On this day December 4, 1977

Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the President of the Central African Republic, had himself crowned as Emperor Bokassa I.

bokassaIn 1971, Bokassa promoted himself to full general, and in March 1972 declared himself president for life. He survived another coup attempt in December 1974.

The following month, on 2 January, he relinquished the position of prime minister to Elizabeth Domitien. His domestic and foreign policies became increasingly unpredictable, leading to another assassination attempt at Bangui M’Poko International Airport in February 1976.

Because of the Central African soil’s mineral resources (including uranium and diamonds), some countries like France, Switzerland and the United States supported Bokassa and dealt with him. In 1975, the French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing declared himself a “friend and family member” of Bokassa.

By that time France supplied its former colony’s regime with financial and military backing. In exchange, Bokassa frequently took d’Estaing on hunting trips in Africa and supplied France with uranium, a mineral which was vital for France’s nuclear energy and weapons program in the Cold War era.

The “friendly and fraternal” cooperation with France—according to Bokassa’s own terms—reached its peak with the imperial coronation ceremony of Bokassa I on 4 December 1977. The French Defense Minister sent a battalion to secure the ceremony; he also lent 17 aircraft to the Central African Empire’s government, and even assigned French Navy personnel to support the orchestra.

On 10 October 1979, the Canard Enchaîné satiric newspaper reported – in what soon became a major political scandal known as the Diamonds Affair—that President Bokassa had offered the then Minister of Finance Valéry Giscard d’Estaing two diamonds in 1973. The Franco-Central African relationship drastically changed when France’s Renseignements Généraux intelligence service learned of Bokassa’s willingness to become a partner of Qadhafi of Libya. In early December 1979, the French council officially stopped all support to Bokassa.

After a meeting with Qadhafi, Bokassa converted to Islam and changed his name to Salah Eddine Ahmed Bokassa. It is presumed that this was a ploy calculated to ensure ongoing Libyan financial aid. When no funds promised by Qadhafi were forthcoming, Bokassa abandoned his new faith. It also was incompatible with his plans to be crowned emperor in the Catholic cathedral in Bangui.

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