Strife-weary CAR nostalgic for bloody 'emperor'

2014-04-19 10:00
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Bangui - In the nightmare of the strife-torn Central African Republic (CAR), many citizens have begun to long for the "good old days" of Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the emperor who became infamous for his brutality yet worked economic wonders in their eyes.

Some residents of the capital Bangui are openly nostalgic for the Bokassa era, which lasted from his military coup in 1966 until his overthrow in 1979, two years after a hugely extravagant coronation when the former soldier proclaimed himself emperor.

His fans point to his legacy in public works, including buildings, electricity supplies and transport, neglected by his successors in one of Africa's poorest countries.

"Kolingba came, he built nothing. Patasse came, he built nothing. Bozize came, he built nothing. Djotodia came, he built nothing," Daniel Nganazouri said, reeling off the names of successive presidents.

Then he simply pointed around. "But that building there, the tar on the road and even that electricity pylon, they were Bokassa's work. Even if he was a thief, he did a lot of good."

A group of young people listening in voiced their approval - though it was not unanimous.

"Fine, but he was still a dictator," said one of them, Faustin.

Jean-Bedel Bokassa was born in a village in 1921 and named after a saint, Jean Baptiste de la Salle. He became a rifleman in the French colonial army in 1931 and quit in 1962, after attaining the rank of captain and serving in Indochina and Algeria.

Still a soldier in the newly independent CAR, Bokassa seized power on New Year's Eve 1965, proclaiming justice and equality for all.

But during his long rule he became infamous for brutality, torture and summary executions.

He was also seen as a stalwart backer of France's sometimes meddling activities in its former African colonies.

Self-declared president

Dubbed "a trooper" by France's Charles de Gaulle, Bokassa declared himself president for life and marshal of the army. He also converted to Islam before organising a coronation modelled on that of Napoleon I, at an estimated cost of $20m.

No heads of state attended the ceremony, but France was represented by a government minister. Two of the six French horses brought in to haul the imperial carriage died in the equatorial heat, but guests were offered 60 000 bottles of champagne and Burgundy wine.

Then-French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who enjoyed hunting gazelles and other wildlife, developed close ties with Bokassa.

However, when revelations emerged that Giscard had accepted diamonds from his African friend, the scandal contributed to his electoral defeat in 1981, when Francois Mitterand and the Socialist party swept to power in France.

'Better when he's back'

"People were paid under Bokassa. The Central African army was stable and even set an example for other African countries," said a waiter at the decaying Hotel Oubabangui.

Today, the CAR's army is in tatters, undermined by decades of mutinies and rebellions.

After more than a year of ethnic and religious violence that has claimed thousands of lives the troops trying to restore order come from other African countries and France.

The crisis erupted in March 2013 when the mainly Muslim rebels of the Seleka alliance overthrew the government.

They installed their leader, Michel Djotodia, as head of state, but he stepped down last January under international pressure, accused of failing to halt the spiral of violence between the Muslim minority and the Christian majority, with atrocities on all sides.

"I was too young under Bokassa, but my father spoke well of him to me, saying that he was a good president and a true nationalist," said the director of the national museum in Bangui, Albertine Ouaboua, in an office with neither a door nor windows. Like the rest of the premises, the room was badly damaged in recent strife and the museum is closed.

Ouaboua has not been paid for five months, but like countless others who have scraped by with no salary, she goes to work for fear of being sacked, she said.

‘He killed a lot’

Dania, a diplomat's daughter and hostess, gave another perspective on Bokassa.

"He killed a lot all the same," she said.

The French intervention that ousted Bokassa in September 1979 was in part due to his notorious massacre of about 100 children five months earlier, when they refused to wear costly school uniforms.

In Bangui, with its deeply rutted streets and crumbling bridges, a number of buildings mark out bygone times, including a 20 000-seater stadium built by the Chinese and the red-brick Roman Catholic cathedral, where street sellers still offer copies of the official gazette from Bokassa's day and books on the "philosophy" of his rule.

Many supporters hold Bokassa in undying reverence.

When an AFP reporter went to Bangui in November 1996 to cover Bokassa's funeral and the latest army mutiny, the following strange exchange took place on the way out of the cathedral.

Emu, a loyal supporter of the late ruler, said: "It will be better when he comes back."

"But he's dead," the journalist answered.

"Yes, I know," Emu replied. "But it will still be better when he comes back."

Read more on:    central african republic  |  central africa
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
11 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Food
 

The most extreme journey ever?

One man is sailing around the world in a beach cat - no cabin to sleep in and no GPS.

 
 

Where were you when you last felt alive?

Red Bull Lionheart trail run - not for the fainthearted!
Adventure holidays for your bucket list
Top 10 water sports to try before you die
6 impressive camping tips

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Save up to R1000 on Hisense smartphones!

View the large range of Hisense smartphones. Buy today and save up to R1000!

Deal of the week!

Save R1200 on the Samsung 48” smart full HD LED television now only R8799. Buy now!

Toys 4 for the price of 3

Buy 4 toys and get the cheapest FREE! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing prices – As seen on TV

Get mind blowing prices on 1000’s of products! Shop now.

Save 20% on Nivea beauty products!

Buy any two Nivea beauty products and save 20%. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There is a tendency to focus too intently on outer appearance and beauty which hides who you really are. You are being challenged...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.