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Ange-Felix Patasse obituary



Ange-Felix Patasse

Ange-Felix Patasse obituary

The Central African Republic's flamboyant former president

Kaye Whiteman

Sometimes circumstances earn a person a place in history which they might not otherwise have achieved. Such was the case with Ange-Fellix

Patasse, president of the Central African Republic (CAR) between 1993 and 2003, who has died aged 74. In the first flush of a new wave of democracy, he was touted as a new democratic star despite being an old-style politician and a prominent figure in the eccentric, bloodthirsty rule of the self-styled emperor Jean-Bokassa, which ended in 1979.

Little in Patasse's subsequent 10 years in power justified "star" status, either for governance or human rights it was more a struggle to survive mutinies and coup attempts until he was overthrown in 2003. In between, he won another election, depending heavily on a coalition of ethnic support.

He was born in Paoua, north-west CAR. His father, a colonial administrator, was from the Sara ethnic group and his mother was a Kare, so Patasse had a broad local power base. After secondary school, he went to an agricultural institute in Puy-de-me, in France, moved on to other educational establishments and received a diploma in the artificial insemination of domestic animals, from Rambouillet.

He returned home in 1959, a year before independence, and entered the civil service, receiving rapid promotion as an agricultural engineer and inspector. In 1965 he was appointed director of agriculture and minister of development by President David Dacko. When Bokassa seized power on 31 December that year, Patasse continued as a minister. This was helped by the fact that he was a cousin of Bokassa's principal wife, Catherine, who later became "empress", but also because in a seriously underdeveloped country such as the CAR, the competent and qualified elite were in short supply.

Patasse acquired the doubtful distinction of serving continuously as a minister throughout Bokassa's rule. Some said he offered the regime a respectable face, moving effortlessly through agriculture, transport, health and tourism between 1966 and 1977. His flamboyant image, with bow tie and goatee beard, became well known.

He followed his boss in converting to Islam for a few months, temporarily becoming Mustafa Patasse, but his faith lapsed after Bokassa proclaimed himself emperor in 1977. Patasse was promoted to prime minister, a post he managed to cling on to until a few weeks before Bokassa lost power in September 1979. It was announced that he had stepped down for health reasons; he probably saw the way the wind was blowing. He left for France, where he declared himself an opponent of the emperor, and remained there until after Bokassa was overthrown by a French military intervention, which imposed Dacko as president.

Patasse returned to Bangui, only to be put under house arrest, from which he attempted to escape and failed, and was arrested again. He was later released, on reasons of health, and stood in the presidential election in March 1981, coming second, with 38% of the vote, to Dacko. After General Andre Kolingba seized power six months later, Patasse was soon involved in an unsuccessful coup, and after seeking refuge in the French embassy, he departed for Togo, where he remained for the next decade.

It was only with the "democracy wave" of the early 90s that he returned. After a collapsed election in 1992, he stood again in September 1993, in probably the fairest poll the country had seen. This was his highest point, his moment as a successful, democratically elected leader. From then on, it was downhill most of the way. Although he benefited from a flow of donor money, instability continued, and in 1996-97 there were three successive army mutinies, with order being restored in 1996 only with the help of French troops, and in 1997 with the help of a French-speaking pan-African force.

Patasse's evident weakness, and the exacerbation of north-south tensions, further undermined his political position. Even so, he was able to obtain a second term in the 1999 presidential election, although his opponents alleged rigging, and he became increasingly paranoid and prone to coup attempts there were three in succession in 2001 and 2002. He tried to have General François Boziz, the army's leading power broker, arrested, but Boziz fled to Chad with part of the army.

Boziz struck back, staging a coup on 15 March 2003, when Patasse was abroad at a conference in Niger. Patasse once more sought asylum in Togo. Accused of corruption and war crimes, and prevented from standing in the 2005 election, he never gave up his thirst for power. He went back to the CAR in 2008 to take part in a "national dialogue", then returned discreetly in 2009. He stood in the presidential election in 2011, coming a poor second to Boziz.

By now, Patasse was in poor health, suffering from chronic diabetes, but there was a delay in permitting him to travel to Malabo, in Equatorial Guinea, for treatment, and he died en route, in the Cameroonian city of Douala.

He was divorced from his first wife, Lucienne, and then married a Togolese woman, Ange, who died in 2007.

Ange-Felix Patasse, politician, born 25 January 1937; died 5 April 2011

Source: The Guardian UK, 14 June 2011



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