Francois Bozize





President of the Central African Republic

Born in 1946 in Gabon; children: Francois, Jr. Education: Attended a college for military officers in Bouar in the Central African Republic, early 1970s.

Addresses: Office —Presidence de la Republique, Bangui, Central African Republic.

Career

Named a brigadier general, 1978; became defense minister, 1979; became information and culture minister, 1981; ran unsuccessfully for president, 1991; appointed army chief, 1996; fired and left the country, 2001; unsuccessfully attacked Central African capital, Bangui, 2002; overthrew president and took control of the country, 2003; called elections and announced he would run for the presidency, 2004; won presidential election, 2005.

Sidelights

Francois Bozize, president of the Central African Republic starting in 2003, rose to prominence early. Appointed a general at age 32, he served in two governments in the late 1970s and early 1980s before going into exile after a failed coup. Imprisoned and tortured under a military dictatorship, he was released and rejoined his country's politics after its return to civilian rule in 1991 and became chief of the Central African armed forces in 1996. During an economic crisis, he organized a revolt against the country's president, and took over in a coup in 2003. He proved to be more popular than

the predecessor he removed; he called presidential elections, which he won in 2005. A profile of Bozize by Lucy Jones of BBC News described him as a "short, pot-bellied general" who was "widely respected for being a simple man" who "could often be seen chugging around Bangui in a batteredcar waving to people he knew."

Bozize was born in Gabon, a country southwest of the Central African Republic (CAR), where his father was a policeman. His family was from the Bossangoa region in the northwest corner of the CAR. He went to school for military officers in Bouar, distinguished himself early, and became a captain before he turned 30. The CAR's dictator, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, named him a brigadier general in 1978.

When ex-president David Dacko overthrew Bokassa in 1979, he named Bozize defense minister. The next president, Andre Kolingba, who overthrew Dacko in 1981, made Bozize the information and culture minister as part of his effort to have several ethnic groups represented in the government. However, Bozize left the country in 1982 after Ange-Felix Patasse attempted to overthrow Kolingba. Bozize announced the news of the coup attempt in a radio broadcast so confusing it was not clear which side he was on. While living in exile in various African countries, Bozize developed a friendship with Patasse, who later became president. Bozize was accused of being part of the coup attempt, was arrested in Benin and extradited to the CAR in 1989, and was tortured while in prison, but a court acquitted him in 1991. When Kolingba's dictatorship ended, Bozize ran for president, but lost to Patasse. Still, Patasse named him chief of the army in 1996, and Bozize helped defend the government against mutinies by unpaid soldiers in 1996 and 1997. Patasse was reelected in 1999.

In May of 2001, Patasse survived a coup attempt. Some suspected Bozize of being involved in it. A commission formed to investigate the rebellion summoned him to answer questions, but he would not. He was fired in October, but when government troops tried to arrest him in November, five days of violence broke out. Bozize fled to Chad, north of the CAR, with about 300 people loyal to him. In October of 2002, Bozize's forces attacked the CAR's capital, Bangui, but Patasse's forces pushed them back into the northern part of the country with the help of troops from Libya (which Patasse had promised a monopoly on extracting diamonds from the CAR) and a Congolese rebel force.

By the time Bozize pushed toward the capital city of Bangui again in March of 2003, at a time when Patasse was out of the country at a summit in Niger, the CAR was in an economic crisis that had made the president very unpopular. The government had been unable to pay the army or civil workers for months. The Congolese rebels that had helped Patasse keep power had raped women and stolen from people across the country. When Bozize's forces, which only numbered about 1, 000, reached the capital on March 15, they met little resistance, and some CAR residents danced in the streets. However, members of Bozize's forces and allied troops from Chad were also accused of rape and looting on a smaller scale. Patasse attempted to fly back to Bangui, but his plane was shot at when it tried to land, so he went into exile in Togo.

When Bozize took power, he declared that he would restore democracy and not run for president in the next election. "I came to save my people. My mission ends here, " he said, as quoted by IRIN, a news service run by the United Nations. The Bozize government created a national human rights commission, though some members of the military resisted its work by preventing it from talking to prisoners. A one-month national dialogue in September of 2003 resulted in a call for a constitution that split power between the president and a prime minister, as well as apologies from former leaders such as Kolingba and members of Patasse's party for past mistakes and violence. In November of 2004, the government passed a new law ensuring freedom of the press, abolishing prison terms for libel and slander. Since then, newspapers in the CAR have criticized the government, but the country's radio and TV stations are state-owned and do not often cover the opposition, except for one station sponsored by the United Nations.

Bozize set up an electoral commission to oversee the transition back to democracy. Voters ratified a new constitution in December of 2004, and Bozize set up elections for March and May of 2005. Despite his earlier pledge, Bozize announced he would run in the presidential election. "In my capacity as a soldier, I'm serving my people, " he announced at a political rally in Bangui in December, according to IRIN. "When I'm called I have no choice but to obey."

In May of 2005, Bozize won the presidency with 64 percent of the vote in the second round, beating former prime minister Martin Ziguele. His supporters won 42 out of 105 seats in the legislature. Foreign observers pronounced the elections fair, though the British magazine the Economist disagreed, saying there had been intimidation and ballot-stuffing.

As 2005 drew to a close and the country's years-long financial crisis dragged on, pressure on Bozize mounted. Corruption, rampant under Patasse, was reportedly still a serious problem, and the country was close to broke. Civil servants, still waiting for back pay, went on strike in October, and in December, riot police surrounded a union headquarters to stop workers from holding a rally. That month, Bozize asked the legislature for the power to rule by decree for nine months, saying it would help him deal with the financial crisis and make reforms urged by international lenders (which had been slow to send new aid to the country). Although human rights groups protested the move, the legislature granted him the power at the end of December. He used it in early January of 2006 to increase the price of paraffin, which is widely used as a fuel in the CAR.

Bozize faced other problems as 2006 began. The African Union warned that armed groups in the north of the country, possibly including soldiers loyal to Patasse, might be preparing for an offensive. Also, in February of 2006, Bozize's son, Francois Bozize Jr., was sentenced to four months in jail in France for defrauding a bank.

Sources

Periodicals

Agence France Presse, December 23, 2005.

AP Worldstream, December 10, 2005.

Economist , November 2, 2002, p. 50; March 22, 2003, p. 42; March 19, 2005, p. 54.

New York Times , March 14, 2005, p. A5; June 12, 2005.

Time International , November 19, 2001, p. 18.

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, December 13, 2004; December 30, 2005; January 4, 2006.

Online

"Bozize, Francois, " MSN Encarta, http://fr.encarta. msn.com/text_941550365___0/Bozize_Francois. html (February 25, 2006).

"Central African Republic (Report 2005)" Amnesty International, http://web.amnesty.org/report 2005/Caf-summary-eng (February 25, 2006).

"Central African Republic (Report 2004)" Amnesty International, http://web.amnesty.org/report 2004/Caf-summary-eng (February 25, 2006).

"Country profile: Central African Republic, " BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/ africa/country_profiles/1067518.stm (February 25, 2006).

"Profile of Francois Bozize, " BBC News, http:// news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2854669.stm (February 25, 2006).

Transcripts

"French court jails Central African president's son for fraud, " Radio France Internationale (transcribed by BBC Monitoring Africa), February 23, 2006.

Erick Trickey



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