Lessons from Bokassa’s Coronation
WATCHING THE CROWNING of ‘Emperor’ Jean-Bédel Bokassa (thanks Glenna Gordon for finding it) really brings home the truth of the saying that you don’t know how far you’ve come until you turn around and take a look back.
Africa gets short shrift as a travel destination. A spot poll of feedback as to why people don’t visit Africa shows both a mix of the usual grumbles about airline routes and cost, but also the thought that Africa, since decolonisation, is not safe.
It is true that some places are still pretty unsafe, and the Central African Republic has decades to walk yet before it will pull itself out of the complete mess that the Emperor and possibly occasional cannibal plunged it into. It’s also true that the era of the big men and their mind-bogglingly nasty deeds is receding, like some awful historical wave finally drawing back down the shore.
Uganda today is familiar to many as much for its epic white water rafting as for Amin’s legacy. Ethiopia for coffee and some of the oldest christian sites in the world, rather than the horrors of Mengistu.
I’ll be the first to concede that there is still a long way to go, and it’s easy to be a cynic sometimes. But looking back to see a spoiled little prince have his gloves put on his hands for him, and four more minutes of regal bullshit in one of the poorest countries on the continent, it’s hard not to smile a little at how far we have come. That giant eagle throne weighed two tons and was made of solid gold. The coronation cost $20 million, which was a third of the country’s total budget and France’s entire aid budget for the year.
Whatever is wrong today, the continent has walked a long and, on the whole, positive path since the days of the CAR’s terrible emperor.