Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Jean-Bedel Bokassa

with 8 comments

On the New Year Day of 1966, Jean Bedel Bokassa would overthrow the previous (but equally corrupt and totalitarian) administration in the Central African Republic. He would rule the country (which he renamed Central African Empire) erratically and eccentrically for next twenty years. For the better part of his rule, he would remain doggedly loyal to the French, who colonial army he first joined at the age of 18.

Renaming his country was inspired by Napoleon I, who converted the French Revolutionary Republic into an empire. This Napoleon-complex would culminate in Bokassa’s own coronation in 1977: wearing regalia styled on Napoleon, he rode in a carriage flanked by soldiers dressed as 19th Century French cavalrymen. By supplying the French with uranium, he secured a French battalion, 17 aircrafts and the French Navy Orchestra for his coronation. Despite generous invitations, no foreign leaders attended the coronation ceremony which took place over 2 days (the coronation itself lasted over 6 hours) and cost over $20 million–a third of his country’s annual budget and all of France’s aid that year. (The ceremony was organized by Jean-Pierre Dupont; Parisian jeweller Claude Bertrand made his crown, which included diamonds. Bokassa sat on a two-tons throne made from massive gold).

To create income, Bokassa had a great idea: in a nation with no established postal system, he issued stamps primarily to sell them to collectors and generate foreign income. On the stamps (except the ones with Bokassa on them) were writers like Jules Verne and Hemingway, scientists like Einstein and Tesla, and, most ridiculously of all, Maximilian I, the 16th century Holy Roman Emperor.

Bokassa enjoyed a close personal friendship with the then French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing, whom he took on African hunting trips and once presented with two diamonds (which caused a great scandal when the press found out). By the end of 1979, d’Estaing was slowly losing his patience. With his alleged Libyan connections, his recent brutal repression of a student riot and rumors that he practiced cannibalism (and resorted even to feeding human flesh to the foreign representatives during the coronation), Bokassa was quickly becoming an embarrassment. D’Estaing authorized what was called “France’s last colonial expedition” (la dernière expédition coloniale française) to restore the former president David Dacko to power while Bokassa was away in Libya. Although sentenced to death in absentia, Bokassa enjoyed a comfortable exile in a chateau outside Paris with his 17 wives and 50 children.

Above photos were taken for Sygma by Yann-Arthus Bertrand. Hans Boeck’s pictures for Publication Zentrum which covered the entire 2-day ceremony were nominated for World Press Photo Awards that year.

(I spent a summer in Central African Republic — now thankfully being renamed, but in no better shape than it was under Bokassa — with a volunteer group a couple of years back, so you can say this post is somewhat close to my heart. 🙂 )

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 2, 2010 at 3:19 am

8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Am so over whelmed that people are still up holding the culture of Africa.Promotion of the culture of black race is a must task for every black race.Right now am embarking on a project which is called “Black Culture Ambassadors.Am seriously looking for sponsors.May the God of Africa Protect us forever.


    August 17, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    • It is time for black people to honour their cultural Icons.And it is time for black people to tell their history their own way.We have been so enslaved by white histories about Black people. It is a time for Black people to be proud of them selves and love themselves and recognize themselves. Unity among Black Nations will be their straight.
      Support BLACK CULTURE AMBASSADORS PROJECT for the project has all it takes to promote Black people.
      Initiator and organizer of the project.


      October 28, 2010 at 8:19 pm

  2. Mon président

    Souvenir Bokassa

    August 18, 2011 at 12:23 am

  3. Celui-ci est mon papa je ne l’oublierai jamais

    Souvenir Bokassa

    August 18, 2011 at 12:24 am

    • pauvre chevre. you can’t choose your parents but you can choose your heroes. ton papa should be a lesson to you, but not an example. Africa deserves better than the narcissistic megalomaniacs that acceded to power after the colons were driven out. Your body might be free but your mind is still in chains.


      September 24, 2011 at 7:48 pm

  4. Black Napoleon, hehe…

    organ music

    November 14, 2011 at 1:18 pm

  5. Africa to africans that is the way it is!africans were born rough so you white guys came with your so called independence and what so ever and it brought the worse of them and today you call us names like refugees and so on,we need to depend on foreign countries to keep things moving yeah such is life and are in to it!THOMAS SAN KARA!


    December 15, 2011 at 11:37 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: