Central African Empire: Emperor Bokassa

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Jun 19, 2005
Coronation of Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa on Dec. 4, 1977
ceremony clearly trying to copy Napoléon I Bonaparte
Over $20 million was spent on the coronation ,consuming one quarter of his nations annual revenue :
from corbis

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From: magnum photo

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Thank you for posting these pics , Weynier. Even if I've read more than once about Central African Empire I've never seen pics of Bokassa Crowning himself, and much less of his wife and little heir.

The only thing I know about this story is that he admired so much Napoleon I, that he wanted to name himself and Emperor. But I must admit I do not know much more about the whole thing. May someone explain to me how and why Bokassa did become Central Africa Emperor, and over all things, how his people took his idea of founding an Imperial House in the country? I'm very interested in this matter.

Here’s a short biography of the emperor from : Wikipedia

A career soldier, Bokassa joined the Free French Forces and ended World War II as a sergeant major with the Legion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre. By 1961 he had risen to the rank of captain. He left the French army in 1964 to join the army of the Central African Republic. As a cousin of the President David Dacko and nephew of Dacko's predecessor Barthélémy Boganda, Bokassa rose to the rank of colonel and chief of staff of the armed forces.
On January 1, 1966, with the country in economic turmoil, Bokassa overthrew the autocratic Dacko in a swift coup d'état and assumed power as president of the Republic and head of the sole political party, the Mouvement pour l'évolution sociale de l'Afrique Noire (MESAN). Bokassa abolished the constitution of 1959 on January 4 and began to rule by decree.
In April 1969, an attempted coup was the impetus for Bokassa further consolidating his power. In March 1972, Bokassa declared himself president for life. He survived another coup attempt in December 1974 and an assassination attempt in February 1976.
After a meeting with Moammar al-Qadhafi of Libya, Bokassa decided to convert to Islam and changed his name to Salah Eddine Ahmed Bokassa. It is presumed that this was a ploy calculated to ensure ongoing Libyan financial aid.
In September 1976, Bokassa dissolved the government and replaced it with the Conseil de la Révolution Centrafricaine 'Central African Revolutionary Council'. On December 4, 1976, at the MESAN congress, Bokassa declared the republic a monarchy, the Central African Empire. He issued an imperial constitution, converted back to Catholicism and had himself crowned Emperor Bokassa I on December 4, 1977, in a lavish ceremony clearly trying to copy Napoléon I Bonaparte who converted the French revolutinary republic of which he was First Consul into the First French Empire (but after conquering an empire second to no contemporary power), his full title being Empereur de Centrafrique par la volonté du peuple Centrafricain, uni au sein du parti politique national, le MESAN, "Emperor of Central Africa by the will of the Central African people, united within the national political party, the MESAN"). Bokassa attempted to justify his actions by claiming that creating a monarchy would help Central Africa "stand out" from the rest of the continent, and earn the world's respect. Over $20 million was spent on the coronation (consuming one quarter of his nations annual revenue, the type of overspending that had spelled to end for the French kingdom holding lavish court at Versailles), but despite generous invitations, no foreign leaders attended the event. Many thought Bokassa was insane, and compared his egotistical extravagance with that of Africa's other well-known eccentric dictator, Idi Amin. It was rumored that he occasionally consumed human flesh. However, this claim was proven frivolous and false during his trial.
Though it was claimed that the new Empire would be a constitutional monarchy, no significant democratic reforms were made, and suppression of dissenters remained widespread. Torture was said to be especially rampant, with allegations that even Bokassa himself occasionally participated in beatings.
From Profimedia

1-3 emperor bokassa exile in france
4-5 emperor bokassa exile in france with his children
6 emperor bokassa on trial
7-8 emperor’s property in the central African rep.

What an extraordinary story, Weyner! I know a little about all this, but not exactly why did Bokassa proclamed himself an Emperor. Of course, his "Empire" must to find and even, for the way it handle it.

