Ange-Felix Patassé was Central Africa Republic President in 1993-2003.
By Journalists For Justice
Ange-Felix Patassé, the man Jean-Pierre Bemba killed for, died in 2011 aged 74 when the war crimes and crimes against humanity trial was already under way at the International Criminal Court. Patassé, who was President of the Central African Republic between 1993 and 2003, came in as ‘one of the good guys’ and 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-Bédel Bokassa, which ended in 1979.
One biographer notes that there was little to show for Patasse’s 10-year rule, most of which was spent feuding off coups d’etat and rebellions within his government. He was eventually overthrown deposed by François Bozizé. Patasse died at a hospital in Cameroon, where he was allowed to seek treatment ‘in his last days’.
In October 2002, former Army Chief of Staff Bozizé launched a putsch against Patassé, leading to his removal from power in March 2003. During the ensuing five-month armed conflict, Patassé enlisted the support of militia from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and mercenaries from Chad and Libya, to defend the capital, Bangui, from rebel attacks. These troops are accused of committing widespread crimes in the capital and other regions, including summary executions, rape and other sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and looting.
For Patassé, Bemba was ‘one of the best’ picks since he had led the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) during a bloody war in his native DR Congo. Bemba had just been propped up by Uganda to become one of the vice presidents of the DRC.
How Bemba ended up in the dock
In mid-2004, judicial authorities started criminal proceedings against Patassé and his military commanders for crimes committed against civilians. The highest court in the Central African Republic advised the government to refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, claiming that the national judicial system was unable to effectively investigate and prosecute crimes committed during the conflict. The government referred the case to the ICC on December 22, 2004.
On May 22, 2007, the ICC opened an investigation into crimes committed in CAR since July 1, 2002 focusing particularly on sexual violence. In May 2008, the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of Bemba, which was effected on May 24, 2008 in Brussels, Belgium.
Patassé attempted to rescue Bemba by requesting for his provisional release.
“We want Jean-Pierre Bemba to be granted provisional release. I trust ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo will dispense justice in a balanced way,” he said then. During the confirmation of charges hearings, in January 2009, Bemba’s counsel accused Patassé of being the responsible for the war crimes and crimes against humanity since he ordered war materials, vehicles, fuel and uniforms.
Patassé’s lawyers denied those accusations, saying their client had no criminal responsibility and that he had not been summoned by the ICC.
Patassé father, a colonial administrator, was from the Sara ethnic group and his mother was a Kare, so had a broad local power base. After secondary school, he went to an agricultural institute in Puy-de-Dôme, 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 December 31, 1965, Patassé 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.
Patassé acquired the dubious 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 bowtie and goatee, became well known.
He followed his boss in converting to Islam for a few months, temporarily becoming Mustafa Patassé, but his faith lapsed after Bokassa proclaimed himself emperor in 1977. Patassé was promoted to prime minister, a post he held until a few weeks before Bokassa lost power in September 1979. It was announced that he had stepped down for health reasons. Patassé 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.
Patassé returned to Bangui, only to be put under house arrest, from which he unsuccessfully attempted to escape. He was later released, on reasons of health, and stood in the presidential election in March 1981, coming second, with 38 per cent of the vote, to Dacko.
After General André Kolingba seized power six months later, Patassé was soon involved in an unsuccessful coup, and after seeking refuge in the French embassy, he left for Togo, where he remained for the next decade.
It was only with the “democracy wave” of the early 1990s 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 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.
Patassé’s evident weakness, and the exacerbation of north-south tensions, further undermined his political position. Even so, he was able to win 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 Bozizé, the army’s leading power broker, arrested but Bozizé fled to Chad with part of the army.
Bozizé struck back, staging a coup on 15 March 2003, when Patassé was abroad at a conference in Niger. Patassé once more sought asylum in Togo. Accused of corruption and war crimes, and prevented from standing in the 2005 election, he nevertheless did not give up his quest 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 Bozizé.
By then, Patassé 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 divorced his first wife, Lucienne, and then married a Togolese woman, Angèle, who died in 2007.