Jean-Bédel Bokassa Biography

(2nd President of the Central African Republic)

Birthday: February 22, 1921 (Pisces)

Born In: Bobangui, Central African Republic

Jean-Bédel Bokassa was a Central African political and military dictator. Also known as Bokassa I, he became the 2nd president of the Central African Republic and the emperor of its successor state, the Central African Empire. His rule lasted from his Saint-Sylvestre coup d'état in January 1966 to 1979, when he was overthrown in a subsequent coup. Originally from the M'Baka village Bobangui, Bokassa lost his parents when he was quite young. He was then raised by the members of his extended family, who ensured that he obtained French-language education. During World War II, he served as part of the French Army. After the independent nation the Central African Republic was formed in August 1960, he enlisted in the Central African Armed Forces and was entrusted with the duties of creating a national military. In the years leading up to the coup, Bokassa became the second most powerful man in the country after President David Dacko. His 13-year reign has come to be seen as a period of stability in the country’s history. After he was removed from power, he was tried and convicted of the murder of school children and other crimes.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Bokassa I

Died At Age: 75


Spouse/Ex-: Augustine Assemat, Brigitte Eyenga, Chantal Belleka, Jacqueline Nguyen Thin Than (m. 1957), Marguerite Green Boyanga, Marie-Jeanne Nouganga, Marie-Joëlle Aziza-Eboulia (m. 1970), Nguyen Thi Hué, Rita Carlos Pimenta, Uta, Zara Victorine, Astrid Elisabeth Van Erpe (m. 1962–1967), Christine Tongui (m. 1962–1967)

father: Mindogon Bokassa

mother: Marie Yokowo

children: Georges Bokassa, Jean-Bédel Bokassa Jr., Jean-Serge Bokassa, Kiki Bokassa, Marie Ange, Marie Ange "Kiki" Bokassa, Marie Yokowo Bokassa, Martine Kota

Born Country: Central African Republic

Presidents Military Leaders

Died on: November 3, 1996

place of death: Bangui, Central African Republic

Notable Alumni: Ecole Saint-Louis

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

More Facts

education: Ecole Saint-Louis

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Childhood & Early Life
Born on February 22, 1921, in Bobangui, Ubangi-Shari, French Equatorial Africa, Bokassa was one of the 12 children of Mindogon Bokassa and Marie Yokowo. Mindogon was the chief of an M'Baka village.
Initially, his father helped the French Forestière company garner labourers in his village. However, he later rebelled against them and was beaten to death in the town’s square. Bokassa’s mother could not cope with her grief following her husband’s murder, and she killed herself.
After his parents’ deaths, he was brought up by his extended family, who decided that Bokassa would get French-language education. He attended the École Sainte-Jeanne d'Arc, a Christian mission school in Mbaïki, and École Saint-Louis in Bangui. Following his graduation in 1939, he enlisted in the French colonial troops as a tirailleur.
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Career in the Military
Bokassa fought alongside French forces during World War II and was part of the Allied forces’ landing in Provence, France, in Operation Dragoon on August 15, 1944. After the war, he joined the officer training school in Saint-Louis, Senegal, and was later stationed in Vietnam. After he came back to France, he gave lessons on radio transmissions to African recruits.
The Central African Republic declared its independence on August 13, 1960. On January 1, 1962, Bokassa resigned from the French Army and was subsequently made battalion commandant in the Central African Armed Forces.
He served directly under then commander-in-chief Mgboundoulou and was put in charge of forming a national military. A little over a year later, he was made commander-in-chief of the 500 soldiers in the Central African Army.
Bokassa loved acquiring recognitions. He would attend various government events wearing all of his military decorations and sit beside the president. Being a cousin of Dacko and a legitimate war hero, Bokassa’s rise to power was very smooth. Several members of Dacko’s cabinet were quick to recognise the threat he posed to the regime.
During this period, the country was undergoing economic turmoil. There was rampant corruption. The country’s borders were often threatened by Lumumbists from the south and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army from the east.
In 1964, Dacko created diplomatic relations with Mao Zedong's China. This did not sit well with Bokassa, who decided to take control of the CAR government. His personal ambition also played an important role in his decision to rise up against his cousin.
An hour and a half before the midnight of December 31, 1965, Bokassa and his associates began Saint-Sylvestre coup d'état. They successfully removed Dacko and his government from power.
In the morning of January 1, 1966, Bokassa became the 2nd president of the Central African Republic. He subsequently created a new government called the Revolutionary Council, nullified the constitution, and dismissed the National Assembly.
He introduced several rules and regulations, including that men and women between the ages of 18 and 55 must carry a document that proved that they were employed. He banned social practices like polygamy, dowries, and female circumcision.
Bokassa’s government struggled to garner international recognition. They were staunchly anti-Chinese. Eventually, several African countries recognised the government. In November 1966, French President Charles de Gaulle visited the CAR.
On December 4, 1976, Bokassa proclaimed himself the Emperor of Central Africa. His coronation, which was quite similar to that of Napoleon Bonaparte, took place exactly a year later, on December 4, 1977.
Ironically, the French government orchestrated a coup against him in September 1979. It removed him from power and dissolved his empire, reinstating Dacko as the president of the CAR.
Trial & Conviction
In 1980, Bokassa was given a death sentence in his trial in absentia. He came back to the CAR six years later and was tried for treason and murder.
In 1987, he was exonerated of the charges of cannibalism but was convicted of other crimes. His death sentence was ultimately reduced to life in solitary confinement. However, he was let go in 1993.
Family & Personal Life
Bokassa officially married 17 women, including renowned economist, diplomat, and politician, Marie-Reine Hasse, and allegedly fathered more than 50 children, three of whom were Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Crown Prince of the Central African Empire, politician Jean-Serge Bokassa, and artist Kiki Bokassa.
Death & Legacy
Jean-Bédel Bokassa spent the last years of his life in the CAR. By 1996, his health had started to deteriorate. He claimed that he was the 13th Apostle and that he often met the pope in secret. Following a heart attack, Bokassa passed away at his home on November 3, 1996. He was 75 years old at the time.
The history of the CAR seems to have undergone revisions since Bokassa’s death. Following President François Bozizé’s 2010 decree, which rehabilitated Bokassa, he was hailed as "a son of the nation recognised by all as a great builder".

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