Bozizé, François (Central African Republic)
Gen. François Bozizé declared himself president of the Central African Republic following a military coup in March 2003, having been a prominent figure on the CAR’s political scene during the regimes of Andre Kolingba and Ange-Félix Patassé. He was suspected of involvement in coup attempts in 1983, 2001 and 2002 before seizing control.
Bozizé was born in 1946. He came to political prominence as a leading critic of Kolingba’s military rule which began in 1981. Having led an unsuccessful coup in 1983, he was arrested and tortured by government forces before going into exile in Togo. There he met Patassé with whom he established strong ties. The two stood against each other at the free elections of 1993 and Bozizé lost. Nonetheless, he remained a Patassé ally, defending him against several uprisings during 1996 and 1997.
However, the relationship became increasingly strained. Bozizé accused Patassé’s regime of mismanagement as popular discontent grew at government corruption and failure to pay salaries. In May 2001 Patassé used Libyan forces to put down a coup headed by former president Kolingba, who had been assisted by Bozizé. Bozizé was sacked as head of the army. In Nov. 2001 government troops attempted to arrest Bozizé, but fighting broke out with forces loyal to him. Bozizé held the north of Bangui for a period before taking around 300 troops into exile in Chad. In Oct. 2002 pro-Bozizé factions attempted to depose Patassé, but were defeated amid allegations that Bozizé had instigated the coup with support from Chad.
While Patassé was away in Niger in March 2003 Bozizé led around 1,000 troops into Bangui. They faced little opposition and secured vital strategic locations within a day. Patassé attempted to fly back into the city but was diverted to Cameroon. The Congolese rebels, on whose support Patassé had relied, meanwhile fled over the country.
Having seized power, Bozizé imposed a curfew, dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution and was named president amid promises of free elections. He announced plans to negotiate aid from the IMF and World Bank and promised to address government inefficiency and corruption, disunity in the armed forces and the growing AIDS threat.
Reaction to the coup was mixed. Opposition groups within the CAR welcomed the removal of Patassé, as did many central African nations. However, France, the former colonial power, described the coup as ‘unacceptable’ and the African Union threatened the CAR’s expulsion. There was widespread looting and rioting in Bangui in the days following Bozizé’s assumption of power and he appealed to the Economic Community of Central African States to restore order. He was also accused of using backing from Chad in the coup, a charge which provoked widespread unease throughout the country. There followed a period of transitional government until the 2005 presidential and parliamentary elections, in which Bozizé retained power with 43% of the vote.
The poverty-stricken country has, however, remained unstable owing to continuing violence spilling over from the conflict in Darfur in neighbouring Sudan and internal rebel violence in the northeast of the country. In Jan. 2008 civil servants and teachers began a series of strikes in protest at unpaid salaries over several months. At the same time, the prime minister, Élie Doté, resigned and was replaced by Faustin-Archange Touadéra, an academic with no previous political experience.
Following the adoption of an amnesty law, the government reached a peace accord with rebel forces in Dec. 2008 envisaging the formation of a unity government and fresh elections in March 2010. In Jan. 2009 Bozizé dissolved the government and reappointed Touadéra as prime minister of a reshuffled cabinet including representatives of rebel groups. However, sporadic clashes between government and rebel forces have since continued. The elections scheduled for March 2010 were postponed and Bozizé’s term of office was extended, but eventually polling took place in Jan. 2011 with Bozizé securing a further term in office.
Fighting escalated in Dec. 2012 with the Séléka rebel coalition capturing several major towns. Although a ceasefire agreement was signed the following month that saw Bozizé appointing a prime minister chosen by his opponents, the peace broke down and the rebels renewed their offensive. Despite foreign troops safeguarding the capital the Séléka rebels seized control of Bangui in March 2013. Bozizé and his family fled abroad and sought political asylum in Benin.