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date: 20 January 2020

Central African Republic: Coups, Mutinies, and Civil War

Summary and Keywords

Since independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic (CAR) has experienced numerous military coups both successful and unsuccessful, mutinies by disgruntled soldiers and civil wars that have had terrible impacts on civilians. Three career military officers took power by force and led the country for a total of 36 years: Bokassa (1965–1979), Kolingba (1981–1993), and Bozize (2003–2013). From the 1960s to 1990s, both military and civilian rulers politicized, regionalized, and weakened the CAR military by packing it with supporters from their home areas and ethnic groups, and establishing alternative security structures and bringing in foreign troops to secure their regimes. In this period, the CAR military became a Praetorian force obsessed with the country’s internal political power struggles. In the 1990s, in the context of the post-Cold War political liberalization of Africa, the CAR’s transition to democracy was undermined by a succession of army mutinies over lack of pay and other grievances that fatally weakened an already fragile state. A series of civil wars in the 2000s and 2010s resulted in the near dissolution of the CAR military and the partition of the country into a network of fiefdoms dominated by antagonistic local armed factions separated from each other by beleaguered UN peacekeepers.

Keywords: Central African Republic, France, Chad, Dacko, Bokassa, Kolingba, Patassé, Bozize, military in politics


The Central African Republic (CAR) was created by a process of European colonial military conquest. During the late 19th-century “Scramble for Africa,” the part of Central Africa around the Ubangi and Shari rivers was invaded and contested by the French, Belgians, and Germans. By the start of the 20th century, the French had secured most of this area, calling it Ubangi-Shari. In 1911, the French colonial territory of Ubangi-Shari became part of the larger French Equatorial Africa, which was administered from Brazzaville in the French Congo and also included Chad and Gabon. In the early 20th century, the French government leased large parts of Ubangi-Shari to exploitive and oppressive concession companies that extracted rubber and ivory. During the 1920s, the French administration imposed heavy forced labor demands on the people of the territory to build the Congo–Ocean Railway that linked Brazzaville with the Atlantic coast, and taxes were increased to compel Africans to enter the colonial economy. This led to a widespread rebellion against French colonial rule in Ubangi-Shari from 1927 to 1932 in which the prophet Barka Ngainoumbey, called Karnu or “roller up of earth,” promised that magical hoe handles would provide protection against French bullets. While the French colonial army suppressed the revolt, which has come to be known as the “War of the Hoe Handle,” the brutal conflict represented the most serious military challenge to colonial rule in sub-Saharan Africa during the interwar years. News of the rebellion was kept out of the French press as colonial officials worried that it might encourage the anti-colonial movement in France (O’Toole, 1984; Thomas, 2005, pp. 232–238). During World War II, when the French Empire became divided between the pro-German Vichy regime in France and the exiled Free French forces, Ubangi-Shari became an important staging area for the latter.

At the end of the 1940s, Barthélemy Boganda, a Catholic priest from the southern part of the territory, founded a Western-style political group called the Movement for the Social Evolution of Black Africa (MESAN) that advocated for greater civil rights in Ubangi-Shari and other French colonial territories. In 1958, with the sudden dismantling of the French Empire in Africa and in the context of the broader decolonization of Africa, MESAN overwhelmingly won local elections, making Boganda the first prime minister of the self-governing territory of Ubangi-Shari, the name of which was changed to Central African Republic. With Boganda’s death in a mysterious 1959 airplane crash, his cousin David Dacko became leader of MESAN and therefore the first president of the CAR upon its independence from France in August 1960. Dacko quickly turned the CAR into an authoritarian one-party state and was re-elected in 1964 running as the only presidential candidate. While Dacko was initially supported by France, which wanted to maintain influence over its former colonies in Africa, his regime cultivated a relationship with Communist China as a way to promote domestic political legitimacy by demonstrating independence from Paris. By this time, the CAR had become divided into a predominantly Christian southern riverine region that was the center of economic and political power and the location of the capital of Bangui, and a somewhat marginalized northern savannah that was home to a Muslim minority (Woodfork, 2006, pp. 11–15).

