Bokassa, Jean-Bédel

or Bokassa I

born Feb. 22, 1921, Bobangui [Central African Republic]
died Nov. 3, 1996, Bangui, Central African Republic

President of the Central African Republic (1966–77) and self-proclaimed emperor of the Central African Empire (1977–79).

Son of a village chief, Bokassa joined the French army in 1939 and later received the Croix de Guerre for his service in Indochina. In 1961 he returned to head the army of the newly independent Central African Republic; five years later he overthrew the president, his cousin David Dacko. In 1977 he had himself crowned emperor. When he was found to have participated in the massacre of 100 schoolchildren and was accused of cannibalism, French paratroops removed him in a coup and reestablished the republic. Bokassa settled in Côte d'Ivoire. He was sentenced to death in absentia in 1980, but his death sentence was later commuted.

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▪ 1997

      African military officer and political leader (b. Feb. 22, 1921, Bobangui, Oubangui-Chari, French Equatorial Africa [now in Central African Republic]—d. Nov. 3, 1996, Bangui, Central African Republic), was president of the Central African Republic (1966-77) and self-styled emperor of the Central African Empire (1977-79). His rule was characterized by brutality and greed. After the assassination of his father, a village chief, and the suicide of his mother, Bokassa was raised by missionaries. In 1939 he joined the French army, and his bravery during the conflict in Indochina led to numerous honours, including the Croix de Guerre and admittance into the Legion of Honour. Bokassa achieved the rank of captain, and in 1961 he left the French armed forces to command the army of the newly independent Central African Republic. In 1966 he overthrew Pres. David Dacko and seized control of the republic. During Bokassa's rule political opponents were often tortured and executed. Moreover, the country's economy, one of the poorest in the world, suffered further strain as Bokassa plundered the uranium and diamond industries to finance his lavish lifestyle. In 1977 he proclaimed himself Emperor Bokassa I in an opulent ceremony modeled upon the coronation of Napoleon I and rumoured to cost $200 million. His reign over the country, renamed the Central African Empire, was short-lived, however. In 1979 his participation in the massacre of 100 schoolchildren who had protested mandatory school uniforms led to a French military coup that reestablished the republic; Dacko was reinstated, and Bokassa was forced into exile. After his return home in 1986, Bokassa was tried and found guilty of murder (he was acquitted on charges of cannibalism). His death sentence, however, was commuted, and Bokassa was released from prison in 1993.

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▪ president of Central African Republic
also called  Bokassa I  
born Feb. 22, 1921, Bobangui, Moyen-Congo, French Equatorial Africa [now in Central African Republic]
died Nov. 3, 1996, Bangui, Central African Republic
 African military leader who was president of the Central African Republic (1966–76) and self-styled emperor of the Central African Empire (1976–79).

      The son of a village headman, Bokassa attended local mission schools before joining the French army in 1939. He distinguished himself in the French conflict in Indochina, and by 1961 he had achieved the rank of captain. At the request of President David Dacko (Dacko, David), Bokassa left the French armed forces to head the army of the newly independent Central African Republic. On Dec. 31, 1965, Bokassa used his position as supreme military commander to overthrow Dacko; he declared himself president of the republic on Jan. 1, 1966. Bokassa initially spearheaded a number of reforms in an effort to develop the Central African Republic. He sought to promote economic development with Operation Bokassa, a national economic plan that created huge nationalized farms and industries, but the plan was stymied by poor management. He later became known for his autocratic and unpredictable policies, and his government was characterized by periodic reshuffles in which the power of the presidency was gradually increased.

      In December 1976 Bokassa assumed the title Emperor Bokassa I and changed the name of his country to the Central African Empire. He was crowned a year later—in emulation of his hero, Napoleon I—in a lavish ceremony that cost more than $20 million. By this time Bokassa's rule had effectively bankrupted his impoverished country, and his reign as emperor proved to be short-lived. Following the substantiation of international charges that Bokassa had personally participated in a massacre of 100 schoolchildren by his imperial guard, French paratroops carried out a military coup against him that reestablished the republic and reinstated Dacko as president (September 1979). Bokassa went into exile, first traveling to Côte d'Ivoire but later settling in France.

      Bokassa was sentenced in absentia to death in 1980, but he inexplicably chose to return to the Central African Republic in 1986. He was arrested and put on trial, and in 1987 he was found guilty of the murders of the schoolchildren and other crimes (although he was acquitted of charges of cannibalism). His death sentence was subsequently commuted, and he was freed in 1993.

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Universalium. 2010.

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