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1962 Central African stamp featuring David Dacko

David Dacko (March 24, 1930 – November 20, 2003) was the first President of the Central African Republic (CAR), from August 14, 1960 to January 1, 1966, and the third president of the CAR from September 21, 1979 to September 1, 1981. Even after being removed from power twice by coups d'état, Dacko continued to be a very active politician and presidential candidate with a loyal group of supporters. Dacko was thus an important political figure in CAR politics for a period of over half a century.

Early life and education[edit | edit source]

Dacko was born in the village of Bouchia, near Mbaiki in the Lobaye region, which was then a part of the French Equatorial African territory of Moyen Congo (Middle Congo).[citation needed] A M'Baka, he was a distant cousin of future rival Jean-Bédel Bokassa.[1] He began primary school in Mbaiki,[citation needed] where his father worked as a plantation's night watchman.[1] He continued his primary education in Bambari[citation needed] before being admitted to the Ecole normale of Mouyoundzi in Moyen Congo. Studying for a career in teaching, he became schoolmaster of a large primary school in Bangui[2] in 1951. Dacko took part in an experimental educational program promoted by the French colonial administration. Dacko was named principal of Kouanga College in 1955 and became a supporter of independence leader Barthélémy Boganda, who was from the same Ngbaka ethnic group as Dacko. In March 1957 Dacko presented himself as a candidate for legislative elections in Ubangi-Shari for the circumscription of Ombella-M'Poko and won a seat as a member of the "Territorial Assembly of Ubangi-Shari". When the first Council of Government of Ubangi-Shari was established that same year, Boganda named Dacko Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Water and Forests, in which position he served from May 14, 1957 until August 23, 1958. Dacko then served as Minister of the Interior and Administrative Affairs from August 23 to December 8, 1958. When the Territorial Assembly became the Legislative Constitutive Assembly on December 1, 1958, Dacko and his fellow Territorial Councilors became Deputies. Dacko remained in the government as the Minister of the Interior, Economy and Commerce (December 8, 1958 – April 30, 1959). During 1959, Dacko succeeded Boganda as the main leader of the country when Boganda died in a plane crash.

First term as President[edit | edit source]

President of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi during a visit to President of Central African Republic, David Dacko. Both wearing the sash of the Grand Officier de l'Ordre du Mérite Centrafricain

After the independence was achieved on August 13, 1960, Dacko became Provisional President of the Republic (August 14, 1960 – December 12, 1960), and then, with the active support of France against his rival Abel Goumba, the first president of the CAR (December 12, 1960 – December 31, 1965). In 1960 he also served as President of the Conference of Prime Ministers of Equatorial Africa.

Dacko began to consolidate his power soon after taking office in 1960. He retained the portfolio of Minister of Defense (August 17, 1960 – January 1, 1966) and Keeper of the Seals (August 17, 1960 – January 2, 1963) and amended the Constitution to transform his regime into a one-party state with a strong presidency elected for a term of seven years. On January 5, 1964 Dacko was chosen president in an election for which he was the only candidate. His seven year term (1964–1971), however, was cut short by a coup d'état carried out by his cousin, army commander Jean-Bédel Bokassa (see below). During his first term as president Dacko significantly increased diamond production in the CAR by eliminating the monopoly on mining held by concessionary companies and decreeing that any Central African could dig for diamonds. He also succeeded in having a diamond-cutting factory built in the capital, Bangui.[citation needed] Diamonds eventually became the CAR's most important export and remain so today, even though half or more of the country's diamonds are smuggled out of the country.[citation needed] Dacko encouraged the rapid "Centralafricanization" of the CAR's administration, which was accompanied by growing corruption and inefficiency, and he expanded the number of civil servants, which greatly increased the portion of the national budget needed to pay salaries. The difficulty of securing enough revenues to pay a large number of bureaucrats who are often inefficient and corrupt has been a major problem for the CAR ever since. Dacko was torn between his need to retain the support of France and his need to show that he was not subservient to France. In order to cultivate alternative sources of support and display his independence in foreign policy, Dacko cultivated closer relations with the People's Republic of China, for example. By 1965, however, Dacko had lost the support of most Central Africans and may have been planning to resign from the presidency when he was overthrown.