Military Coups and Regimes: Bokassa (1965–1979) and Kolingba (1981–1993)

Around the time of independence, the CAR created its own 500-strong national military, the nucleus of which consisted of Central Africans who transferred from the French army. The new commander of the CAR military was Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a cousin of the president, who had fought in Western Europe as part of the Free French forces during World War II and then served as a French army communications specialist in Indochina during the 1950s. Bokassa was promoted quickly and in 1964 he became the CAR’s first colonel. Given coups in other African countries shortly after independence and the increasing ambition of Colonel Bokassa, Dacko established a 120-strong presidential security unit and a 500-man paramilitary police force that were separate from military command and meant to thwart a possible army takeover. As the CAR’s economy collapsed and Congolese rebels crossed into the country, Dacko’s government became unpopular and his flirtation with Communist China met with disapproval by French-trained military officers including Bokassa. On New Year’s Eve 1965, Bokassa and fellow Indochina veteran Captain Alexandre Banza staged a military coup in which Colonel Jean Izamo, commander of the paramilitary police, was arrested and later died in prison, and Dacko was deposed and imprisoned. Dacko was released in 1969 to become Bokassa’s political advisor but fled to France in 1976. Though he retained MESAN as the state’s only political party, Bokassa cancelled the constitution and the national assembly and established a military dictatorship that ruled through a revolutionary council. While the French government was initially hesitant to support the upstart Bokassa, this changed when the dictator threatened to pull the CAR out of the currency agreement that economically linked France’s former African colonies with Paris, and in November 1966 French President Charles de Gaulle signaled his approval for the new regime by undertaking an official visit to Bangui. Coup plotters Bokassa and Banza eventually fell out with each other. Concerned that Banza, now a lieutenant-colonel and government cabinet minister, was planning his own military takeover given his criticism of excessive government spending, Bokassa transferred army units loyal to Banza to the border and stationed his loyalists in the capital. Bokassa also convinced the French government to dispatch 80 French paratroopers to the CAR to protect him. In April 1969 Banza staged an unsuccessful coup and as a result he was arrested, beaten by Bokassa, and executed by firing squad. Later, during the 1970s, Bokassa would survive several more failed coups and assassination attempts. By the start of the 1970s, the CAR military was embroiled in Praetorianism whereby it was far more involved with internal political struggles than defending the country (Kalck, 2005; Titley, 1997).

Bokassa’s personalist dictatorship sought to promote an atmosphere of modernization. Under his regime, street begging became illegal, Central Africans had to prove they were employed or face jail or fines, morality police supervised bars and dance clubs, and women’s rights were promoted through bans on polygamy, bride-price, and female genital mutilation/cutting. The increasingly megalomaniacal and brutal Bokassa promoted himself to general in 1971 and declared himself life president in 1972. In December 1977, he crowned himself emperor of the renamed Central African Empire in a lavish ceremony that cost more than the country’s annual budget and featured a golden throne, diamond-encrusted crown, and French military orchestra. Around the same time, residents of Bangui were rioting over the price of food. During the 1970s, the French government of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing maintained strong support for Bokassa, who facilitated French mining in the CAR. However, the relationship deteriorated given a political scandal in France whereby it was revealed in the press that the French president had previously accepted gifts of diamonds from Bokassa and in view of the emperor’s developing ties with Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who was acting against French interests in Chad. A tipping point came in April 1979 when Bokassa’s security forces slaughtered 100 children protesting a requirement that they buy expensive school uniforms displaying the emperor’s picture.

On September 20, 1979, while Bokassa was out of the country, the French launched Operation Barracuda in which 130 French Special Forces operators, accompanied by Dacko, were landed by aircraft at Bangui airport, which they quickly seized, allowing 600 French paratroopers to be helicoptered in from Gabon and Chad. Bokassa’s soldiers surrendered and the republic was re-established under President Dacko. After living in exile in Côte d’Ivoire and then France, Bokassa returned home in 1986 where he was tried for numerous crimes including murder and cannibalism and sentenced to death, though this was later commuted to 20 years’ imprisonment. In 1993, given political liberalization, he was released under a general amnesty and died of natural causes three years later (Kalck, 2005; Titley, 1997).