I think that African Central Republic was left in extreme poverty after (and before) Bokassa overthrown. Howver, I don't believe that he would eat human flesh. It was the same accusation endured by Uganda dictator, Idi Amin. When the West accuses African dictators, they always comes to the absurd idea they would eat human flesh, maybe influenced by these movies where you can see African warriors cooking European or American missionaries into great pans. Of course, Bokassa and Amin were bad without any need to add these hysterical details to their meaniness.

Thank you for the info, Weyner!

I'm reminded of an anecdote posted on alt.talk.royalty years ago regarding Bokassa, his coronation, and a "priceless ring"

The Central African Republic's gravel was known for its industrial black diamonds or "boart". They are not considered gems, but are used for industrial tools etc. At the time, the minning concession in the CAR/CAE was held by an American company, headed by a gent named Albert. The following was posted by "Zadok" on atr back in 2002:

Albert, and the well-established Diamond concession did not escape the attention of the future Emperor’s greed and Albert was instructed to lavish a Diamond worthy of Royalty upon the self-anointed Emperor. Despite being the tenant of a Diamond
mine, Albert was primarily in the business of cheap, black, industrial boart, not in
the business of mining gem-quality Diamonds. Unable to pay for a Diamond comparable to the British Crown Jewels (Bokassa had indicated that anything less than the size of a golf ball was unacceptable), Albert was concerned about the megalomaniac Emperor’s reaction if the demanded gift was not forthcoming.

His enterprising solution was to present the Emperor with a large chunk of industrial
diamond boart weighing nearly seventy carats. Boart prices at that time were about $2.50 a carat, making the whole piece worth approximately $170. Fortunately, this large chunk of boart happened to resemble the continent of
Africa. Albert had a white Diamond set into the boart to indicate the
position of
Bangui, the capital of the newly proclaimed Central African Empire, and mounted the whole thing in a ring.

Days before the coronation, Albert presented his
“priceless gift” to the Emperor with an accompanying certificate
testifying to its “uniqueness”. Bokassa triumphantly paraded this “unique Diamond” in front of his officials and when the world press got their first
glimpse of the Emperor’s ring at his coronation ceremony it was
reported that this “Crown Jewel” was “priceless”, worth over $500,000 (in 1977). A piece of industrial boart was touted in the international media as an “Emperor’s Jewel”.

In actual fact the value was around $500! Ironically, Bokassa went on to tell Giscard D'Estaing, the President of France, that his priceless jewel was “proof of his Royalty”. What D'Estaing thought of this is unclear, however his Paratroopers removed Bokassa from power some four months later.Bokassa was exiled to the Ivory Coast and then France. Upon hearing that Bokassa still had the 70 Carat Diamond in his possession, Albert reportedly quipped: "It is a priceless Diamond, as long as he doesn't try to sell it." "

That was some smart thinking of that Albert! The anecdote goes perfectly well with the adventures of Bokassa.
On Bokassa, his admiration for Napoleon shows one thing, the Emperor of France left a legacy for the future that goes beyond the borders of France. That any person can set a goal and achieve it if they put their heart into it. Now, spending so much money from an impoverished country on a coronation is a little bit too much. These excesses of Bokassa I doomed his short stay in the royal history books.
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I must agree, Toledo...Bokassa will be always remembered , but not for his grandeur, but for his extravagance...:ermm:

Here's a little information about Bokassa's little-known Empress...

Catherine Martine Denguiadé was born on 7 Aug 1949 in Fort Archambault, Tchad. Her mother was Lucienne Tabedje. Catherine's father was a member of the Mbaka clan in Chad. She was educated at a school in Bangui, the Lycée Pie XII. Catherine was a cousin of Félix Patassé, who was President of the CAR both before and after the Empire.

Catherine married Jean-Bedel Bokassa on 20 Jun 1964, her new husband was forty-two, she, only fourteen. The teenager became Bokassa's sixth wife (eleven more would come after Catherine). In 1966, after only a little more than a year of marriage, she became a First Lady with the elevation of her husband to the Presidency of the CAR.

