with any translated church materials.  Sangho may be the most likely to have future translations because it is the national language.  The high linguistic diversity on the country challenges future mission outreach, considering that Fulani has only around 100,000 speakers and has just two ecclesiastical materials translated.  French will likely be used until greater local membership growth and activity occurs.

Missionary Service

In 2009, President Livingstone of the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission interviewed a young man who was sending his mission papers to serve as a full-time missionary, the first in many years from the country.  A missionary from the Central African Republic was serving in Pennsylvania in 2009.  The elder joined the Church three years earlier in the United States.  As of mid-2011, no full-time missionaries were assigned to the country.

Leadership

In 2009, Roger Langue, an advisor to the president of the Central African Republic who was baptized with his family when he studied in France in the 1980s, provided great strength to the country's sole branch.  Developing additional priesthood leadership has been challenging. 

Temple

The Central African Republic is assigned to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple district.  Organized temple trips appear to have never occurred due to limited active membership, long distance, travel expenses, and difficulties acquiring the needed documentation and permissions to travel to South Africa.  The placement of a senior missionary couple would greatly increase the likelihood of future temple participation of Central African members.

Comparative Growth

It is promising to note that the Church has continually functioned in the country despite many years of little contact from Church leaders.  Some African nations including Burundi and Somalia previously had a Church presence but no longer have any organized congregations due to war or civil unrest. 

Christian groups report modest growth.  Both Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists have usually seen slow membership growth and have had a longer presence in the Central African Republic than the LDS Church.  Christian participation in Sunday meetings appears lower than in many African nations.  Seventh Day Adventists have doubled membership from 5,000 to 10,000 in little over a decade, yet the number of congregations has only increased by 11%

Future Prospects

The Church will only grow in the near future as LDS members share the gospel with their families, friends, and neighbors.  As more members  are brought into the Church through their efforts and remain active, the likelihood that missionaries will again be assigned to the country will increase.  Prospects were high in early 2011for the establishment of a potential LDS mission in Cameroon that could also administer the Central African Republic.


[1]  "Central African Republic," Social Institutions and Gender Index, retrieved 20 March 2010.  http://genderindex.org/country/central-african-republic

[2]  "Central African Republic," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148671.htm

[3]  "Central African Republic," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148671.htm

[4]  Mostert, Mary.  "Medical officer ministers to souls," LDS Church News, 5 December 1992.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/21796/Medical-officer-ministers-to-souls.html

[5]  Mostert, Mary.  "Medical officer ministers to souls," LDS Church News, 5 December 1992.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/21796/Medical-officer-ministers-to-souls.html