French forces remained in the CAR to support the restored Dacko government. The French built a military airbase at Bangui airport, re-established an old French base at Bouar in western CAR, and French Secret Service officer Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Claude Mantion served as Dacko’s “proconsul.” In April 1981, Dacko won a multi-candidate election but the results were challenged by runner-up Ange-Félix Patassé, who had served as prime minister under Bokassa and had strong political support in his northern region. As such, in September military chief-of-staff General Andre Kolingba, another veteran of the French colonial army who had connections with the French government, deposed Dacko in a bloodless coup and formed a new military regime. Retaining Mantion as a powerful advisor, Kolingba expanded the Presidential Guard and foiled a coup attempt in March 1982 by two brigadiers sympathetic to opposition leader Patassé, who fled the country. Kolingba used his southern-dominated army to destroy the coup plotters’ home communities in the north, thus furthering the regional politicization of the CAR. While all the CAR’s heads of state up to that time—Dacko, Bokassa, and Kolingba—had originated from the south, Patassé represented a rising northern political movement. To secure his position, Kolingba developed a military in which 70% of the troops originated from his own southern Yakoma ethnic group, which comprised only 5% of the CAR’s population. Kolingba ruled as a military dictator until 1986 when he created a constitution and transformed into a civilian president leading a one-party state under his Central African Democratic Rally (RDC). Although Kolingba’s regime was not as excessively violent or megalomaniacal as that of Bokassa, it was authoritarian and corrupt. During the 1980s and early 1990s, and in the context of the late Cold War era, Kolingba’s CAR formed part of France’s neo-colonial empire in Africa and its territory served as a major staging area for French military operations in other parts of Africa such as Chad and Rwanda (Kalck, 2005).

Patassé Administration and Mutinies (1993–2001)

With the end of the Cold War and spreading expectations for multiparty democracy in many parts of Africa in the early 1990s, France and the United States pressured a reluctant Kolingba to embark on political liberalization. Kolingba came last in a 1992 election and then declared it invalid, but further international condemnation forced him to allow new polls. As a result, Patassé came to power in a 1993 election, defeating Kolingba and becoming the CAR’s first head of state from the north. With Kolingba stepping aside for an elected civilian president, this became the first instance of a peaceful transition of power in the CAR. Subsequently, however, Patassé continued the same manipulation of the military that had been started by his predecessors. The new president transferred the many pro-Kolingba ethnic Yakoma soldiers in the Presidential Guard to the regular army, replacing them with members of his own northern Sara-Kaba ethnic group, who he thought would be more loyal. At the same time, the Patassé government engaged in political corruption and did little to develop the marginalized north, which set the stage for future problems.

During Patassé’s tenure, the CAR military experienced several mutinies, though it appears the mutineers did not seek to overthrow the government and were protesting lack of pay and other grievances such as arbitrary searches of their accommodation. In April 1996, around 200 soldiers who had not been paid in several years protested by occupying the Bangui radio station where they took hostages, and this resulted in a battle between the mutineers and the Presidential Guard in which nine people were killed and 40 wounded. With French soldiers patrolling Bangui under the banner of Operation Almandin I and French officials facilitating negotiations, the mutineers surrendered after four days when the government agreed to pay their salaries and refrain from prosecuting them. One month later, in May, another more serious mutiny occurred in Bangui involving around 500 soldiers who engaged in looting. The French military responded with Operation Almandin II, which evacuated several thousand foreigners from CAR, protected French economic interests, and compelled the mutineers to return to their barracks after negotiating an amnesty with the government. The mutiny resulted in 43 deaths and some 200 injured. A third mutiny happened in November of the same year when hundreds of CAR soldiers demanded Patassé’s resignation. During the French intervention to restore order, mutineers killed two French soldiers, prompting French reprisals in which many civilians were killed. In France, this atrocity was criticized by the socialist opposition. While France increased its military presence in the CAR from 1,400 to 2,300 troops, Paris was eager to deflect accusations of neo-colonialism and announced that it was willing for its expeditionary force to be replaced by regional international peacekeepers.

In January 1997, with the help of neighboring African states, the CAR government and mutineers signed the Bangui Accords in which the latter were once again granted amnesty and promised integration into a new unity administration though with Patassé remaining as president. As a result, and with French financial and logistical support, around 1,400 troops from Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mali, Chad, Senegal, and Togo deployed to CAR as the Inter-African Commission to Monitor Implementation of the Bangui Accords (MISAB). Nevertheless, CAR soldiers staged yet another mutiny in Bangui in May and June 1997 in which 100 people were killed and 60,000 fled the city. Responding to the killing of one of their Senegalese colleagues, MISAB troops fired indiscriminately into Bangui neighborhoods where mutineers were using civilians as human shields. Within a few weeks, MISAB and the mutineers agreed a ceasefire.

