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Central African Republic, History

Congo River Basin, Bouar, French National Assembly, authoritarian regime, popular referendum

Most of the ethnic groups inhabiting the present-day Central African Republic entered the region in the 19th century to escape Fulani armies or to avoid slave traders operating in the Congo River Basin and modern Sudan. In the 1880s the French annexed the area, and in 1894 it was organized as the territory of Ubangi-Chari. In 1910 the dependency became part of the Federation of French Equatorial Africa. Economic development was dominated by European concessionaires. This system led to abuses of the black Africans, who staged several violent protests, notably between 1928 and 1930.

From 1946 to 1958 the territory had its own elected legislature and was represented in the French National Assembly. In 1958 the dependency gained autonomy as the Central African Republic; it became fully independent on August 13, 1960, with David Dacko as president. In 1966, charging Dacko’s government with corruption, his cousin, army chief Colonel Jean-Bedel Bokassa, seized power. He abrogated the constitution and established an authoritarian regime. In late 1976 a new constitution was issued, reorganizing the nation as the Central African Empire. Bokassa became Emperor Bokassa I; he was crowned in a lavish ceremony in December 1977.

Bokassa’s regime began to fall apart in January 1979, when an order that schoolchildren wear expensive uniforms made in his own factory prompted widespread protest demonstrations. The army was called in, and many children were put in prison, where they were massacred by the imperial guard. A committee of African judges later concluded that Bokassa had personally participated in the killings. In September 1979 he was overthrown in a French-backed coup led by former president Dacko, who then resumed power. Bokassa went into exile, and Dacko was confirmed in office by the electorate in March 1981. He was deposed six months later in a coup led by the army commander, General Andre Kolingba. Bokassa returned to the country in October 1986 and was tried and convicted for ordering the murders of political opponents while he was in power. In November Kolingba was confirmed by popular referendum for a six-year term as head of state. Multiparty presidential and legislative elections, held in October 1992, were annulled by the republic’s supreme court, which cited widespread irregularities. Elections were held again in September 1993, and Ange-Felix Patasse was elected president. One of the last acts of his predecessor, General Kolingba, was to grant amnesty and an immediate release from prison to Bokassa.

During the mid-1990s Patasse’s presidency was plagued by unrest within the military. In late May 1996 approximately 200 Central African Republic soldiers mutinied in Bangui, demanding back pay for themselves and other government employees and the resignation of President Patasse. French troops stationed in the country put down the mutiny, but not before Bangui was heavily looted and at least 50 people were killed. Soldiers rose up again in November, and then again in 1997, battling French forces in retaliation for the killings of several mutineers by the French or the police. In July 1997 the mutineers agreed to a truce, receiving amnesty and reintegration into the army in return. Soon thereafter France began withdrawing its military forces from the Central African Republic. By April 1998 France had shut down its military base in Bouar and had removed virtually all of its troops from the country. Patasse was reelected in the 1999 presidential election, which the opposition claimed was rigged.

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