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Central African Republic: The Blood Trail Leads to Paris


A man gestures in front of a burning barricade during a protest against French soldiers in Bambari, May 22, 2014. (Goran Tomasevic / Courtesy Reuters)

This is the third article in an exclusive Loonwatch series entitled, This is Africa. The previous article exposed some of the background conveniently left out of most media coverage as violence spiraled out of control in the Central African Republic. 

by Ilisha

This article delves into the historical roots of French colonial rule in the Central African Republic (CAR), and the ceaseless foreign intervention that has plagued the country ever since. This is the historical and geopolitical context that allows us to distinguish fact from fiction when confronted with misleading propaganda.

Following a familiar pattern established over decades, the latest round of violence provided cover for a cloak and dagger power grab, orchestrated by the usual suspects.

Paving the Way

The French arrived in what is now CAR in 1885, and managed to consolidate their rule by the early 1900s. Prestigious French Investigative reporter Albert Londres traveled to colonial Africa in 1928 and relayed the horrors inflicted on the indigenous people through imperial conquest:

Forcibly seized in their villages, transported by river on barges built to carry animals, a quarter of them died before reaching Brazzaville [in present-day Republic of the Congo]. They were then forced to do all of the construction work practically without any tools, such as digging tunnels bare-handed under the whip of the “capitas” (village chieftains serving as overseers) without food and exposed to disease. And when they ran out of strength, Albert Londres testified, “I saw Saras, Zindes and Bayas, who no longer had the strength to work, walk into the forest to die” ~ (Terre d’Ebène).

The extraction of African wealth by African hands for French benefit necessarily required extreme brutality. In all, between 1890 and 1940, half the population perished from a combination of microbial shock and colonial violence.

Despite French brutality and ruthlessness, the survivors resisted.

The Rebellion

With their ancestral way of life destroyed, their natural resources plundered, their labor exploited, and their population devastated, the people were further savaged by heavy taxes used to fund colonial infrastructure. This unbearable situation gave birth to the Kongo-Wara rebellion (1928-1931).

The movement urged black solidarity and called for direct action, including a boycott of European merchandise, and refusal to work for or pay taxes to colonial authorities. Rebels burned down police stations, government buildings, and private residences. They blocked roads, denying access to European colonials. Although there have been many rebellions against colonial rule in Africa, the Kongo-Wara (“War of the Hoe Handle”) spread beyond the village where it began in the Central African Republic, extending into parts of Cameroon, Chad, and Gabon. At its zenith, the movement had over 350,000 adherents, including an estimated 60,000 warriors. [1]

The rebellion was finally crushed in 1931. The last remaining pockets of resistance were extinguished in the “War of the Caves,” when French forces asphyxiated rebels with smoke. Direct colonial rule lasted another three decades until 1960, when the country achieved formal independence.

The Ruse

“The drama of Africa is that the African man has not sufficiently entered into history.” ~ Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy

More than half a century has passed since the Central African Republic was declared an independent nation. Many people seem to think five decades is long enough to have recovered from colonial exploitation, and blame the people for their apparent failure to rise up from the ruins and build a stable, prosperous democracy.

Whether or not this is a reasonable expectation under the circumstances, the fact is colonialism never really ended. As explained in the first article in this series, the French Colonial Pact was merely a clever scheme to replace crude colonialism with a more sophisticated successor, neocolonialism. The transfer of wealth has continued to this day.

According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2013, France ranked 26th among all nations with a per capita GDP of nearly $40,000. The Central African Republic ranked dead last, with a per capita GDP of about $600.

Plunder in Masquerade

In the wake of formal independence for African nations, the French wanted to achieve the same wealth transfer while avoiding the stench of old-fashioned colonial rule. Paris has consistently meddled in the governmental affairs of their “former” colonies, installing and deposing African leaders to ensure French interests always come first.

As we shall see, when puppet regimes start showing signs of independence or are no longer useful, they must be overthrown and replaced. If “regime change” cannot be achieved by rigged elections or a facilitated coup, objectives must be achieved by other means. A pretext must be found (or manufactured) to justify whatever must be done to restore “order and stability” (translation: organized theft).

A Mysterious Death

Barthélemy Boganda served as prime minister of the Central African Republic Autonomous Territory leading up to independence. A nationalist who openly opposed racism and colonialism, he had formed grassroots opposition to French colonial rule. He might have become the first president, except that Boganda was killed in a mysterious plane crash in 1959, just before the country’s first election.

Instead, David Dacko became the first president of the Central African Republic in 1960, with the active French support.

The China Threat

Dacko tread the fine line between pleasing his French masters and convincing his constituents he was not a French puppet. In an apparent effort to display his independence after his first few years in office, he made a perilous mistake by cultivating closer relations with China.

Foreshadowing events that would take place decades later, Dacko was overthrown in a French-backed coup and replaced by Jean-Bédel Bokassa.

Emperor Bokassa

Within days of seizing power, Bokassa broke off relations with Beijing and expelled Chinese advisers.

