Tourist plan for Bokassa's legacy.
Byline: Lucy Jones Dr. Lucy Jones has been a seismologist with the US Geological Survey and a Visiting Research Associate at the Seismological Laboratory of Caltech since 1983. She is currently serving as the Chief Scientist of the USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project for Southern California, developing
Rats skitter through the gloomy kitchen where chefs were said to have cooked the political opponents of Central Africa's last emperor.
Rainwater floods the underground quarters of the palace at Berengo where Jean-Bedel Bokassa hid for weeks amid piles of money and diamonds while pretending to be on official business.
Berengo is one of many decrepit de·crep·it
Weakened, worn out, impaired, or broken down by old age, illness, or hard use. See Synonyms at weak.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin d monuments to the 'Big Men' who have misruled Africa, and one that self-styled Emperor Bokassa I's now ragged descendants hope to restore as a cash-raising tourist attraction Noun 1. tourist attraction - a characteristic that attracts tourists
attractive feature, magnet, attractor, attracter, attraction - a characteristic that provides pleasure and attracts; "flowers are an attractor for bees" .
'He's an important character in our country's development and also of the African continent,' said Albertine Dounia, head of the national museum in the capital Bangui, 50 miles from Berengo. 'We need to preserve that history, whether it's good or bad,' continued Dounia, who also backs the project.
Bokassa's rule began with high hopes after he seized power in 1966. The one-time French colonial French Colonial architecture was an American domestic archtectural style. It was most popular in the American South in states such as Louisiana. Characteristics soldier built a road network, university and sports stadium in the sparsely populated country at the middle of the world's poorest continent. Former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing enjoyed hunting trips with Bokassa, who gave him controversial presents of diamonds.
'Things worked under Bokassa. The roads were good and the country was safe. The Central African Republic Central African Republic, republic (2005 est. pop. 3,800,000), 240,534 sq mi (622,983 sq km), central Africa. The landlocked nation is bordered by Chad (N), Sudan (E), Congo (Kinshasa) and Congo (Brazzaville) (S), and Cameroon (W). at that time was Africa's best kept secret,' said one diplomat.
But there was a limit to how long growing cruelty could be secret and the Napoleonic-style imperial coronation which cost a quarter of the country's foreign exchange earnings in 1977 took place under the eyes of an increasingly scandalised world. Being one of Bokassa's neighbours was terrifying.
'My brother, a teacher, was walking home past the palace. He was taken inside. We never saw him again,' said Sima Fugaston, who makes a living selling the tall grass growing in the derelict dens of the lions once kept at Kolongo, one of Bokassa's villas.
'He used to take up beggars in his plane and drop them into the Oubangui river,' recalls a university professor.
The clubbing to death of school children who refused to buy uniforms from the imperial factory became such a scandal that Bokassa's old friend Giscard d'Estaing ordered French troops into Bangui to oust him.
Some 62 of Bokassa's children are among those pushing for the palace restoration as a lesson to classes who are now taught nothing of a period many Central Africans would like to forget.
Bokassa's defenders say he was not as bad as murderous dictators of the time such as Uganda's Idi Amin and Equatorial Guinea's Macias Nguema, and no worse than contemporaries like Mobutu Sese Seko Mobutu Sese Seko (mōb`tō sā`sā sā`kō), 1930–97, president of Zaïre (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). of what was then Zaire, Sekou Toure of Guinea or Togo's Gnassingbe Eyadema, who remains in power.
'Central Africans need to judge Bokassa for themselves. For too long we've been manipulated by the French,' said Constantin Ballangha, the emperor's younger brother and former security chief, who now sweeps the palace grounds.
Bokassa was seeking help from Libya when he was overthrown, and went from there into exile. Returning home in 1986 he was sentenced to death after a trial coloured by tales of infanticide infanticide (ĭnfăn`təsīd) [Lat.,=child murder], the putting to death of the newborn with the consent of the parent, family, or community. Infanticide often occurs among peoples whose food supply is insecure (e.g. and human flesh kept in refrigerators, although he was not found guilty of cannibalism cannibalism (kăn`ĭbəlĭzəm) [Span. caníbal, referring to the Carib], eating of human flesh by other humans. . The death sentence was commuted to life in prison.
After his release in 1993 Bokassa became known as the 13th Apostle after declaring himself an Apostle of Christ. He died three years later of a heart attack, aged 75.
Bokassa's relatives have written to tourist organisations in Europe requesting funding to help restore his palace and are petitioning the government to allow it to go ahead.
'Any exhibition or restoration of Bokassa's properties needs to be done properly,' said Pierre N'Dickini, the director general of tourism. 'This is a sensitive subject.'
Whether Berengo would get many visitors is another question in a country which, since Bokassa's death, has been battered by a series of army mutinies. The Central African Republic gets only a few thousand tourists a year - that includes some visiting families as well as those coming to game parks whose animals have been plundered by poachers.
'We think people would be interested to know how the emperor lived,' said Jean Mboma, one of Bokassa's grandsons. 'We are also very poor. The palace is all we have left.'