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Sins of dictator Bokassa: He planted seeds across the world

President Jean Bokassa of Central Africa Republic salutes a dance troupe an arrival in Kampala, Uganda, in 1967. [File, Standard]

When a long lost Mau Mau general, Stanley Mathenge Mirugi was ‘discovered’ in Ethiopia and brought home on May 30, 2003, there were celebrations.

But Mwai Kibaki’s government suffered international embarrassment when it turned out that the country had feted an illiterate Ethiopian peasant -Lemma Ato Ayanu.

The egg on the face of government in Nairobi is, however, incomparable to what happened to one of Africa’s worst dictator, Jean Bedel Bokassa after he was given a 17-year-old Vietnamese street girl and told she was his long lost daughter, Martine.

Long before he became president and then emperor, Bokassa had served as a French soldier in Saigon, Vietnam, where he married a local girl who gave him a daughter, Martine. Fortunes for mother and daughter changed when Bokasa returned home, leaving them destitute. However when Bokasa seized power in 1965, he implored France to help him trace his daughter and wife. And on November 26, 1970, everything came to a standstill in Central Africa Republic when Bokasa’s long lost daughter jetted in, to a State reception.

However a few days later, Saigon Trang, a Vietnamese newspaper reported that  Bokasa had been duped as his real daughter was working in a factory in Vietnam. At some point Bokassa was so mad with France that he wanted to deport the girl but he was prevailed upon by Paris. Ultimately his real daughter was traced and flown to Bangui in a low-key affair.

Later, Bokassa reconciled himself to the long con and treated the two girls as his daughters and even married them off after a public auction where he invited offers from eligible bachelors. The winners were a soldier, Fidel Obrou, and a medical doctor, Jean-Bruno Deveavode. The weddings were held on the same day and the couples got similar gifts.

But Bokassa’s sons-in-law had inadvertently signed their death certificates, starting with Obrou. The soldier was executed by Bokassa after he was implicated in a coup in 1976. When Bokassa learnt that the fake daughter was expecting a son, he ordered, Jean-Bruno Deveavode to give a lethal injection to the baby. The mother was strangled and secretly buried. The doctor too was executed in 1981 after he was convicted on his plea of administering a lethal injection to the baby.

The real daughter fled to France where she had been operating two restaurants in a low-key life. Some of Bokasa’s 40 children were born by 19 wives from different parts of the world such Belgium, Vietnam, Angola, Lebanon Romania, France and Gabon.