Bokassa was a distinguished veteran of the French war in Indochina with close ties to France. He enjoyed private Air France flights to dine in Paris and acquired a palatial chateau while his people starved under brutal oppression. In 1975, the French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing declared himself a “friend and family member” of Emperor Bokassa.

An admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte and an egomaniac fond of bestowing illustrious titles upon himself, Bokassa declared himself emperor of the “Central African Empire” during the last two years of his rule. Paris congratulated him and the French government helped finance a lavish coronation at an estimated cost of $30 million–in a small, impoverished country where most people did not have access to potable water.

Emperor Bokassa used the country’s diamonds to pay mercenaries and French politicians, and in exchange, the French backed a psychopathic murderer.

But the French later soured on Bokassa as his extravagance drew growing opposition from his subjects, his behavior became increasingly erratic, and his bids for greater independence in foreign affairs became more frequent.

In 1979, he gave the French the pretext they needed to depose him. His regime arrested and tortured more than 100 student protesters, many of whom were eventually murdered under Bokassa’s personal supervision. Though Paris had supported him through many of his worst atrocities, the French demonized their former ally, spreading lurid tales accusing him of engaging various crimes, including cannibalism–a widely rumored allegation that was never proven.

French paratroopers overthrew Bokassa while he was visiting Libya, and reinstalled David Dacko as president.

Kleptocrat Roulette

Dacko’s second term as president lasted only briefly. Under pressure from a virulent opposition led by Ange-Félix Patassé, he handed power over to the military, asking Paris not to intervene. Dacko had effectively consented to a bloodless coup led by André Kolingba.

Kolingba was another kleptocrat and brutal dictator, and like Bokassa before him, enjoyed close relations with Paris. Kolingba’s rule lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall, which signaled the end of the Cold War and brought increased pressure to hold democratic elections.

Facing mounting pressure, France assisted in organizing the elections, which brought Dacko’s arch rival, Ange-Félix Patassé, to office in 1993.

Before leaving office, Kolingba pardoned Emperor Bokassa, who had spent 7 years in jail after being sentenced to death for numerous crimes, including treason, murder, illegal use of property, assault and battery, and embezzlement. A few years later, André Kolingba would himself be sentenced to death for masterminding a failed coup attempt against Patassé. Kolingba was later pardoned, in yet another display of incestuous political corruption.

Patassé was re-elected again in 1999, though his rule was characterized by corruption, political intrigue, ethnic tensions, religious protests, and murders. Nevertheless, he enjoyed French support and managed to stave off at least a half dozen coup attempts during his 10-year rule.

Then he made a mistake that would prove perilous. He began to criticize Paris’ role in the country and to speak out against French exploitation of the country’s resources. Shortly thereafter, he was deposed in a French-backed coup by veteran military strongman François Bozizé. Despite international condemnation, the elected president was never restored to power.

From 1977 to 1979, Bozizé had served as army chief of staff under Emperor Bokassa. Bozizé described Emperor Bokassa, a brutal dictator and convicted criminal, as “a son of the nation recognized by all as a great builder.” As mentioned previously, his predecessor, André Kolingba, had pardoned Bokassa, freeing him from jail, along with numerous political prisoners. Bozizé further watered down Bokassa’s punishment by issuing a rehabilitation decree to “erase penal condemnations, particularly fines and legal costs, and [stop] any future incapacities that result from them.”

Bozizé himself would later face charges of “crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide.”

Dacko Redux

François Bozizé’s presidency lasted 10 years, during which he enjoyed warm relations with the French. Then, like so many others before him, he began showing signs of independence in foreign affairs. Like CAR’s first president David Dacko, Bozizé made the perilous mistake of cozying up to China, and like David Dacko in his first presidency, Bozizé was soon deposed.

The political intrigue that surrounded the recent ouster of Bozizé is the subject of the next article.

[1] Fage, J.D.; Oliver, Roland Anthony (1986). The Cambridge history of Africa. (Reprint ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 397.ISBN 0521225051.

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  • Dr.S
  • Razainc_aka_BigBoss

    Personally I like this strategy because you have good well researched informative articles and facts to go back to for future discussions.

  • Razainc_aka_BigBoss

    Wow just got around to reading this, really good and a concise in-depth history of France in CAR. This surprisingly is completely left out of Main Stream Media discussions on CAR, Great Article.

  • JD

  • Cengiz_K

    Excellent article.. I am not sure really, if western colonialism ever has perished, it seems only the leash got longer.. Even atom bombs are not going to help them colonizers and enslavers, when all that meddling in other cultures and nations will blow back in their faces some time.. You can already see how the european fortress is being rebuilt (frontex, lampedusa, defense leagues, etc..) and stereotypes are re-cycled to manipulate the very own population, the revival of the middle-ages in the hands of technocrats and oligarchs.. I am not talking about violence, but rather about how history not reinventing itself and how man is still man.. As far as i can see, proponents of this western civilization are having a hard time explaining, “what went wrong”! Allahu alem..

  • adc714

    very informative

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  • Dr.S


  • mindy1

    Sadly an all too familiar pattern on that continent…colonialism ruined it >:(

  • Kataro Quasinzki
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