The Patassé regime became increasingly paranoid. Given the repeated mutinies, Patassé tried to secure his position by hiring former French mercenary Paul Baril to form a 30-man presidential bodyguard, and the 1,000-strong Presidential Guard was augmented by a militia recruited from the president’s northern home region. In late 1997 and early 1998, France gradually withdrew its forces from CAR, and in April 1998 the regional peacekeepers of MISAB were absorbed into the new UN Mission for the Central African Republic (MINURCA), which was meant to ensure security for planned elections. The last French soldier left the CAR in February 1999. In September 1999, Patassé defeated Kolingba and Dacko in an election, prompting MINURCA, its mission accomplished, to withdraw its armed peacekeepers around six months later. In December 2000, however, civil servants who had not been paid in many months organized a general strike and demanded that Patassé resign. After a heavily armed military force attacked the presidential residence in May 2001, Kolingba and 20 army officers suspected of involvement in the failed coup fled to Uganda, which led to the revenge killings of around 300 Yakoma in Bangui and the departure of 50,000 refugees from the city. In turn, Patassé bolstered his security with 100 Libyan troops dispatched to him by Gaddafi. Despite the mutinies of the 1990s, most of the CAR military did not join the attempted coup, as it had been successfully restructured with the Yakoma now comprising around 40% of the rank and file. In August the increasingly distrustful Patassé ordered the arrest of defense minister Jean-Jacques Demafouth, who had reduced the size of the Presidential Guard, for involvement in the coup plot, but he was subsequently acquitted by a court (Dwyer, 2017; Mehler, 2011; Smith, 2015).

Civil Wars (2001–2019)

From the start of the 2000s, the CAR was impacted by warfare taking place in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Chad, and Sudan. In early November 2001, Patassé directed his Presidential Guard and Libyan bodyguards to arrest military chief-of-staff General Francois Bozize, who had been exiled in 1982 for attempting a coup against Kolingba and returned to serve under Patassé, on suspicion of participating in the failed coup. General Bozize fled to Chad and eventually France where he announced the founding of an insurgent movement and armed campaign to oust Patassé. Filling the void left by the French military departure, Patassé requested the deployment of an international force from Gaddafi’s Community of Sahel Saharan States (CEN-SAD), which arrived in Bangui in December 2001 comprising 300 troops from Libya, Sudan, and Djibouti. In late October 2002, after the recently revived Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) had approved a peacekeeping force for the CAR to replace the one from CEN-SAD, Bangui was attacked by 150 of General Bozize’s rebels. They were repelled by Libyan troops and Libyan ground attack jets, as well as several hundred fighters from Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), which had been fighting a civil war in nearby DRC and which Patassé had allowed to recruit inside the CAR. Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who had backed the DRC government against rebels such as Bemba’s MLC, supported Bozize’s insurgency and sent Chadian troops into northern CAR with a view to exploiting suspected oil resources there. Patassé responded by launching an offensive in the north in which CAR and MLC troops conducted a campaign of annihilation and rape that eventually led to MLC leader Bemba being indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2008. In December 2002, Libyan and CEN-SAD forces that had been supportive of Patassé were replaced by ECCAS’s much less friendly Multi-National Force in the Central African Republic (FOMUC), consisting of soldiers from Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, and Gabon. The governments of these neighboring countries clearly sided with Bozize. Bozize’s revolt in the CAR was militarily supported by Chad, funded by President Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville, armed by Joseph Kabila’s regime in the DRC as part of its struggle against Bemba’s rebel MLC, and tacitly supported by President Omar Bongo in Gabon. In mid-March 2003, Bozize’s two rebel columns comprising a few CAR junior officers leading mostly Chadian fighters seized Bangui, and Patassé escaped the country as his own troops and FOMUC peacekeepers did not resist. Although France rejected Patassé’s requests for military assistance, Paris launched Operation Boali in which 300 soldiers were dispatched to Bangui to protect French and foreign citizens, and bolster the new Bozize regime. General Bozize declared himself president while the Chadian troops who had put him in power looted Bangui, taking vehicles and jewelry, and engaged in mineral extraction in other parts of the country. Bozize was heavily dependent on Chad, which sent more troops to reinforce FOMUC—the new president’s bodyguards were all Chadians, and the CAR’s only military transport aircraft was flown by a Chadian pilot (International Crisis Group, 2007; Kalck, 2005; Mehler, 2011).

