ON SEPTEMBER 20, 1979 – 38 years today – a coup d’état in what’s today known as the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) ousted self-styled ‘Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa-the-First’out of power!
[Indeed, there’s NEVER been another ‘Emperor JeanBedel Bokassa... But, that’s another story...] C.A.R’s never really known peace and tranquility since it was ‘granted political Independence’ by France on August 13, 1960! With a population of around 4.6m souls fighting over 622,984sq.km/ 240,535sq.miles of countryspace, C.A.R. is phenomenally-endowed with potential wealth – mostly natural resources that include farmland, forestry (lumber, etc) and hydro-potential, as well as minerals: diamonds, gold, oil, uranium, cobalt... And yet; and yet... “The C.A.R. is among the world’s ten poorest countries.
As of 2015 – according to the Human Development Index – the country had the lowest level of human development, ranking 188th out of 188 countries! It’s also considered the ‘unhealthiest country,’ and the ‘worst country to be young in!’ Nominal GDP in 2017: US$1.992bn; per capita: $400. [Gini Index. World Bank. Retrieved March 2, 2011; CIA World Fact Book...] Persistent internal conflict hampers effective exploitation of the resources for meaningful and sustainable social, economic and political development!
Intense internecine violence has mostly targeted vulnerable but otherwise pivotal segments in Society, including members of the mass media fraternity (Journalists, etc) and sectarian/parochial minorities: Muslims (about 15 percent,vs 50-80 percent Christian!!!); Ethnic groups, namely the Baya, Banda, Mandjia, Sara, Fulani, Mboum, M’Baka and Yakoma tribes, etc... What’s today the Central African Republic started out somewhat formally as ‘Ubangi-Shari,’ a landlocked country in central Africa hemmed-in by Chad (to the north), Sudan-Khartoum (northeast), South SudanJuba (east).
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, to the south), the Republic of the Congo-Brazaville (southwest), and Cameroon to the west! Named after the Ubangi and Chari rivers which flow into River Congo and Lake Chad respectively, C.A.R is home to a motley collection of Bantu migrants from across the region that was unceremoniously descended upon by the French in the late 19th Century, who carved out Ubangi-Shari territory in 1894 during the Partition of Africa, in the wake of the 1884/85 Berlin Conference.
Then they cobbled together ‘French Equatorial Africa’ in 1920, administering Ubangi-Shari from Brazzaville. The French liked the place – and stayed put... Until August 13, 1960 when they were politically booted out of the place, bag and baggage, on what passes as ‘Independence from alien rule,’ starting with David Dacko as founder-President...
For all practical purposes, this placed the country and the natives under rule by home-grown leaderships, complete with the lofty motto ‘Unity, Dignity, Work’ and Bangui as the State capital – adopting French and Sango as ‘official languages.’
However, that potentially-positive development (‘Independence’) hasn’t elevated the country to Seventh Heaven on Cloud Nine in terms of quality of life for its 4-5m natives! Not very much unlike Tanzania virtually next door, Historians tell us, the UbangiShari colonisers “doled out concessions to private companies that stripped the region’s assets as quickly and cheaply as possible, depositing a percentage of their mega-profits into the French Treasury.
The concessionary companies forced local people to harvest rubber, coffee and other commodities without pay – and actually held their families hostage until they met set quotas! “Between 1890 – a year after the French first arrived – and 1940, about a-half-ofthe (Ubangi-Shari) population died as a result.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the French introduced a policy of mandatory cotton cultivation... “New forms of forced labor were also introduced, and a large number of Ubangians were sent to work on the Congo-Ocean Railway.
Many of these forced laborers died of exhaustion, illness, or the poor conditions, claiming 20-25 percent of the 127,000 workers...” Oh... I don’t know. But, before Founder-President Dacko – who turned the country into a single-party state – could find his feet and set the country on the right developmental path, he was elbowed out of power on December 31, 1965 by Colonel Jean-Bedel Bokassa who suspended the Constitution, dissolved the National Assembly – and declared himself ‘President for Life’ in 1972.
Then he re-cast himself as ‘Emperor Bokassa-I of the Central African Empire on December 4, 1976 – and, “a year later, crowned himself in a lavish, expensive ceremony that was ridiculed by much of the world!”
However, Bokassa was ousted in a bloodless counter-coup backed by French troops on today’s date – September 20 – in 1979, restoring Dacko to power – and the country from a Bokassan Empire to a Republic – of sorts! Never mind that Dacko was once again overthrown in a coup by General André Kolingba, on September 1, 1981...! Bokassa’s rule was decidedly ‘cruel, ruthless, authoritarian, full of human rights violations...’
No wonder! When students protested against Bokassa’s decree that they must buy school uniforms from one of his wives’ outfits, his Government violently suppressed them, killing some 100 of them. Indeed, some critics see gory Bokassa hands from some of the killings... Whew!