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The past isn’t just another planet. It’s a whole different universe.

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.

Why yes, I believe that kitsch eagle throne is entirely gold. And paid for by France as I recall. Who also made the diamond crown. And eventually deposed him. No, I can't imagine why either. Screengrab from Scarlett Lion

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.

About The Author

Richard Stupart

Richard lives and works in South Africa, exploring as often as possible the strange and unknown places that his continent is so rich in. What stories of far flung places and mischief he is able to trap and bring home are mounted on his blog. Where the Road Goes.

  • Jason Wire

    You never fail to redefine and re-energize my understanding of Africa, Rich. Thanks for this.

    • Richard

      This video has really helped me realise just how crazy some of this past shit really was. I thought Gadaffi was eccentric for his all-female bodyguards, but this is right out of the circus.

      • Jason Wire

        I feel like this subject would make for an amazing documentary. I can already see this exact video with this article spoken over it as an opening scene.

  • David Oades

    Bokassa really does, for me, deserve the title of one of the most eccentric. Possibly Eyedema (Togo) should be there with him too. I remember watching a video of Bokassa ‘coronation’ a few years back and being dumbstruck by the sheer vulgarity of it all. But somehow strangely intriguing.

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