Bangui is the capital of the Central African Republic and its largest city. As of 2012 it had an estimated population of 734,350. Established by the French in 1889 as 'Bongai', which means 'rapids', it is located on the northern bank of the Ubangi River, and grew into a town while it was part of French Equatorial Africa. The majority of the population of the Central African Republic lives in the western parts of the country, in Bangui and the area surrounding it.
The city forms an autonomous commune (commune autonome) of the Central African Republic which is surrounded by the Ombella-M'Poko prefecture. With an area of , the commune is the smallest high-level administrative division in the country, but the highest in terms of population. The city consists of eight urban districts (arrondissements), 16 groups (groupements) and 205 neighbourhoods (quartiers). As the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui acts as an administrative, trade, and commercial centre. It is served by the Bangui M'Poko International Airport. The National Assembly, government buildings, banks, foreign enterprises and embassies, hospitals, hotels, main markets and the Ngaragba Central Prison are all located here. Bangui manufactures textiles, food products, beer, shoes and soap. Its Notre-Dame Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bangui. The city is also home to the University of Bangui, inaugurated in 1970.
Bangui has been the scene of intense rebel activity and destruction during decades of political upheaval, including the current rebellion. As a result of political unrest, the city was named in 1996 as one of the most dangerous in the world.
Archaeological studies in and around Bangui have yielded at least 26 ancient Iron Age sites that contain many metallurgical tools and objects, illuminating the pre-European history of the city and surrounding area. The archaeological sites were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on 11 April 2006 in the Cultural category. The site closest to Bangui is Pendere-Sengue, from Independence Avenue, where archaeologists and conservation agencies have carried out studies. It is a paleo-metallurgical site where several thousand shards of ceramics, iron tools, pottery, and an iron spatula weighing have been unearthed. Its dating, compared with similar sites in Nigeria and Sudan, could be close to the 9th century BC.
Bangui was founded in 1889 in what was the French colony of Haut-Oubangui, later called Ubangi-Chari and made part of French Equatorial Africa. Named after the rapids of the river, the city grew as a result of the proximity of a French military post situated on the Ubangi River. Bangui served as the administration centre in the colonial era and continues to be the administrative centre of the Central African Republic.
The French operated a radio transmitter in Bangui, which was described in 1932 as "the most remote radio station in Africa".
In 1970, President Jean-Bédel Bokassa inaugurated the University of Bangui. He established the national airline Air Centrafrique the following year and ordered the construction of two new luxury hotels in Bangui. With tensions mounting between Bangui and Paris as a result of Bokassa's uncontrollable expenditures, western banks refused to lend him any more money. Relations with the French worsened still further in April 1974, when Brigette Miroux's body was discovered in a hotel room in Bangui. It was reported in the French media that she had been Bokassa's mistress and that he was responsible for her murder. As a result, Bokassa banned imports of French newspapers and assumed control of the Agence France-Presse office in Bangui. By 1975, Bangui had a population of 300,723.
In March 1981, widespread violence took place in Bangui following elections, after Operation Caban led the French to drop Bokassa (who had begun to call himself Emperor Bokassa I), and replaced him with David Dacko. Opponents of the President met in Bangui and were forced to flee the country. After returning voluntarily to Bangui in the autumn of 1986, Bokassa went on trial. Initially faced with the death penalty, in February 1988 he was instead sentenced to life imprisonment. His successor was General André Kolingba, army chief of staff of Decko’s army, who took over control from the local French military on 1 September 1981 under the pretext that the country was heading towards civil war. Although he attempted to combat corruption and control the national economy, he was unable to achieve his reforms. By the middle of the 1980s the country’s economic situation had deteriorated as 80% of the revenue went towards meeting the salaries of the staff. Under pressure from France and other western countries, Kolingba restored democracy in the country in 1991 with a multiparty government but elections could be held only three years later in August 1994. During the elections, Ange-Félix Patassé was elected to the post of president. Since he was from northern CAR, the southern group of Kolingba started a rebellion during 1996.
In May 1996, about 200 soldiers of the Central African Republic mutinied in Bangui, demanding salary increases and the abdication of Ange-Félix Patassé. In the aftermath, the renegades plundered and killed more than 50 people. Following this, the French troops stationed in the country suppressed the rebellion and restored the dictatorial power. After being elected, President Patassé announced a national unity government in early 1997. The Patassé government, the opposition parties, and religious groups signed the Bangui Agreements in January 1997 which were a series of measures designed to reconcile competing political factions, reform and strengthen the economy. The same year, the rebel troops refused a military base in Bangui and in June a new revolt broke out.
In view of frequent political unrest the city was named in 1996 as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. On 25 October 2002, several towns in the country and later Bangui itself were attacked by the forces of General François Bozizé, backed with international support. Bozizé refused to accept an arrest warrant and "defected with about a hundred troops, engaged in street battles in the northern neighborhoods of Bangui (traditionally supporting Patassé)" and went north. Bozizé went into exile in Chad but his troops returned to Bangui and fighting continued. Peace-keeping forces were ineffective, leaving Patassé isolated, and with support from Chad, Bozizé's troops were successful in removing Patassé's government. Patassé, who was returning from Niger after attending a conference, was not permitted to land in Bangui and he took asylum in Togo, and Bozizé seized power and suspended the constitution. An all-party National Transitional Government was set up which functioned as an interim legislative body. However, the “climate of distrust continued.”
In late 2012, the Seleka coalition rebelled against his autocratic rule and entered the city. After capturing Bria, Sibut, and other important towns, they were on the verge of capturing Damara, the last strategic town before Bangui. France and the US refused to support the president and neighbouring countries reinforced the Central African Multinational Force (Fomac).
In January 2013, the rebels terminated their operations, hoping for a negotiated settlement. Following a ceasefire and a power-sharing agreement, Seleka and Bozizé agreed to honour the rebel's demands for the release of rebel prisoners and the expulsion of foreign troops from the country. The agreement allowed Bozizé to complete his term in office and to include members of Seleka in a new government. It was also agreed that fresh elections would be held in 2016. The agreement was not honoured and the rebels captured Bangui on 23 March 2013, forcing Bozizé to flee the capital.
As of early January 2014, "around 500,000 have fled their homes" in Bangui, "almost half the city's population."