Eleven years later on 4 Dec 1977, Catherine was crowned as the Empress of the Central African Empire...her husband having been Emperor Bokassa I since 4 Dec 1976. Her gold lamé gown was made by Lanvin Paris, costing $72,400.

Only two years after her coronation, Catherine's reign as the only Empress of the CAE came to an end with Bokassa's deposition on 20 Sept 1979. Initially the Bokassa clan fled to Côte d'Ivoire, but shortly after went to France. The Imperial Family stayed in Paris, where it was alleged by Bokassa that Catherine had an affair with President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Bokassa started spending more time with his other wives, therefore, his relationship with his sixth one deteriorated. Catherine moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where she lived till the late 90s.

Though the pair never divorced, Catherine wasn't with her husband when he returned to the CAR in 1986. She did, however, return for the '96 funeral of her husband, which was held at Berengo. The former Emperor had died at Bangui on 3 Nov 1996 leaving behind seventeen wives and either thirty-seven or fifty-six children (depending on whose count you believe).

Empress Catherine had during her marriage the following children, in order of birth: Princess Reine Bokassa, Prince Saint-Sylvestre Bokassa, Prince Dieu-Béni Bokassa, Princess Marguerite Bokassa, Princess Lucienne Bokassa, Crown Prince Jean Bédel Georges Bokassa (b. 2 Nov 1974), and Prince Saint-Jean Bokassa.

The Empress now lives in Bangui, CAR.
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Thank you, Benjamin:

Now, I'm curious about something: who was considered the heir of Central Africa Empire? I suppose that the first baby boy Catherine gave birth to...Or maybe he allowed a children from former marriages to be the heir of the throne? Is Catherine respected and loved in Bangui? Or does people consider her a person who participated from his husband corrupt governement?


I'm afraid the only question I can answer is the one concerning Bokassa's heir. It was one of Catherine's sons, Crown Prince Jean Bédel Georges Bokassa. I'm not sure what has become of him.
Vanesa said:
Thank you for posting these pics , Weynier. Even if I've read more than once about Central African Empire I've never seen pics of Bokassa Crowning himself, and much less of his wife and little heir.

I recall that Bokassa claimed he was willing not to crown himself as long as the Pope came to crown him. Remembering what happened when Napoleon invited Pope Pius VII to crown him (and then ignored him in order to crown himself) and because Bokassa was clearly off balance Pope Paul VI wisely declined to attend the coronation.
Thank you for your answer, Benjamin...You know a lot of things.
And thank you to you too, Iago. I didn't know that Bokassa wanted the Pope attending the Crowning ceremony, and then him crowning himself, as Napoleon did...I'm amazed that someone could have thought this seriously. :ermm:

Here is an article (in French) about the 10th anniversary of Bokassa's death. It mentions Catherine in the article...

[ed by Warren 23 April 2008]
And another link to a very good genealogy of Bokassa and his family:
This is an article (in French) about one of the elder sons of Bokassa, Georges
Georges Bokassa
Jean-Barthélémy Bokassa Dédéavode, who is the son of Bokassa I's adopted Vietnamese daughter Martine, has written a book...
Jean-Barthélémy Bokassa
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I read a little about the late emperor and how he had crowned himself.Spending millions of dollars for his coronation many people thought him was crazy from the stories I have read.Not even other monarchs wanted to see this splendid event.By time he had tried to regain by his power and reign he had died from an heart attack in 1996. As fast this country went from being a republic to a monarchy it went again back to a republic.
Does anyone have some information and maybe a current picture of the Crown Prince, the Head of the House?
Crown Prince

I haven't found anything about the heir to the Central African Imperial Throne. Must be keeping a low profile since his father was forced from power. However I think when Bokassa crowned himself he grew a little too drunk with power and the fear of losing it kind of set him up to become somewhat a tyrant.
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