Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Chaos Engulfs Central Africa the People Deserve Better Than Conflict and Incompetence

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Chaos Engulfs Central Africa the People Deserve Better Than Conflict and Incompetence

Article excerpt

News reports of an insurgent movement, Seleka, advancing in the Central African Republic toward Bangui, the capital, to overthrow its elected president, Francois Bozize, are of interest to me despite the general obscurity of the country and the lack of American interests there.

I lived in the C.A.R. for three years as U.S. ambassador. My wife and I visited nearly every corner of the place. We were married in the town hall by the acting mayor of Bangui and had our honeymoon there. The idea of Bangui serving as a battleground between government and rebel forces, as well as the American Embassy there having been abandoned and its staff evacuated in advance of fighting to come, makes me extremely sad.

The C.A.R. has had a rough history. It was governed by the French during the colonial period. Because of its poverty, lack of prospects and landlocked status, it always got short shrift from its colonial overseers. The man who led it to independence, Barthelemy Boganda, was killed in a plane crash before it actually became independent in 1960. (Most Central Africans believe the French killed him, although I have always doubted that. Not that they weren't capable of it, but, having visited the site of the crash, I found it more likely that it was a "natural" event.)

A nice but undistinguished nephew of his, David Dacko, became president. He was overthrown by a national police officer, Col. Jean- Bedel Bokassa, who crowned himself emperor in 1976 -- in a ceremony financed mostly by the French. Emperor Bokassa became more and more greedy, cruel and, finally, insane. (He was confined when I was there.)

But he did take care of the French, providing them military bases to defend their other African ex-colonies and to provide diamonds and hunting opportunities to French leaders, including an unwitting President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who allegedly was fed human flesh.

France without its dependent African colonies has been characterized in terms of world influence as "Spain with nuclear weapons." I didn't mind the French in the C.A.R. They were more straightforward than the British were in their colonies and they did maintain some structure in the country, which has now been lost. The current French president, Francois Hollande, has indicated that he does not intend to use French military resources to save Mr. Bozize's bacon this time.

After Emperor Bokassa departed the scene, he was succeeded by Mr. Dacko, who then was overthrown again in a military coup engineered by the French. This put Gen. Andre Kolingba in power.

Mr. Kolingba was defeated in elections in 1992 and 1993 by Ange- Felix Patasse. Mr. Patasse was elected honestly, but then descended into a kind of megalomania that ultimately resulted in his being overthrown by the current president, Mr. Bozize, 66. Mr. …

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