With Bozize’s rule confirmed by May 2005 elections, separate rebellions erupted in the northwest and northeast. The rebellions were facilitated by the redeployment of Chadian forces from the country’s southern border with the CAR to its eastern border with Sudan given rising violence in Darfur. Orchestrated by former members of the ousted Patassé regime, the insurgency in northwest CAR consisted of the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD) under the political leadership of Demafouth and the Democratic Front for the Central African People (FDPC) led by Chadian mercenary Colonel Abdoulaye Miskine, who had been accused of committing war crimes while leading a pro-Patassé militia against the earlier Bozize’s insurgency. The Sirte Accords of February 2007, facilitated by Gaddafi, stopped the fighting in the northwest by granting rebels amnesty and promising them incorporation into the CAR state military. In the northeast, the insurgency was led by disgruntled elements from the existing Bozize regime and centered on the isolated Vakaga area, which had become a staging area for Sudanese-sponsored rebels from eastern Chad and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which had been expelled from Uganda. At the end of October 2006, a coalition of three northeastern rebel groups under the banner of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) captured Birao, the administrative center of Vakaga. By late November, UFDR had captured the towns of Ouanda Djalle and Sam Ouandja and were venturing southeast. Transported and advised by the returned French military, the CAR army launched a counter-offensive, recovering all the northeastern towns by early December. French paratroopers engaged in direct combat to secure Birao from another rebel attack and subsequently CAR troops drove most of the inhabitants from the town. With French intervention, UFDR military commander General Damane Zacharia entered a peace agreement with the Bozize regime in which the insurgents would participate in local administration, receive cash payments, and join the CAR army. In August 2007, Bozize made an agreement with Sudan in which the latter promised to stop supporting CAR rebels in return for regular border access. In June 2008, at Libreville in Gabon, the Bozize government and three northern rebel groups—APRD, FDPC, and UFDR—signed a global peace agreement that imposed a ceasefire and initiated a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process for insurgents (International Crisis Group, 2007; Kalck, 2005; Mehler, 2011).

Many foreign military forces, including the French, remained active in the CAR in the late 2000s. The European Union sponsored a project to revitalize the troubled CAR military by promoting balanced ethnic representation and professional conduct, and growing food so that hungry soldiers would not have to prey on civilian communities. However, Bozize maintained a separate Presidential Guard that functioned as his private militia and was trained by the South African military. In 2008 FOMUC was retitled the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in Central African Republic (MICOPAX), amounting to around 400 peacekeepers from Central African states. From 2009 to 2010, French and other European Union forces in northern CAR and Chad were folded into the UN Mission in the CAR and Chad (MINURCAT) deployed to protect refugees from Darfur. As the only northern rebel group to reject the peace deal, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) led by former Patassé prime minister and failed 2005 presidential candidate Charles Massi continued fighting with the CAR military around the towns of Ndele and Birao, in an attempt to sabotage upcoming elections. The CPJP campaign was undermined by Chadian military intervention across the northern border and the elimination of Massi, who was arrested in Chad in 2009 and transferred to the CAR where he was tortured to death. Given that Bozize was re-elected for a second presidential term in January 2011, the weakened CPJP joined the peace process in August 2012.

In December 2012, however, a new rebel alliance called Seleka (Union), including the UFDR, FDPC, and CPJP, incited by Bozize’s failure to implement the peace agreement, suddenly occupied most northern towns and advanced south, capturing the diamond mining center of Bria and threatening the capital of Bangui. The weak CAR military was unable to hold them back. While France increased its garrison at the Bangui airport to protect French civilians, both France and the United States rejected Bozize’s appeals for assistance. ECCAS mobilized its Multinational Force for Central Africa (FOMAC) to reinforce its existing complement of 560 peacekeepers in the CAR with around 800 troops from Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, Chad, and Angola, augmented by 400 from South Africa. Not wanting to engage in combat with the multinational ECCAS force, the rebels halted about 100 kilometers from Bangui, dropped their demand for President Bozize’s resignation, and accepted the appointment of a new prime minister and coalition government. Nevertheless, they insisted on holding the captured towns until a new election.

