Francois Bozize: a veteran coup leader faced with rebellion

President of the Central African Republic Francois Bozize.  PHOTO | AFP

Francois Bozize, the embattled president of the Central African Republic where rebels are sweeping across the nation and closing in on the capital Bangui, himself came to power with the help of arms.

The taciturn leader, known as “Boz” was trained by the country’s former French colonial masters and has a chequered history of exile, imprisonment and coups.

Having overthrown Ange-Felix Patasse, who had led the country until 2003, Bozize was re-elected in 2011 with 64.37 per cent of the vote. He has always said he prefers action to words.

Mr Bozize was born on October 14, 1946, in Gabon, where his father was a policeman in the French colonial system.
His family hails from the north of the Central African Republic and is from the largest ethnic group in the country, the Gbaya.

Undertaking a military career, the young man came to the attention of the notorious Jean-Bedel Bokassa, another Central African leader who came to power in a coup.

The story goes that Bozize was first noticed by Bokassa because he came to blows with a French mercenary who had not shown sufficient respect to the Central African leader.

Under Bokassa, who had himself declared “emperor” of the impoverished nation and was later deposed in a French-backed coup, Bozize became his country’s youngest general, at age 32.

With Bokassa’s fall in 1979, he lost some of his standing, but left for France to undergo military training.
But by 1981 he was back in circulation when General Andre Kolingba ousted David Dacko, who had himself overthrown Bokassa.

He was to serve as defence and information minister in two successive regimes. But after trying to topple president Kolingba in 1982 he went into exile in neighbouring Chad and later Benin.

He was extradited from there in 1989 and jailed for subversion. In 1990 he narrowly escaped being murdered in his prison cell, but was freed the following year.

Notoriously unstable

In 1993 he stood as a candidate in the presidential elections that brought Patasse to power; Bozize took only one per cent of the vote, a fact his detractors have made much of ever since.

Mr Patasse nevertheless appointed him head of the country’s armed forces in 1997.

But in October 2001, he was forced to flee after a failed bid to overthrow Patasse. Mr Bozize again crossed into Chad and from there he went into exile in France under an accord reached in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.

After another failed coup attempt against Patasse in October 2001, he finally succeeded in seizing power two years later.

Lacking in charisma, the leader presents himself as a “builder” and “patriot”, although his critics say he is mainly interested in power.

When re-elected in 2011 he said that he hoped to rebuild the Central African Republic thanks to its as-yet underexploited resources, in particular oil, uranium and gold.

The Central African Republic has been notoriously unstable, with large areas subject to rebel movements and uprisings.
Most recently, fighters of the Seleka rebel coalition have taken over large parts of the nation since taking up arms on December 10.

The Seleka group is an alliance of rebel groups who say the government has not honoured peace accords signed between 2007 and 2011 that offered financial support and other help for insurgents who laid down their arms.

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