124. Telegram From the Embassy in the Central African Empire to the Department of State1

1546. Subj: Bokassa Ponders His Future. Ref: State 150230.2

1. (C–Entire text.)

2. Summary. I spoke with Bokassa at his initiative this morning, June 22, in Berengo. In a rambling and vague fashion, Emperor reviewed the events of the past several months in CAE, blamed his problems on the Russians, and speculated about what the future would hold for him, including the possibilities of resignation or leaving the CAE. He said he wished cordial relations with the US and that events here had been exaggerated by the press. I told Bokassa that Washington authorities and US public had been shocked by Amnesty International allegations.3 US was awaiting report of five-nation commission with great interest,4 but atmosphere in Washington was such that further bilateral assistance programs appeared impossible at this time. Bokassa took this calmly, said he had facilitated commission’s inquiries and urged me to work for improved US–CAE relations. End summary.

3. This was an odd visit. Charge Fairchild had been convoked before GOCAE learned of my return, and the invitation was then changed. Bokassa, accompanied by PriMin Maidou and Deputy FonMin Lavodrama, received me cordially, but appeared somewhat muddled and had probably been drinking. He started by saying that the Russians were at the bottom of CAE’s problems. Russian teachers had subverted CAE youth, and France had been unwilling to supply adequate assistance to replace the Soviets. He was strongly anti-Communist and wanted to remain close to the US and Western Europe. He regretted the defections of CAE Ambassador to France Sylvestre Bangui, who was a fellow M’Baka tribesman, and former PriMin Patasse, who had arranged his coronation. He welcomed democratic opposition (sic) but could not accept violence. Bokassa said he had the people with him. If not he would leave the country. At this point he reversed himself and said “no, I will not leave the country. I was born here and I will die here.” Further, he said he had no money whatsoever abroad (a patent falsehood which I did not contradict), and lived on the income [Page 329] from his Berengo farm. He said he might resign, and compared his plight to that of President Nixon after Watergate. “But Nixon lives quietly. Africa is barbaric. If the Chief of State resigns they kill him”. Bokassa mentioned Ghana’s Acheampong as an example.5 He then reiterated his fears of a Russian takeover, and said he wanted good relations with the US.

4. I said the US had endeavored to maintain close relations with CAE. But the AI allegations of events in April, following the suppression of the January riots, had caused a sensation in the US. Congress had voted against further bilateral aid, and though the decision was not final I saw no likelihood of reversing it. Bokassa simply nodded. I noted that the report of the five-nation commission would be read with great interest in Washington. Bokassa said he hoped the report would clear the air. There were too many lies—he mentioned the press reports of an assassination attempt in April, and added, almost as an afterthought “I didn’t kill the children”. Finally, he urged me to work to improve relations, and appeared gratified at my assurances.

5. Comment: Bokassa’s mood was melancholic, and his attempts to appear cheerful unsuccessful. He is a consummate actor with real powers of dissimulation, but he left the impression of being distraught and uncertain, unable to find a way out of an increasingly untenable position. His motivation for initiating this discussion was perhaps an attempt to shore up relations with the US by stressing his anti-Communist sentiments, but he was singularly unconvincing. I plan to proceed with demarche to PriMin Maidou as instructed reftel.6 Bokassa’s calm reaction, however artificial, to news of aid termination, suggests GOCAE will also react more in sorrow than anger.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790287–1172. Confidential. Sent for information to Libreville for Walker and to Paris.
  2. See Document 122.
  3. See Document 119.
  4. See footnote 5, Document 122.
  5. In telegram 5886 from Accra, June 16, the Embassy reported that Acheampong had been executed by firing squad. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790272–0519)
  6. In telegram 1570 from Bangui, June 27, the Embassy reported that Cooke delivered the démarche to Maidou, as instructed in telegram 150230 (see Document 122), and explained the congressional cuts on all U.S. assistance to the Central African Empire due to human rights problems. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790290–0723)