In March 2013 the ceasefire broke down and the Seleka rebels resumed their offensive. After fighting a running battle with South African troops, the rebels eventually seized Bangui and President Bozize fled the country. In turn, rebel leader Michel Djotodia declared himself president, becoming the CAR’s first Muslim head of state. With northern rebels now in power, southern civilians formed the “anti-balaka” (a traditional protection charm) militia and carried out massacres of the CAR’s Muslim minority, many of whom then escaped across the borders into adjacent countries. Many Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity and mosques were destroyed. At the end of 2013 the UN warned that the CAR was in jeopardy of “spiraling into genocide” and the French foreign minister declared that it was “on the verge of genocide.” These worries, widely reported by the international media, impelled the UN to deploy the International Support Mission to the CAR (MISCA), consisting mostly of troops from African countries supplemented by French forces. The next year MISCA was incorporated into the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), eventually 10,000 strong, which was directed to protect civilians and as such positioned peacekeepers to separate rebel- and militia-held areas. In January 2014, Djotodia resigned and was replaced by Catherine Samba-Panza, the non-partisan former mayor of Bangui (De Vries & Glawion, 2015; De Vries & Mehler, 2018; Glawion & De Vries, 2018; Heitman, 2013; Human Rights Watch, 2019; Luhn, 2018).

With the departure of Seleka leaders from the capital, violence decreased but did not end. At least 6,000 people had been killed and around 800,000 were displaced, including 400,000 who fled to neighboring countries. With some towns completely cleared of Muslim inhabitants, Seleka rebel leaders called for the permanent division of the CAR into a Muslim north and Christian south. A UN commission reported that while both sides had committed atrocities, the “anti-balaka” militia had perpetrated crimes against humanity including the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from many areas. At the end of 2015 the Seleka rebels in the north declared the Republic of Logone as an autonomous region within the CAR, though this was rejected by the government. In July 2014 negotiations held in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo concluded an uncertain ceasefire and in May the next year a conference in Bangui produced a peace agreement accepted by most rebel groups that established a legal mechanism to prosecute those involved in atrocities. In February 2016, Faustin-Archange Touadera, an academic who had served as prime minster under Bozize, became president through a mostly peaceful election and a new government was formed and continued the planned though unsteady peace process. With the authority of the central government mostly limited to Bangui, the country became divided into fiefdoms dominated by various ethno-religious armed factions, with some engaged in mineral extraction, divided from each other by UN peacekeepers (Lombard, 2016; Welz, 2016). While France ended its military operation in the country at the end of 2016, a resurgent Russia began to take an interest in the mineral-rich CAR, providing instructors and arms for a new state military and bodyguards for President Touadera. In February 2019, another CAR peace agreement sponsored by Sudan led to the appointment of leaders of several armed groups, all of whom had been involved with previous human rights abuses, as military advisors to the president, who would oversee the creation of new security forces composed of fighters from various factions (De Vries & Mehler, 2018; Glawion & De Vries, 2018; Human Rights Watch, 2019; Luhn, 2018).


Since independence in 1960, it has been difficult to distinguish the CAR state from the CAR military. In post-colonial CAR, three prominent and long-serving heads of state were career military officers who took power by force. Bokassa (1965–1979) and Kolingba (1981–1993) both staged coups against the same civilian leader, and Bozize (2003–2013) led a successful armed insurgency. In total, these officers ruled CAR for 36 of the country’s 60 years of independence, and established a Praetorian tradition whereby the military was preoccupied with internal politics, staging coups and counter-coups, and became weak and incompetent in terms of combat ability. Though they all tried to shed their military image and transform into civilian rulers, their regimes were authoritarian and violently repressive. From 1993 to 2003, within the broad context of the post-Cold War democratization of Africa, the civilian presidency of Patassé was fatally undermined by four violent army mutinies caused by lack of pay and other grievances among soldiers. CAR military and civilian leaders manipulated the military and security forces in attempts to ensure the survival of their regimes. The military became regionalized and politicized as leaders from the south such as Bokassa and Kolingba cultivated a southern-dominated military and favored troops from their own ethnic groups, while northern leader Patassé pursued the same policy and also formed northern militias. Fearing coup attempts from within the army, CAR leaders created alternative security or paramilitary units under their personal command, and imported foreign troops and bodyguards such as French, Libyans, Chadians, or Russians. The CAR has also experienced a series of foreign military interventions involving France, the European Union, Chad, several Central African international organizations, and the United Nations. Furthermore, the CAR was impacted by wars in neighboring countries, with rebels crossing into its territory from DRC, Sudan, and Uganda and taking sides with local factions. From 2012, with the outbreak of the Seleka rebellion, the CAR state military became irrelevant as power passed to a network of locally based armed factions, whether predominantly Muslim northern rebels or Christian southern militias. Arguably, throughout the post-colonial era, the involvement of CAR military officers in politics led to the fragmentation of the military and the country, and the creation of a failed state.


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