Overthrown by Bokassa[edit | edit source]

On the night of December 31, 1965 – January 1, 1966 General Jean-Bédel Bokassa carried out a successful coup d'état against Dacko and prevented the possible assumption of power by a rival, Colonel Jean Izamo, head of the national gendarme police force. Dacko, who belonged to the same Ngbaka ethnic group as Bokassa, was imprisoned, placed under house arrest in Lobaye, but then was released on July 16, 1969 and eventually named personal counselor of President Bokassa on September 17, 1976. When Bokassa's rule came under increasing criticism during the late 1970s, Dacko managed to leave for Paris where the French convinced him to cooperate in a coup to remove Bokassa from power and restore him to the presidency.

Restored to power[edit | edit source]

On the night of September 20–21, 1979, French paratroopers carried out Operation Barracuda, which overthrew Bokassa and restored Dacko to the presidency. In March 1981, Dacko was elected President of the Republic once again (April 1, 1981 – September 1, 1981) in a reasonably free multi-candidate election. Dacko was regarded by many Central Africans as a puppet of the French and his right to rule was challenged, in particular, by Bokassa's former prime minister, Ange-Félix Patassé who, in addition to belonging to the largest ethnic group in the country, the Gbaya, had residential and kinship ties to other ethnic groups and was the most popular politician in the country. Dacko failed once again to satisfy either his people or France.

Overthrown by Kolingba[edit | edit source]

On September 1, 1981, Dacko was overthrown in a bloodless coup carried out by army chief of staff General André Kolingba, who may have had the support of local French security officers who are suspected of having acted without authorization by France's new Socialist government led by President Mitterrand. Such allegations may never be substantiated, but Kolingba did subsequently enjoy a very close relationship with France and a presidential security team led by Colonel Mantion. Dacko, for his part, was not only unharmed, but eventually returned to politics to lead a party opposed to General Kolingba. Dacko participated in the presidential elections of 1992 and 1993 and in the latter obtained 20.10% of the votes cast.

Opposition, illness and death[edit | edit source]

During the first and second presidential terms of Ange-Félix Patassé (1993–1999 and 1999–2003), Dacko continued to participate actively in politics as a leader of the opposition. Dacko and Kolingba were the main leaders of the opposition, with Kolingba being generally more powerful than Dacko. Dacko ran for president for the last time in the 1999 elections, coming in third place with 11.2% of the vote. After General François Bozizé overthrew Patassé and proclaimed himself president, Dacko participated in the Dialogue National (National Dialogue) that began on September 9, 2003, but shortly thereafter, on September 27, 2003, Dacko had an attack of asthma. He decided to travel to France to seek treatment, but during a stopover in Yaoundé, Cameroon on November 7, 2003, he was taken to the General Hospital of Yaoundé where he died at 10 p.m. on November 20, 2003. The CAR government declared a month of national mourning in memory of former President Dacko. On December 13, 2003 he was buried in Mokinda, near his residence.

Family and awards[edit | edit source]

David Dacko was survived by his wife Brigitte, who bore seven sons and four daughters, including Bruno Dacko and Ruffin Molomadon. Dacko received many awards and honors during his lifetime, including Commander of the Central African Order of Agriculture (April 23, 1963), Commander of the Central African Order of Academic Palms (June 26, 1964). A major street is named after him, Avenue President David Dacko.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Titley 1997, p. 15.
  2. Titley 1997, p. 16.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Serre, Jacques. "Six ans de gouvernement Dacko (1960–1966)." Revue française d'études politiques africaines (Paris) 117 (1975):73–104.
  • Kalck, Pierre. Historical Dictionary of the Central African Republic. 3rd ed. Trans. Thomas O'Toole. Metuchen, N.J. & London: The Scarecrow Press, 2004.
  • Kalck, Pierre. Central African Republic: A Failure in Decolonization. London: Pall Mall, 1971.
  • Webb, Raymond Porter. "State Politics in the Central African Republic" Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, Wisconsin, 1996.
  • Titley, Brian (1997). "Dark Age: The Political Odyssey of Emperor Bokassa". Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 0-7735-1602-6. OCLC 36340842. .
  • Saulnier, Pierre. Le Centrafrique: Entre mythe et réalité. Paris, L’Harmattan, 1998.

External links[edit | edit source]

Political offices
Preceded by
Barthélemy Boganda
Prime Minister of the Central African Republic
Succeeded by
Post Abolished
Preceded by
President of the Central African Republic
Succeeded by
Jean-Bédel Bokassa
Preceded by
none (Emperor Bokassa)
President of the Central African Republic
Succeeded by
André Kolingba

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